In a world that faces energy shortages, we pay a great deal of attention to traditional and renewables forms of energy, but it seems that we underestimate the most powerful one: the energy of ideas.
We are at a unique point in history where scientific knowledge is a commodity and the available capacities to develop new technologies are outstanding. Then, what shall we do with all the potential accumulated by academia and industry alike?
Technology is advancing rapidly, but for the poorest people in the world life has not changed much. There are hundreds of millions of people that still live in a state of perpetual crisis. The natural evolution of society has led us to contradictions like having Nasa’s Curiosity Rover exploring Mars, while a child dies every 21 seconds due to preventable waterborne diseases.
Innovation is a tool that leads us to look forward to the future, anticipating problems by constantly seeking opportunities. It is also an invitation to take action, moved by the power of our own ideas and materialised in real solutions.
Annual economic losses associated with inadequate water supply
Developing technical solutions alone is not enough, there are many other factors that need to be addressed from the innovation standpoint. The key to generating significant impact is pairing technologies with novel approaches to social and environmental issues. Technological progress can be connected to social improvement by establishing innovative business strategies. Through the convergence of these innovations it is possible to generate impact that is sustainable and scalable.
The reason there are still so many people suffering from hunger, lack of drinking water and sanitation, pollution and a number of other old problems that still persist, regardless of the impressive technological progress nowadays, is because we rely on obsolete models. This is not just a problem for governments, but for the entire society. Large corporations will not be able to continue performing the way they do without considering the increasing social unrest. For instance, soon it will be impossible to continue producing soft drinks with a water footprint of over 600 liters of water per produced liter. It has been projected that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions by 2025.
Similar situations can be observed in every productive sector. For example, there are huge investments projected in the mining sector – $88.5bn for the next seven years in Chile alone (according to the Chilean Copper Commission) – which is certainly needed due to the number of benefits that mining corporations generate. Benefits include the production and contributions to local economies, employment, services, infrastructure, human capital formation, technological progress, economic dynamism, and more, but the extraction of resources cannot be done at the expense of communities and the environment.
Business will not be viable in the long term if innovation is not applied to their activities, and the way corporations relate to their surroundings.
Consumption behaviour and consumer-brand relationships are not the same as they were a few years ago. Corporations cannot just ignore social and environmental issues, they need to anticipate the effects that a stressed world will have on them. This is only possible through innovation.
Today’s informed society demands solutions for a number of social, economic, political and environmental issues. Corporations can no longer simply focus their efforts on optimising their production processes and increasing profits. Regardless of current results, they need to align with the ongoing transformative social changes. To enhance their performance, and even to ensure their sustainability, companies need also to improve and strengthen the relationship with their ecosystem, through initiatives that generate social and environmental impact.
When engaging in humanitarian campaigns, corporations generally assume that their contributions will not generate direct benefits for them or, in the best case, will slightly improve their brands perception when properly communicated. Nevertheless, given the increasing social pressure for a responsible performance, corporations often are forced to carry out diverse initiatives in order to enhance their relationship with the environment around them.
Making an impact
Despite some laudable initiatives by several major corporations, their remarkable efforts have not reached the scale required to generate significant impact. Even though CSR campaigns can generate great impact for their beneficiaries, it is accepted that philanthropy is not good business for corporations. We believe that it is possible to break this paradigm.
This is not about demonising or blaming corporations, neither is it an ideological debate. It is about proposing a new effective model. When creating appropriate solutions for those billions of people in need, it is possible to generate several new billion-dollar businesses based on shared value.
In addition to their own objectives, large multinational corporations have a unique responsibility. They have the opportunity to help the poorest populations achieve major progress in human and economic development.
At the Advanced Innovation Center (AIC) in Chile, we have demonstrated that it is possible to connect technology with poverty. Not based on philanthropy, but on sustainable business models. By linking together the interests of different parties it is possible to generate social and economic impact at the same time. The most important condition for a successful partnership is fostering mutually beneficial interdependence.
Continuing with the previous example on a social crisis that threaten the sustainability of corporations, the lack of access to clean drinking water is one of the largest drivers of extreme poverty around the world today.
Few problems cause so much damage and human suffering; few issues are as entrenched and universal as the need for reliable access to clean water. Providing safe access to clean drinking water is one of the most impactful things any organisation can focus on. For every $1 invested in safe drinking water and sanitation, the World Health Organisation estimates returns of $3-34; not to mention the positive impact it can have on issues related to education, women’s rights, and freedom. When providing clean water, beneficiaries also gain hope and dignity.
Furthermore, the World Bank has estimated the total economic losses associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation at $260bn annually. There has been an enormous amount of money spent on trying to end this horrible problem with very little to show for it. Despite the best efforts of organisations around the world, the progress made thus far has not been good enough.
Corporations and consumers
To deal with this global crisis AIC has created a new technology – the Plasma Water Sanitation System (PWSS). This has proven to be a highly efficient distributed solution for underserved communities, besides many other possible applications. In accordance to our model, we have paired this technology with innovation in the way corporations relate to their consumers and improve their sustainability. We will lead a worldwide humanitarian campaign for providing millions of people in need with access to drinking water, while reducing the corporate water footprint, all using advanced technology and guided by a global vision with local impact.
This campaign will be carried out by a worldwide network of corporations and their consumers, foundation, manufacturers, distributors and other relevant players. The impact created by these groups working together will be measured through a variety of metrics, like liters of water treated, amount of people served, reduction of waterborne diseases and even numbers of lives improved.
This joint effort will create a deep, strong, and lasting emotional bond with customers – based upon high levels of traceability and accountability – which would go far deeper than normal engagement. It would result in long-term customer loyalty. Corporations could also benefit by including this campaign in their water balance accounting, so as to offset the water footprint of their products. The result of this campaign will be greater than just one effort, it will lead to the creation of a Distribution Network for Good, which can be used to disseminate several innovations and technologies.
Convinced that the convergence of advanced technology and innovative business models leads to high social and economic impact, we have created FAZ Foundation. Instead of using outdated, traditional approaches, we use a new model that allows us to maximise our impact, accelerating the fight against poverty while establishing viable corporate objectives.
Developing innovation always involve a great amount of risk, both technical and commercial, however, the real risk is in not innovating. We believe that innovation is no longer an option, but an obligation.