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GIVING BACK: Safe Drinking Water

When you decide to create your legacy

When you decide to create your legacy, it doesn’t always have to be a billion-dollar mega foundation ala Bill Gates, raising millions or billions of dollars to implement huge and expensive projects, to do good. A simple yet creative idea, driven by a small, nimble group of individuals, can create a ripple effect, and ultimately create a big impact.

My co-founder Mike Williamson wants to keep it small. This is why Bank On Rain is focused on designing “grass roots’ solutions for safe drinking water and developing a business model that can be understood and replicated by the same people it is designed to aid. Mike wants to avoid the complexity of administering a large organization, with the associated financial drain. With BOR he is able to be hands-on, as in designing the Fullstop™ faucet that saves water and lives; spend his rare vacation time traveling to oversee projects; and take the time to understand the “real” local barriers to success; such as why so many well-intentioned water projects  in developing countries fail.
Ken Blair and Mike Williamson with the safe drinking water tank built by volunteers in Sierra Leone
Mike and the Bank On Rain team understand the complete infrastructure around providing safe drinking water solutions. It’s really not just about safe drinking water; it’s developing the knowledge and tools to build and sustain an improved quality of life. This begins with establishing new hygiene practices, setting the stage for learning how to harvest and store rainwater. And the neat thing is the training required to build and maintain the water systems leads to new skills, and the possibility of creating a new, sustainable business around building the storage tanks.

For example In Sierra Leone, in West Africa where we recently trained locals to build and install rainwater catchment systems in two schools, they have 120” rainfall each year (FYI: that’s a lot!) yet they suffer from a severe shortage of safe drinking water year round!  (In contrast here in the Pacific North West USA, I am lucky if we get 21” of rainfall a year, and still I collect and store enough rainwater for all my year round household and landscaping needs!)

One of the biggest barriers to safe drinking water

One of the biggest barriers to depending on rainwater in developing countries is being able to store the water; a storage tank that is secure, clean, and especially, affordable.

Our solution is to provide a manually operated press to build storage tanks using ISSB (Interlocking Stabilized Soil Block) technology ~ see image below

Volunteers work on building storage tanks for safe drinking water

Uniquely, these building blocks can be made from local soil, with a very small percentage of cement added to the mix. Four men can build enough curved interlocking bricks in 2 days to build a 10,000 liter storage tank using the people-operated machine we provided. What’s even more exciting about this is that those who contributed, learned new, marketable skills. A skill set which can have applications beyond rainwater storage tanks for safe drinking water. We think these secure and waterproof tanks can work for grain storage as well, especially in a developing country which typically loses large amounts of food to mold, mildew, vermin and theft due to poor storage opportunities. Stay tuned, we’ll be testing this out soon!

Funding from the Ferarri Owners Group FOG

For this project the Bank On Rain funding came, via the Blue Planet Network, from the Ferrari Owners Group (FOG) in San Francisco. Their generous investment supplied funding for the necessary tools, supplies, and pay, for the 10 local people who were trained (and paid) to make the bricks and build the 3 tanks at two schools, 4 hours apart. Mike traveled to Sierra Leone recently during the completion phase of the two projects to meet with BOR’s boots-on-the-ground key person in Sierra Leone.  Eric Silverman spearheaded the recent 3 tank project from beginning to completion. Eric was previously a Peace Corp volunteer teaching at one of the schools we worked with in Sierra Leone.

The difficulties of getting started in a culture that is not very “motivated “ is challenging. And it’s a culture that the west has reinforced for decades, by simply giving, and expecting nothing in return….

The results of the FOG investment are:

  • 2 complete rainwater harvesting systems (3 tanks) were built in 2 schools,
  • Tools and supplies funded for training & construction implementation,
  • 10 local men received training in ISSB block construction,
  • They also got training in rainwater harvesting systems construction and maintenance,
  • 10 local men and boys (teachers, masons and students) received certification for their training; a stepping stone to future jobs! ~ see certificate image below.
  • A business model developed for replicating this process, based on lessons learned

Certificates awarded to all participants for their training in rainwater harvesting systems for providing safe drinking water

Writing a business plan

These successes point to my current task: writing a business plan to raise additional investment money (note that I don’t use the word ‘donation’…) for a small business in Freetown, Sierra Leone; a business building ISSB block tanks for safe drinking water or food storage, incorporating a shelter for solar cellphone charging stations. Our target customers are other non-profits similar to Bank On Rain, with a focus on hygiene, water, schools and individuals who believe in the future of Sierra Leone, and are building roads, houses, and businesses there.

The purpose of creating these locally owned and run businesses is not only for them to become sustainable themselves, but to perfect a business model to replicate elsewhere. Bank On Rain will provide the support, know how and tools needed for the business to be successful.

Strong partner organizations

We believe you can stay small yet make a big difference if your small and nimble teams each have diverse yet complimentary expertise and skillsets, and that’s the support we give Mike at Bank On Rain.  You can stay small if you have a strong partner organization, as we have with Peer Water Exchange (PWX) and their leader Rajesh Shah. PWX  is a  Collaborative Philanthropy supporting us all the way, as Bank On Rain supports them in return.

This post was written by CASUDI and appeared originally on the #bealeader blog in September 2013


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