These are questions that IE professor Gayle Allard and her students have grappled with for the past six years, since she began leading volunteer groups to Ethiopia. This summer, they hope that they will be able to give an answer.
Since the IE students first volunteered as English teachers for little girls in southern Ethiopia in 2013, they were struck by the immensity of one overwhelming problem: water. Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of water access in the world: the World Bank estimates that only 3.9% of the rural population and 37.8% of the urban population have access to a safely managed water source. The result is disease, death and servitude of women and girls, who walk miles to fetch water rather than being able to work or study. The IE volunteers came back asking: is there anything we can do to make things better?
As groups have continued going to Ethiopia each summer as English teachers, water has always been on the agenda. Four IMBA groups presented Impact projects recommending solutions to alleviate the shortage in specific communities. The US water purification company Kinetico sent scientists with the IE students, to test local water sources and make recommendations. IE students surveyed local communities to help identify possible solutions, and people´s willingness and ability to pay for them.
In August 2018, a group of IE students from three programs –the MIR, the IMBA and the IE-Brown executive MBA–, along with a Kinetico scientist and Dr. Allard, are returning to Ethiopia to roll out what they hope is a sustainable answer to the problem. A local entrepreneur has been found who wants to manufacture simple water filters locally and sell them at affordable prices to households. The IE team is drafting a strategic plan for him and Kinetico will provide technical support. The Ethiopian entrepreneur will fly to the United States after the IE visit to complete a technical course in the manufacture of the filters, and hopes to start production in fall 2018. If his venture is successful, he wants to expand to other cities in Ethiopia, creating jobs and incomes but above all providing a source of safe water to Ethiopian households.
It isn´t easy to help from far away. It requires time, patience, flexibility and perseverance. About 70 IE volunteers have been part of this effort, and all will celebrate if this venture gets off the ground and becomes a reality.
By IE Professor Gayle Allard