Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bill Gates' Idea to Combat the Sanitation and Clean Water Problem In Urban Communities. Mine to Get Them To Rural Communities Too.

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Recently, Bill Gates announced an idea that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been working on for a while. One that may just solve the global issue of lacking urban sanitation infrastructure.

The "Omniprocessor", a working prototype of which is shown in the video below, takes sewerage in one end, funnels it through a processor, boils it and then uses the dried out sewerage sludge as fuel to keep it boiling. The water vapour created from the sludge is used to power a turbine, which generates electricity, and then funneled through filters which produce clean drinking water. 
The electricity can be used to power homes and entire regions surrounding the plant. The waste is collected as bacteria and pathogen free ash, which can, with proper knowledge, be used as fertilizer.  It's as close to a waste free, efficient generator as you can get!

Bill Gates' great explanation of how the processor works. 

The idea in itself is genius. 40% of the world's population to this day STILL openly defecate, or else have little or no access to proper sanitation! That's over 3 BILLION people! This processor can convert 14 tons of sewerage into drinking water and electricity every day, processing the waste of 100,000 people in one plant!

But what's truly genius about this is the way it's being sold. 

Bill Gates understands that this invention can really combat the issues of sanitation, access to clean water and electrcitiy. But he understands that the impact this can have beyond just the people who use, and are supplied with energy and water from the plant, because this will, for the first time, convert sewerage and the issue of sanitation from being assocaited with a cost, to a profit. 

And to get this out there, he intends to allow entrepreneurs to buy into this system and make it for profit. 

This is the quickest way of getting it out there. Even if, say, the Bill and Melinda Gates were to invest $3 billion (a huge amount for the foundation - it's the total amount it gave away in grants in 2013) into this system, only 2,000 plants, or 200million people will get access to clean water. That's less than 5% of the 2.5billion urban poor who lack access to proper sewerage facilities. 

Once working models get up and out there, and profit margins can be established from this (the next step after the development of the prototype in the video above), this model will take off quicker than any other! Indeed, a for-profit model has been shown to be more effective, and more likely to spread quicker than aid or government interventions, as you'll see in the video below. It also frees up more money for the Gates Foundation to spend on other projects. 

Business models for the world's poorest, and an interesting idea; micro-franchising, which I'll talk about below

Now, a for profit model is more efficient and more likely to be more expansive than any other. I wrote about this in a little detail here, and talked about the concept in a post on how we profit by giving to charity here. But I'll look into and post up great investments you can do to invest in people's wellbeing and profiting from it soon on this blog! If we can make charity and human development something to profit from... and if we can make it clear to large corporations and businesses that the poor aren't just a burden, a people to exploit, but rather a potential market, there'll be NO stopping human development! I have some big ideas to combat that problem too... and posts, and videos, and partnerships on that will come soon. I may even be looking into getting a Bill and Melinda Gates grant to make that dream a reality... 

But despite all this goodness, this Omniprocessor isn't a fully completed product. And it won't solve everything. 

We Need To Ensure Everyone Benefits

The plant itself is designed for urban environments. Rural regions have similar issues with sanitation, and even more severe issues with getting access to clean drinking water than urban areas do in many cases. This processor needs to be downscalable if it wants to help those communities. But there are already some interesting ways rural communities can get access to clean drinking water, electricity and basic sanitation. Here they are, with my suggestions to improve them, and get them out there. 

Getting Everyone Access to  Electricity

Small-Hydro is a centre of innovation which focuses on getting rural communities access to electricity through, would you know it, small-scale hydroelectric plants. Where there's running water, with the assistance of engineers to set these up, you can get communities access to electricity, which can, for the first time, give them access to refrigeration, lighting at night and connect them to the outside world, which can potentially improve an entire communities' living standards. In fact, my father was, while we lived in Fiji, part of the energy department, and worked with Australian Aid engineers in developing and delivering small hydroelectric facilities to tribes of Fijians. What's amazing is that those Australian engineers used that experience to help develop the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme, which, to this day, provides 10% of Australia's largest province's energy, free of charge, proving that aid can benefit the behestor as well as the benefactor.

Getting Everyone Clean Water

Safe drinking water, another feature this omniprocessor is promising to deliver, is also being combated in many unique, innovative ways that can help people in big and small communities. Here are 6 pretty cool, small scale ideas that are promising enough, and have the capability to get millions of people access to safe drinking water. What these lack though is a way to get them to as many people as possible. If just one of these ideas could be implemented, and made to become for profit, or else, made to work as a social enterprise (a business which exists and profits ONLY to benefit people, rather than its owners hip pockets - I'll be doing a blog post on them soon), they could spread beyond imagining, quicker than any aid or charity intervention could. 
Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise concerned with getting homes and families in slums access to solar powered lights, providing safer lighting and heating for those living in them, has a unique business model which is very promising and could definitely be applied to one of those 6 ideas above! They employ "pollinators", people FROM the community, to go in and sell those solar lights straight to people who could benefit from them. Because these pollinators know the people and the culture from the inside out, they are more effective at selling those lights and conveying their importance (they are not only safer, they also save slum dwellers on costs of buying kerosine everyday) than any stand or stall could ever be. They collect the payments for these lights through microloans - lay-by style payments, and they've been so effective from start-up, they're thinking of expanding to other cities now! And you can help out! Buy a very handy, solar powered light from them, and you're helping them expand and make their impact even larger than it is already

The impact pollinate energy has made has been HUGE!

Their impact is huge - but their model is very replicable. Imagine if one of those water filtration systems were to have such a model, with possibly a microfranchise established around them (talked about in the second video, a Ted Talk above) set up! They'd make BILLIONS while also helping the poor and solving the problem of clean water for millions in the process! 

And that idea can be applied to other issues too...
But in the meantime, as I, or some genius starts up such a process, you can help too, in your own, ordinary life, by purchasing products from social enterprises such as ThankYou Australia. Everytime you're getting bottled water, buy a bottle of water from their brand (they're in most major retailers) and each product gets people access to clean water! I mean, if you're getting water, or hand-soap, or muesli bars (the hand-soap is so good for your skin - I can attest, my scarred and delicate skin has actually benefited from it, and the muesli bars are tasty and healthy), and you enjoy their products, why wouldn't you get it from their brand which goes on to help others over one that goes on to profit some already rich guy? 

I'll be talking about social enterprises in more detail on another blog post soon, by the way, look out for that too!

Getting Everyone Access to Sanitation:

HealthHabitat is an example of a charity which is trying to combat sanitation too, albeit, in a different manner to Bill Gates. Their goal is to improve households, which leads to improved living standards and outcomes for the world's poorest. They design and develop sanitation interventions for entire communities, improving toilet facilities and the like as one of their primary goals. And the way they deliver their services is very effective (which is extremely important, I talk about why here); often using what communities have much to offer - labour - and supplying them with what they don't have - designs, special equipment and expertise to get projects done. 
In one of their projects, in Nepal, they designed a unique housing system, which incorporated sanitation as one of its primary goals. Their toilets, however, had a special feature - they added special biological agents which converted sewerage into usable natural gas, which could give villagers a safe new fuel. Now at first there was some opposition, and fear of using such foul-sourced fuel. Villagers not only didn't know how to use the fuel, the fact that it came from, well, to put it bluntly, their shit, made them less inclined to wanna use it. Luckily though, the charity always consults and involves communities in holds their opinions on their projects in high regard, an important, simple idea that not enough charities do (I'll write about how important community involvement in ensuring our efforts to help others goes is). Because they took them into account, that opposition to bio-gas was soon dissolved and many Nepalese villagers now benefit from the cheaper, cleaner fuel. But that last factor brings up the other major issue with Bill Gate's Omniprocessor idea.

Community Opposition To Drinking Waste Water

Now you could write a whole paper on this topic and how to get around it. Many have. 
But this is probably gonna be one of the biggest, most controversial issues, responsible for most opposition to getting people drinking water from Bill Gate's and Janicki's Omniprocessor  Gate's  idea out there. 

Community engagement, and community education, unique, and personalised to different communities and cultures around the word, will have to be included in Bill Gate's thoughts on how to get this invention out there, helping as many people as possible.

A lot more thinking will have to occur to get this out there. But I'm sure Bill Gates is on-top of it. Tell him your ideas to get through this - and I'm sure he'll be interested too. 

And feel free to let me know your ideas too. Write on this blog - on the blog's Facebook page or email me at - I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime - enjoy your day!

1 comment:

  1. I love that TedTalk on microfranchises! I saw it a few weeks ago! And your ideas for spreading these ideas are so good.... what a smart man you are....


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