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Social Entrepreneur

290 EpisodesProduced by Tony Loyd: Business executive and mentor to social entrepreneurs

Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.

21:30

Clean Water, Powered by Gravity, with May Sharif, AguaClara

AguaClara designs gravity-powered water treatment plants for low-income communities around the world.

According to May Sharif, Founder and Managing Director of AguaClara, “More than one in ten people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water on tap.” When people don’t have access to clean drinking water, adults lose time at work and children miss school. They suffer from illness and or even death. “Up to two million people die each year due to waterborne disease,” May explains. “Most of them are children under five.” By providing access to clean drinking water, people prosper and children learn.

Conventional water treatment plants typically do not last more than two years in rural and remote communities. They require skilled technicians and proprietary parts to run and to be maintained. AguaClara has a different approach. AguaClara develops community-scale, non-electric water treatment systems. The systems are designed to be operated by a person with a sixth-grade education and are powered entirely by gravity. They use local materials and local labor to build and maintain the systems, creating a sustainable solution.

AguaClara has its roots at Cornell University. In 2005, Dr. Monroe Weber-Shirk worked with Salvadoran refugees in Honduras. He noticed the lack of access to clean drinking water. He saw that there were water treatment plants, however the plants did not work. As he investigated the cause of widespread failure of water treatment systems in poor communities, he discovered that the systems built in these communities were not designed for the communities. Working with graduate students, he and the team designed a series of technologies for off-grid water treatment.

May Sharif became involved in AguaClara as a student. She joined the summer internship program and developed designs for the program. “That was my first exposure to the developing world and what water can mean to an entire community,” she says. May pursued a Master’s of Engineering degree and continued to work on AguaClara as her project. After graduation, Dr. Weber-Shirk asked her to continue to work on AguaClara. In 2013, May and fellow graduates of the Cornell AguaClara program formed AguaClara LLC, a social enterprise.

AguaClara currently has 14 systems in Honduras serving 65,000 people, four systems in India serving 2,000 people and a new plant is being built in Nicaragua.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Maysoon Sharif

“More than one in ten people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water on tap.”

“Conventional water treatment plants don’t last more than two years in remote and off-grid communities.”

“We put out designs that are open-source.”

“Me being there and working on designs wasn’t translating into new projects happening.”

“Gravity-powered water treatment works, and it works well.”

“Our partners worked on commercializing it for us.”

“It’s a certified BCorporation.”

“Yes, you can find people to trust but also learn to develop an eye for who you can trust.”

“When we leave, we want to make sure they’re taking care of it.”

“Fail fast.”

“You have no way of predicting what’s going to happen.”

“Put your plan in place and be ready to throw it out the window.”

“I make it a point not to get married to anything I create.”

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