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Water is Luxury: Perspectives on Socially Inclusive Water and Sanitation Services and Enterprises

Why is clean water still a luxury for communities in Asia? And how is this issue being addressed today by non-profits, social enterprises, and the private sector? Last month, UBS staff in Singapore gathered to hear diverse perspectives on socially inclusive water and sanitation services and enterprises, in an event organised by Lien AID. Featuring a line-up of esteemed panellists from the social enterprise, impact investing, and international water sector, the panel discussion was held in conjunction with Lien AID’s Windows of Hope exhibition. The 2-day exhibition enabled UBS staff to travel virtually to a rural village and experience the impact of Lien AID’s clean water project in the community through immersive video.

The head of corporate communications at UBS, Ms Julie Yeo, made the opening remarks to a full audience, and welcomed them to the panel discussion. Mr Ian Chen, programme manager at Lien AID and the panel moderator, subsequently touched upon the discussion format which involved presentations by the panellists followed by an interactive question and answer session, covering sub-topics such as socio-economic impacts of inclusive water and sanitation services in developing economies, as well as the challenges and future opportunities within the space.

Ms. Rebecca Paranjothy, co-founder of Freedom Cups.

The first speaker, Ms Rebecca Paranjothy, cofounder of Freedom Cups, shared the positive social impact Freedom Cups has made through its socially inclusive enterprise approach towards menstrual hygiene and sanitation. Freedom cups is a social enterprise operating on a buy-1, give-1 model to distribute reusable silicone menstrual cups to women in rural communities.  Rebecca shared that almost a quarter of girls in rural countries drop out of school the moment their first period hits due to a lack of facilities or supplies. With the use of Freedom Cups, women will be able to get through a full month of school or work and not fall behind their male counter parts in terms of education or income.

Mr. Frodo Van Oostveen, Managing Director at The Water Agency.

Mr Frodo Van Oostveen, cofounder and managing director of The Water Agency, a network orchestrator for the international water sector, spoke next and explained the critical importance of collaborative partnerships in developing innovative approaches towards addressing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges. Frodo emphasised the importance of finding the right flow of collaboration and highlighted the need for governments to implement regulatory frameworks to ensure standards are met; for private companies to step forward with innovative ideas to address water challenges; and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to share local insights and building strong relationships on the ground.

Mr. Robert Kraybill, Managing Director, Portfolio Management at Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) Asia.

Mr Robert Kraybill, managing director of Portfolio Management of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) Asia, rounded up the panel presentations with insights on the role of impact investing in supporting and accelerating the growth of social enterprises in developing economies. IIX is the home of the world’s first social stock exchange and the world’s largest private placement platform for impact investing. Drawing on his experiences, Robert said that a key challenge for social enterprises is making clean water devices accessible and affordable for rural families that often live on $3 – $6 a day. He shared that a social enterprise in Indonesia was able to resolve clean water challenges with support from IIX by selling water filters to households on credit through the local women entrepreneur network.

During the interactive question and answer session, a wide range of related topics were discussed, such as increasing education on WASH issues, the application of financial engineering to ensure the sustainability of WASH initiatives, and ways in which technology and innovation can enable safe WASH access in developing nations. Insights from the panel forum pointed to the importance of collective effort to overcome complex WASH challenges and dialogue between governments, NGOs, foundations, and the private sector.

More about Lien AID:

Founded in 2006, Lien AID is a Singapore-based international non-profit organisation with the mission to improve the health and well-being of last-mile communities in Asia by enabling sustainable access to clean water and sanitation. Leveraging our ties with local governments, international foundations, and partners, we have successfully mobilised funds, knowledge, and technical skills to deliver water and sanitation interventions across 6 countries in Asia – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – in more than 3,000 villages, 80 schools, and 50 health centres. In the process, we have impacted the lives of nearly 1,000,000 people.

Thingyan momentum puts greater focus on Myanmar’s water needs

This Water Festival, amid splashy fun and communal gatherings, Myanmar will welcome not only the Myanmar New Year, but also the beginning of the UN International Decade (2018-2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

According to UN projections, by 2025, half of the countries across the world will face water stress or outright shortages. By 2050, as many as three out of four people could be affected by water scarcity[1]. The new Decade, in continuation of the ‘Water for Life’ Decade (2005-2015), will focus on sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives[2].

Resolving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges in Myanmar, as well as other Asian countries where rural communities are suffering from a lack of access to clean water, is key for Lien AID, whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of last-mile communities in Asia by enabling sustainable access to clean water and sanitation.

Just last week, Lien AID concluded a month-long experiential public exhibition in Singapore titled Windows of Hope. Held in three public locations from March 20 to April 8, the exhibition allowed the public a unique chance to journey into rural Myanmar and Cambodia through virtual reality (VR) technology and physical installations, and see for themselves the region’s water challenges and what is being done to resolve them. The exhibition will continue to be open to companies who wish to host it in their premises.

A participant viewing the virtual reality video during the exhibition at 313@Somerset

Mr. Koh Lian Hock, CEO of Lien AID said: “Through the immersive 360° VR experience in Windows of Hope, we hope that more people will gain a better understanding of the impact of water challenges in our neighbouring countries. It takes collective effort across sectors – from governments to corporations, individuals, non-profits and academia – to solve the problem of sustaining access to clean water for the rural communities.”

In 2016, Lien AID launched a pilot clean water project in Tetma village, Mandalay, which consisted of a gravity-fed piped water system that distributes water from an existing tube well to shared water points in the village. Last year, Lien AID launched another pilot initiative in five villages across three townships in the Ayeyarwady region, enabling an estimated 3,866 villagers to gain improved access to clean water. In addition, the communities were also engaged through workshops on basic rural water management and hygiene, in an effort to raise their capacity and improve the sustainability of the project.

This year, Lien AID will continue to partner with local governments, civil society organisations and communities in Myanmar to improve overall WASH standards in the villages, as well as work on fostering institutional collaborations amongst government and non-government partners to meet the national 2030 WASH goals.

“The challenge often lies in understanding how to adapt solutions for specific locations, socio-political contexts and WASH issues, and ensuring sustainable outcomes. One key success we have achieved in Myanmar would be the strong working relationships that we have forged with our local partners, such as the Department of Rural Development, local civil society organisations and community leaders. These partnerships have enabled us to co-create solutions to enable access to clean water and sanitation for last-mile communities,” added Mr. Koh.

Lien AID first launched Windows of Hope last year, bringing it to various organisations in Singapore – AECOM, Allen & Gledhill, Arup, Asia-Europe Foundation, Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young and Expedia. More information on Windows of Hope can be found at http://www.lienaid.org/windowsofhope.

A version of this press release was published in Myanmar Business Today. 

Get a glimpse into life without clean water at Windows of Hope in the lead-up to World Water Day

Lien AID opens roving VR exhibition to the public for the first time to raise awareness on rural Asia’s water and sanitation crisis

This World Water Day (22 March), step into the shoes of over 200 million people in Asia who lack access to clean water at Windows of Hope, an experiential exhibition organised by Singapore non-profit organisation Lien AID. The roving exhibition aims to raise awareness on the region’s water challenges and what is being done to resolve them, by giving the public a unique chance to journey into Cambodia and Myanmar through virtual reality (VR) technology and physical installations.

Windows of Hope opens today and will be held at the following locations:

Date Time Location
20 – 21 March 2018 10am – 10pm 313@Somerset L1 Atrium
22 – 23 March 2018 8am – 8pm Ocean Financial Centre Open Space
2 – 8 April 2018 10am – 9pm Star Vista B1 Atrium

The VR video featured in Windows of Hope was shot in Preaek Chrey Village, Kandal Province in Cambodia. The villagers in the often-flooded rural area mostly rely on dirty river water or rainwater for drinking, cooking and washing. It is estimated that prior to Lien AID’s intervention, villagers spent on average 25 to 40 minutes preparing water (collecting, filtering, boiling, etc.) before drinking it. The alternative source of clean water was imported bottled water sold by a private company in Vietnam, which costs up to 3,000 Riel/bottle (USD 0.75).

Worker cleaning and disinfecting the bottles inside the water treatment plant at Preaek Chrey commune

To address this challenge, Lien AID has set up a water treatment and bottling plant in Preaek Chrey village that benefits the entire commune. The plant is operated and run by a water entrepreneur selected from local villages through a rigorous evaluation process, and a water management committee comprising local government officials was also formed to regulate the provision of water services. They were subsequently trained in basic rural water management and business skills. 75 such projects have been completed in Cambodia, and this project in Preaek Chrey village alone enabled an estimated 3,624 villagers from 929 households across Preaek Chrey commune to gain better and more affordable access to clean drinking water.

Last year, Lien AID also launched new pilot initiatives across three townships in the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, enabling an estimated 3,866 villagers to gain improved access to clean water. In 2018, Lien AID will continue to partner with the local government to empower and equip community leaders to improve overall WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) standards in the villages, as well as work on fostering institutional collaborations amongst government and non-government partners to meet the national 2030 WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) goals.

Globally, more than two billion people drink unsafe water, and over 4.5 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, according to a report[1] released in March by the United Nations and World Bank Group. Through Windows of Hope, Lien AID hopes to reach out to a much wider audience and galvanise greater support in solving the root cause of the water and sanitation crisis. Individuals can make a difference simply by sharing about the issue on social media and helping to generate greater awareness of Lien AID’s work. Companies which would like to offer their employees a unique opportunity to experience immersive 360˚ technology and play a part in bringing clean water to rural communities in Asia can also contact ruiyan.yong@lienaid.org for the roving exhibition to visit their offices.

More information on Windows of Hope can be found at http://www.lienaid.org/windowsofhope.

The Jaggery Trader

Ko Hmat Kyi, 46, is a small business owner in Tetma village, located in the Dry Zone of Myanmar. He supports his family through his palm tree and vegetable plantations. To make enough jaggery for trading, he has to climb 30 tall palm trees twice a day using a basic ladder made from two tall bamboos.

The sugary sap is collected using a number of small earthen jars. After that, the liquid is mixed into a large pot, boiled and stirred until it thickens to a paste. The worker would then knead the product into small chunks which hardens after being cooled. Inside the rudimentary kitchen where the jaggery is prepared, the air is hot, dense and sweet.

In the past, Ko Hmat Kyi had no choice but to send his eldest son to fetch water in the day as his time was fully occupied with his jaggery business. To get clean water, his son often had to travel to a neighbouring village and queue for two to three hours to wait for his turn at the tube well or hand pump. This also meant that on days when he went to collect water, he would have to miss school.

Ko Hmat Kyi and his family

Things got better for Ko Hmat Kyi’s family in 2016. In partnership with Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), Lien AID completed a pilot project in Myanmar, enabling villagers in Tetma village to gain better access to clean water via a solar-powered, gravity-fed water distribution system.

Ko Hmat Kyi told us that better access to clean water has not only made life more convenient for his family, but it also led to an improvement in the school grades of his eldest son. He was able to pass his university entrance exams and now studies at a university in the city of Yangon.

Read more about our pilot project in Myanmar here.