November 24, 2009
Cheryl Choge from GWC writes about Net Impact 2009
GWC's Cheryl Choge and Ashoka's Tito Llantada jointly presented the Changemakers program at the Net Impact Conference. Cheryl writes about the experience:
The Net Impact Conference at Cornell University this year attracted the largest audience ever – 2400 attendees. Net Impact is an international nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, educate, and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world. Most of its members hail from various MBA programs nationally.
I represented GWC for two main events: moderating a panel on water and co-presenting the results of the online competition held in 2008 with Ashoka Changemakers. The competition sought to discover and fund innovative ideas in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector.
I was encouraged by the number of people who attended both sessions. The panelists for "Access to Clean Water: A Top Down versus Bottom Up Approach," included Kevin Mc Govern from the Water Initiative, Gemma Bulos from A Single Drop, and Bjorn Von Euler from ITT Corporation. Each panelist offered a different approach to providing clean water, making the discussion quite lively. Kevin talked about the ‘Base of the Pyramid’ protocol used by his company to provide ‘Point-of-Use,’ solutions in Mexico. Gemma stressed the importance of community involvement in the decision-making process to ensure community ownership and hence sustainable projects, while Bjorn emphasized the importance of sustainability and distribution networks. However, all panelists agreed that long-term sustainability requires a focus on women. Several students stopped me throughout the day to express how much they had enjoyed the discussion.
Immediately after the panel, I rushed to the Biotech Building to set up the joint presentation between GWC and Ashoka on "Social Entrepreneurs in the Water and Sanitation Sector." Cornell is huge and the buildings are quite spread out so it was a mad rush to get from one panel to another. Tito Llantada, from Ashoka Changemakers, and I spoke to about 80 attendees. There was a lot of interest around "Manna Energy," and "Clean Shop," which were the two case studies profiled as examples of "hits" and "misses."
The audience really appreciated our transparency on what doesn’t work as this often can provide the best learning opportunities. I heard that some attendees later posed questions on ‘misses’ to other panelists in different workshops. We shared some of the lessons learned in our investments to local entrepreneurs, including:
- A need to make entrepreneurs "investment-ready"
- Funding needed to assess viability of low-cost water, sanitation and hygiene technologies from the developed world
- More focus needed on educational components (demand creation) as opposed to purely financing
- A need for flexible financing mechanisms
Several students approached me after the presentation to see how they could contribute their financial expertise to some of the enterprises that we have identified, which may need financial skills training and business model development. All in all, it was a very rewarding experience and we hope that the audience left inspired to work toward the very important goal of achieving universal access to clean water and adequate sanitation!