WINTER 2020 / REAL-LEADERS.COM 19 CHANGEMAKERS “I’M A BIG BELIEVER THAT IF PEOPLE PUT A FINANCIAL VALUE TO SOMETHING, THEY’RE GOING TO CARE FOR IT AND NOT WASTE IT.” — SUNIL LALVANI and horrified at the same time.” Lalvani got out of the vehicle that fateful day in 2014 to talk to the children. They said they lived about 110 yards up the road and had been on their daily 1.2 mile-trek for their families’ water when they came upon the puddle. He walked with the children to their village and learned that the handpump installed by an NGO had broken down years before, and they had neither the funding nor the expertise to repair it. Since the breakdown, the children walked more than a mile each day to retrieve water, as they had been doing before the hand pump installation. “I felt a responsibility to do something,” Lalvani explains, “I also felt that, given my business background, there was something I could do to help them.” And so, Lalvani founded Project Maji (Swahili for water), which was initially part of the corporate social responsibility efforts of his family’s business. His first challenge: figuring out how to improve the centuries-old hand pump. “The hand pump has served its purpose, but it has many weaknesses and is not an acceptable solution in today’s day and age,” Lalvani explains. Given his electronics experience and what he calls “a lot of hard work by a lot of people,” he figured a way to harness Africa’s abundant sun to power a water kiosk pumping system. These new solar-powered pumps remove all the manual effort of a hand pump, increasing capacity for the community. They are also equipped with mobile monitoring. “With our technology, we know when they are working and when they aren’t, so we can go back and fix them when necessary,” adds Lalvani. As of the last count, Project Maji has provided 50,000 Ghanaians and Kenyans with sustainable access to safe drinking water. Lalvani plans to scale the program to additional countries and reach at least a million people by 2025. Achieving his goal will take, according to Lalvani, “a massive amount of work, and of course, generous partners and donors. One of Project Maji’s core tenets is that its impact on water poverty is sustainable. Acknowledging that many good charitable models have been successful for decades, Lalvani advises that a new model is required for future success and longevity. “Organizations that rely purely on donations and have no incentive to look after their cost base nor ongoing revenue streams are going to be challenged,” says Lalvani. “Come at it from a business mindset, look at revenue streams, look at optimizing your costs, and anyone can solve that. We look at this as a sustainable social business model rather than a pure charity model.” To that end, he works with the village communities where the pumps are installed to determine an agreeable, affordable, nominal fee for the water. He charges a fee to ensure that if anything goes wrong with the pump, there is money to repair it. The other reason is more philosophical. “I’m a big believer that if people put a financial value to something, they’re going to care for it and not waste it,” Lalvani explains. Lalvani encourages other business leaders to take on humanitarian issues, saying, “Any humanitarian issue or cause can be tackled by any competent business leader.” His advice is to approach any issue with a business mindset. “Look at the end beneficiary. Look at what kind of problem they have and ask yourself, what kind of solution can we offer?” n Karen Burkum is the senior editor of content for YPO. YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 chief executives in 130 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders.