Dear Mister Wesian, what is your take on water as a basic human right?
Wesian: The United Nations declared access to clean water a human right on 28 July 2010, i.e. it now holds the same rank as the human rights of life, freedom, and equality.
Without water every day, people cannot progress, and certainly not escape out of poverty. Being declared a human right, access to clean water has attained the sort of standing that had been necessary for a while.
In addition to the ethical aspect, this declaration is mainly aimed at speeding up the expansion of water supply infrastructure, with a clear goal: to provide all people with access to clean water in the future.
When and how did you have the idea of solar water disinfection and thus of the development of the WADI? How long did the development take, and what were the biggest challenges on the way to the implementation and readiness for production?
Idea: I realised the need for clean water when I contracted cholera in Venezuela. And it was not the infection that I suffered from that was the clincher, but the unequal way my friends were being treated there. I was given access to medical care and to clean water because I was European.
The idea for the WADI* resulted from an article in DER SPIEGEL (German weekly news magazine) about the SODIS method of ETH Zurich and its founder, Martin Wegelin.
Implementation: The development of the WADI and the research into its basic principles was done in close cooperation with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, thanks to Prof. Maria Fürhacker and her team. After 1.5 years of R&D in the lab and field experiments in Africa and India, the production of WADI was launched.
Of course, we continued to face a multitude of challenges at this stage as well, from sufficient funding to access to the key players in the sector. But this is probably true for every business.
Did you get support in the development phase? Who were your partners? (banks, funding agencies, private patrons, etc.)?
Wesian: I would have to mention the excellent grant structure in Austria. FFG (Austrian Research Promotion Agency), Wirtschaftsagentur (Vienna Business Agency) and others offer (research) grants that support businesses from the start. Especially development projects that require lots of research such as the WADI would not be possible without such grants.
What was or is your goal, and who do you want to reach with it? Is commercial success a goal or is this about the impact on people?
Wesian: Both are goals of HELIOZ. Social enterprises in particular have to proof that ethically motivated and entrepreneurial actions are indeed reconcilable.
Where and how is the WADI produced?
Wesian: Quality and thus a long life span are particularly important for the WADI to make sure the user can produce clean water for as long as possible without having to incur further costs.
So far, we have only achieved these high quality standards with one Austrian manufacturer, i.e. Melecs in Upper Austria.
How often can the WADI be used? What happens if it does not work anymore or has become unusable?
Wesian: The WADI can be used several times a day and for several years due to its solar cell. We guarantee a life span of two years but can see WADIs that have been used for five years every day in the field.
Do you have any other projects or products?
Wesian: The WADI is our product; as HELIOZ, we offer our customers mainly services, for example our programmes aimed at reducing CO2, which offer a simple option for CO2 compensation to companies and at the same time create social valued-added in the target region.
In our project in Bangladesh for example, thousands of families can now save a fifth of their monthly income because they use the WADI and do not have to buy disinfectants anymore. The customer, in this case the retailer Hofer, benefits on several levels: the well-being and development of their suppliers and their families in Bangladesh are ensured, an important part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fulfilled, and at the same time, thousands of tons of CO2 are saved every year.
We also offer tailor-made CSR solutions for companies as well as the WADI as alternative to traditional disinfection methods such as chlorine tablets for NGOs and individuals.
We have assumed a pioneering role in other technical solutions for the lowest income bracket in the world. We would also like to mention our international research project, WATERSPOUTT**, in this context, which develops disinfectant solutions on the basis of the WADI
What do you think about the topic of “water funds“ that keep cropping up in the media (mega trend, large companies that bottle and sell water, water utilities etc.) Can they contribute to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitary facilities)?
Wesian: Here we have to distinguish between the projects of companies whose only goal is to maximise profits and thus often cause the situation of locals to deteriorate in the long run and funds that emerge financing projects via social impact bonds. They provide the pre-financing of projects with a defined social value-added, which in turn can be refinanced by savings in the public sector.
From my point of view, finance that comes with an added value for society is the way to go in the future.
[Alexander Osojnik & Armand Feka]
*For more information on WADI and the process of water disinfection, please visit https://www.helioz.org/WADI/