Seth Godin said in his famous Ted talk, “People don’t want email they want memail”. My business professor once said in a presentation,” Give the customer what they need not what you want to sell.” This is a mentality that we have to embody if any business is to be successful.
Unfortunately, the water crisis is not being solved from that perspective. It is mostly the purview of charities. While the above mentality is crucial for business survival, the same cannot be said for charities and aid organizations.
The reason the water problem keeps recurring, is because people don’t ask the simple question,” What do you need?’’ You are now saying to yourself surely that’s not true. Its true! Because it seems obvious that for a person without water the answer would be “Water”. And that’s where the assumption comes in.
Why ask the question even if you know the answer? Because the perspective from a person who has walked the water walk and a person who hasn’t is totally different. How both solve the water problem will be as different as their perspectives.
For example, sustainability of water solutions had never factored in the planning process until recently. If it did, it was always overridden by cost drivers. However, if the solution chosen is the common hand pump for cost reasons, it breaks down easily because of wear and tear, friction and corrosion. Give it 2 years and you will need to replace parts or the whole. One glaring piece of evidence is the lack of planned maintenance for broken hand pumps. 50% of 60,000 handpumps installed in subsaharan Africa annually are not functional after 1-2 years. The World Bank has estimated that over the last 20 years this represents a loss of investment of more than $1.2bn.
The room where it happens
Since most aid organizations are based in developed countries or are founded and run by people from developing countries, the planning and design occurs there. The people who make decisions about water solutions to be deployed in developing countries are not there. They are in developed countries.
The location is important because if I am on the ground and I wanted to voice a different perspective, its too late. “If you are not in the room where changes are occurring, you are stuck in the yard where consequences are received” says TD Jakes. This is a call for inclusion in these rooms. Both financiers and recipients should voice their perspectives before the decision (choice of water solution) is made. Even beggars can be choosers!
Listen to the answer to that question because in the midst of it you will hear what they value the most. Who are they? Talk to the water carriers: the women not the men. Those with the need have authentic stories that should influence your solution. Some of them want their time back so they can do other things such as income generation. Some want to keep going to the river because that’s the only time they meet other women. It is called the water nexus. It may look different from location to location and it is my job to make sure I understand it for sustainability of the solution. After all the water crisis is about the people not the money. Right?