Seeker Spotlight: ITT Watermark

Posted by Connie French on Apr 11, 2011 9:33:21 AM

ITT Watermark, the corporate citizenship division of ITT, recently posted a Challenge aimed at educating people about the importance of clean drinking water.  We asked Bjorn von Euler, Director Corporate Philanthropy for ITT Corporation to tell us a bit more about this Challenge.

Hello Bjorn.  Thanks for talking with us today. ITT Watermark works with a number of non-governmental organizations to educate and empower communities to manage local water resources. Can you tell us a bit about ITT Watermark and why you decided to work with InnoCentive on this Challenge?

ITT Watermark works with three partners: Water For People in India, Honduras, Guatemala and Peru; China Women's Development Foundation in China and Mercy Corps around the world on natural disasters response and mitigation. Our work must be sustainable. We chose to prioritize the next generation, which is why we have focused our work on bringing safe water, sanitation and hygiene education to schools and their communities. Together with our partners we have come to realize the importance of a holistic approach. It does not help much to provide all of the above in a school if the family is still lacking them.

It does not help if the water in the well is safe when the water is transported in buckets full of bacteria or if when it reaches home it is stored in a tank that has not been washed for a long time. Many times people know that they should cook the water for it be safe - but don't have wood or gas to heat it.

The Guatemala Girlsbusiness case is clear - you need workers that are healthy. When we saw this opportunity with InnoCentive - we thought - lets try to see if brilliant people outside our sector can find ways to inspire and educate families and communities in need to understand what to do to change their lives.

With this Challenge, you are looking to educate illiterate populations about the importance of purifying drinking water. On the surface it seems like such a simple and fundamental piece of knowledge. What are the potential issues you face in educating illiterate populations on this?

First of all - you have to realize that the solution is heavily weighted toward the social side: Drive awareness, Develop this to desire, Develop a plan to bring safe water and sanitation to the location and for its sustainable operation - including co- financing of the services. Then create budgets and establish pay and collection systems. Finally, define maintenance and service procedures and identify suppliers of backup systems, etc.

To achieve above you need time and people - lots of it.

Great communication programs are needed - that move people to a position where they want to make the change and actively search for help and solutions.

Are the educational solutions you are seeking from this Challenge targeting adults or children? In other words, who is the target audience within these illiterate populations?

We need to think about this in a holistic way. We need to educate and train the children. They will bring their learning to the families. Especially the girls. At the same time we need to support them and educate the families. Our messages and education efforts must find the families in their immediate need situations.

You mention in that boys are less receptive to the concept than girls. Can you elaborate on this?

Well, this is not something that is just happening in developing countries. I think we all are ready to accept our observations that girls are more prone to accept hygiene praxis and also educate their families. We have seen that educating a girl will reach at least 10 people while educating a boy will mostly stay with him.

How will you implement the solution(s) that you select?

 

We obviously are working with great partners and they are linked to local NGO's - so we heave access to a lots of feet on the ground and organizations that can help refine and tailor the solutions to the actual situation on location.

Your mission states that “By working at both spectrums of the water crisis, in both developed and developing countries” you can create holistic, sustainable solutions that address the critical role water plays today and for years to come. Can you elaborate on the cycle of sustainability you envision?

Our way of defining sustainability is simple: the installation should be fully operational and financed 10 years after it was installed. During these 10 years our employees participate in mapping and following the progress by visiting the locations. We will not start a project without a commitment from the community that they will somehow participate in the funding of the project at a  level of 25-30%.

Most of our learnings and definitions of sustainability are developed with Water For People. They are clearly a thought leader in this space and we are proud of being their partner.

We see our work together with our partners as part of our innovation work,. Through our employee trips to the location, we have the opportunity to closely study the need situations. In doing so we can address these needs - either through low tech solutions of what we already use in the developed markets, or by addressing the challenge to find new and better suited solutions. We need to be very prudent not to bring solutions that the developed world is struggling to maintain or deal with. I'm thinking of our water and wastewater infrastructure, huge treatment plants etc.  We need to be smarter and help these people to find smarter ways, And perhaps bring those back the old world. I think this is very likely.

Thanks Bjorn - good luck with your Challenge.

Thank you.  This is extremely exciting and we are looking forward to receiving many proposals.

Topics: Challenges, Seekers

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