Ning Jiang, a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara is collaborating with Safe Water International to develop and test a sustainable water filter to use in developing countries that lack clean water.
Here is her video aimed at raising funds and public awareness.
I asked her some questions about her video and work. Her answers are quite interesting...
Q: Why isnt safe water or your lab paying for testing? Is there a cost share? Is this "unrelated" to research funding?
A: For most university labs in the US, we as the students sometimes need to get our own funding for research. Professors get grants for specific projects. As a result, they can't use those funding for unrelated projects. My adviser is very supportive of my idea, but since this project is not directly related to her other funded projects, she can't just take out a big chunk of her grants to fund me.
Safe Water International (SWI) is a wonderful but small non-profit that's run entirely by volunteers, and it doesn't have a big budget as some other large organizations do. But it also means that, since nobody takes any salary from the funding, all the $$ generated from Rotary funds and other funding sources go directly to projects. Taking funding out from SWI's budget means that less money is going towards other projects.
A little more about SWI. SWI is founded by Larry Siegel, who after retirement, decided to start this initiative and apply his knowledge in the water sector to help people in need. Other board members are also retirees or have other occupations. They have been doing great work in many countries, such as Malawi, Cambodia and Guatemala. Larry lives overseas in work sites more often than not. He is in Cambodia as we speak. (Please check out the SWI website for more information http://safewaterintl.org/)
That's why I love working with them and why I wanted to take the crowd-funding opportunity to generate public interests and get funding for us. Doing controlled, reliable science experiments is expensive. $2000, although is my SciFund target, does not cover all the costs. Any donations beyond the $2000 goal will also directly go to this project. In addition to crowd-funding, I am applying for other more conventional grants, such as government grants and institutional grants.
Q: Sustainable business models are for profit. Is there a plan to sell these filters for profit or will they just be given away?
A: The filters won't be just given away. As numerous case studies showed before, when a product is given away for free, the recipients often don't appreciate the value in the product. As a result, they either don't care to use it, or don't take care of it. SWI is not selling the filters for profit either. The sustainability aspect of the filter lies in that the villages will become self-sustainable at making and repairing the filter after the initial outside aid from SWI.
Q: $8/year may STILL be too much for people who cannot calculate costs and benefits...
A: You are exactly right! Filter development is only a part of the solution. It has to be complimented by education. One biggest problem we face in many developing countries is that people do not realize that dirty water is the cause of diseases. Pathogenic microorganism is a foreign term. People would rather spend a lot of money on hospital cares than spending a relatively small amount on a water filter. Also interestingly, in many places, such as Sudan, people would rather spend money on Coca Cola or cellphones than investing in safer drinking water. It's the marketing aspect of delivering clean water solutions. We have to help people see that safe water, before Coke or cellphones, is a "must have." SWI, as well as many other wonderful organizations, are actively implementing education programs that help the people learn about the importance of having pathogen-free or pathogen-reduced water. But that opens a whole new discussion.