SEATTLE — Solea Water describes its approach to clean water projects as “community-empowerment oriented sustainable water solutions.” This reflects the organization’s commitment to service through partnership rather than unilateral action.
Once Solea raises enough money to fund a water project and targets a region in need, the team and its partners form a water committee of Solea Water volunteers and community members.
The committee’s collaborative planning and work includes “education [and]training…that empower communities and leave them capable of managing their own project in the future.” The organization prides itself on maintaining close relations with the communities it serves, even after completion of the water project.
Solea Water’s approach is also unique in its emphasis on sustainable solutions and, by extension, innovation. Employing this method takes into consideration how a water system fits the climate and specific needs of the community and how it impacts the existing environment and its durability.
By actively pursuing innovative and strategic solutions to clean water problems, Solea Water is yet another powerful example of the impact that growing technology has on eliminating poverty.
Rachael Burchett, Executive Director of Solea Water recently sat down with The Borgen Project to tell us more about her experience assisting those in need.
Burchett first became interested in clean water issues when she visited Panama on a mission trip in 2009. In 2014, the Solea team expanded their work from Panama to four other countries: Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Belize and Haiti.
Solea Water’s partnerships with the communities they serve as well as with other social enterprises in the United States are crucial to its work and mission. Burchett is an advocate of “co-opetion” over competition among nonprofits and social enterprises that too often miss opportunities to work together.
Equally important are Solea Water’s relationships with the communities they serve. Working with exceptional community partners that know the culture and community can help overcome other obstacles for Burchett and her team.
“As an American woman, I am limited in what I can do for communities in Panama,” said Burchett. “We rely on our local partners that have relationships in an around the culture. They can do more than we could ever do.”
Solea Water takes local input into serious consideration. Burchett and her team “default to [their]partners and communities for all the main decision making on projects. Sometimes projects take years to complete because of the cultural complexity and challenges that may arise.”
The technology utilized to make clean water available and sustainable in each of the partner communities is as varied and community-centered as the organization’s overall approach.
“There is no one-size-fits-all [solution]with us; everything is per community,” Burchett asserted. The team determines which technology and system would be best by considering the geology and climate of the area, what has worked in similar settings and what the particular community wants and needs and then proposes a plan. Solea Water is interested in providing durable, sensible solutions.
The organization’s strategy exhibits innovative thinking that Burchett believes is key to their success. “Often we see another NGO in a community or the government has come into the community and done something for them that may be a one-size fits all approach,” she stated.
Rather than adhering to “this old style development of giving handouts, we see our project as being innovative because 10 percent of the costs are raised by the community and then the community members are key players in putting together the system.”
This approach provides communities with the resources and opportunity to invest in themselves, rather than receiving aid that may not truly meet their needs.
By trusting local partners and being willing to think critically about existing solutions, new opportunities for change emerge. For instance, one of the local partners in Haiti broke down a water filter from an existing system and redesigned it to work better for the culture and climate.
Rather than spending so much time fundraising, Solea Water has decided to begin economic partnerships with communities through work with other social enterprises.
Silo Coffee and Goods is one of these social enterprises which sources its coffee and handcrafts from the same region where Solea Water helps those in need. Now, 10 percent of the profits from Silo Coffee and Goods are donated to Solea Water to implement projects in the same communities where the coffee is grown.
– Kathleen Kelso