In the world of social change, comprised of social entrepreneurs, innovative nonprofits, and traditional NGOs, much has been said about the problem of designing solutions at scale. So many initiatives find growth and reach millions of people, and yet the world remains plagued by problems that affect billions. 2.6 billion people live on $2 per day. 1 billion people drink dirty water every day. I believe that we can and must think bigger, think in billions, and use that leverage of scale to solve our world's most pressing social problems.
In this blog post I am going to outline in a clear and concise way a plan to apply the principle of scale to solve the world water crisis. This plan certainly won't be easy to implement (though it might be easier than I think) but it is simple. It takes a couple simple ideas that have long been accepted by various institutions and it applies them to the issue of clean drinking water.
First, I am going to introduce you to the miracle of the LifeStraw.
The LifeStraw is a life-saving technology that allows any individual to insert the straw into water, no matter how dirty, and an advanced filtration system ensures that the only liquid coming out the other end is clean, potable drinking water. This technology is inexpensive to make and manufacture. Recently,Coca-Cola partnered with LifeStraw maker Vestergaard-Frandsen to distribute 27,000 LifeStraws to needy African children and families.
So what we have is a life-saving technology that provides clean drinking water, and it's inexpensive to make. Given that 1 in 7 human beings lacks access to clean drinking water, why is it that we haven't manufactured 1 billion LifeStraws, and created distribution systems to the 1 in 7 that currently lack clean water?
In my opinion, the failure is at the level of vision. I believe that the LifeStraw can be the life-changing technology for those 1 in 7 human beings who drink dirty water every single day of their lives. Here's how I'd solve the water crisis:
1. Subsidize the manufacture of 1 billion LifeStraws.
2. Establish regional distribution centers to collect life straws as they are transported from the manufacturing facility.
3. In rural villages, recruit individuals as micro-entrepreneurs, selling the LifeStraws to friends, family, and fellow villagers for a profit.
4. Establish this procedure in every rural village where people have dirty water.
We've committed ourselves to solving this fight. Charity: Water raises $10 million a year to build water wells to provide clean drinking water. But that's only a drop in the bucket (pun intended, shout out to John Travis doing incredible work with that charity). I've heard estimates that it would take $30 billion to solve the world water crisis once and for all. Human beings spend $100 billion on bottled water in this country alone. We can solve this crisis, if we collect the will to do so.
My plan is simple. Manufacture the 1 billion LifeStraws we need. Then distribute them to last-mile entrepreneurs who sell the LifeStraws, making money along the way and ensuring that everybody in their village has access.
The technology works. It's been proven. I've seen Coca-Cola in some of the poorest regions of the world. So we'd need to harness the ingenuity of Coca-Cola supply chain geniuses, and apply their corporate strategy to the strategy of implementing the LifeStraw all over the world. In every conceivable market. Corporate minds can solve this problem at the level of distribution. And so the last mile is handed over to micro-entrepreneurs who are empowered, earn money and benefit their communities.
So I'll repeat this one more time.
1. Manufacture the 1 billion LifeStraws.
2. Use Coca-Cola style supply chain ingenuity and similar distribution systems to get the product to the last mile.
3. At the last mile, empower thousands of micro-entrepreneurs to sell the LifeStraw to their fellow villagers.
After these three tasks have been completed - we can have clean water available for every living person on this planet just as it should be. And LifeStraws have a life span of a year, so by the time it's necessary for a replacement, a new one can already be sourced back to the village.
All that this takes is the will and the dollars. I am willing to make this my life's cause, and I'm 24 so I have a lot of years to go. Is there any billionaire philanthropist willing to back me up?
Now I'm not saying I'm the person to solve the problem. I don't have an MBA, and I make my living tweeting and posting on Facebook and LinkedIn. But I would dedicate every ounce of my being to solving this problem. I am willing to bet there are thousands like me, willing to dedicate their lives to this most noble and important cause. Maybe you don't like my solution, but you have a different one. Post about it in the comments. And more importantly, do something about it! What the world water crisis needs most from us is action. Will someone stand up and commit to solving this problem, at the level of global scale?
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