As a part of my series about “ Ideas That Can Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing…
Jon Kaufman. Jon started H2OpenDoors, a global project to provide water purification systems to villages in the developing world following a cruise with his late sister, where they witnessed the disparity of the “haves” and “have nots” following a picnic on an island beach. As they left the shoreline, they looked back to see the descent of hundreds of indigenous families ravage through the trash to eat from the remains of the lunch. The jarring image was an emotional awakening. He promised his sister that he would do something about it. To date, Jon’s technology model brings capacity for over 50 million gallons of safe drinking water to the rural poor in 11 countries including Thailand, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Nepal, Tanzania, Kenya and India.
In order to provide the equipment for schools, hospitals and villages to become self-sufficient through each enterprise, H2OpenDoors advises and mentors Women’s Water Councils and village elders on how to run an enterprise that funds social services and breaks the cycle of generational poverty. Recently Jon wrote Long Walk on a Dry Road, the Education of a Water Warrior (available on Kindle)tochronicle the people and places he has encountered throughout the world over the past six years. The book highlights the theme of self-reliance over dependency.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve long been in the world of advertising, and really enjoy helping others get exposure to the things that matter to them, but always knew that I had a larger calling on a global scale, particularly once I witnessed what I did in my travels. The aforementioned experience on a cruise ship with my sister changed my life forever.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There have been so many, I wrote a book about it. Long Walk on a Dry Road speaks to the different lessons that every installation in each village has taught me — from the wisdom of the land and animal kingdom to the powerful effects of weather and political discord, even warfare. We’ve been through so many chapters in the past six years, it is hard to set one experience apart as the most interesting. My recent expedition to India showed me just how broken the infrastructures are. Even the fanciest hotels in Delhi to Mumbai lack purified water that one can drink from sinks. The only way to get assured safe drinking water in many regions is to purchase bottled water. The poor cannot afford it, and instead carry waterborne disease for most of their shortened lives.
Can you tell us about your “Idea That Can Change The World”?
By ending the cycle of generational poverty and providing a self-sustaining model of dignity and empowerment to those who are marginalized and ignored. The H2OpenDoors model suggests that the poorest among us deserve safe water like you and I. That if anyone is to profit from the sale of safe water, it ought to be the poor themselves, in the form of support for their crumbling social services. Nutritional programs, classroom expansion, electricity and Internet, even college scholarship can be afforded from their earned proceeds with a robust water business. In most cases, as much as $100,000 per year can be earned when the purified water is sold at competitive prices. Our green, off-the-grid solutions produce over 5,000 gallons every day without any operating costs whatsoever. And each project is monitored by one of 35,000 Rotary clubs throughout the world for sustainability and good governance.
How do you think this will change the world?
The World Health Organization estimates that half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with those with waterborne disease. We also know that close to 2,000 children under the age of five die every single day of diarrheal disease. Besides the obvious yet overlooked health problems due to contaminated water on our planet, we continue to see continual welfare states develop generation after generation. By establishing and mentoring enterprises, rather than handouts, dignity and self-reliance bring hope of a world where the poor lift themselves.
In most of the developing world, government and upper class presses a foot on the backs of the poor, keeping them dependent and subservient. With opportunity for a pathway out of despair, the poor can find their own voice. This is a potential threat to the establishment, of course, but they must be heard. All people matter, and the future must count on young, gainfully-employed, motivated people…regardless of economic strata.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Initial investment into villages and schools. Since this is a program that develops enterprise with real revenue, investments capital can be returned within five years, plus interest. Straight contributions, impact investments, marketing and public relations opportunities can all fund the initial installations and establishment of these enterprises. We’ve been doing it for the past six years. Let’s scale it up so that thousands of villages, school and hospitals can improve health, raise revenue and save their crumbling social services.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1) Experts don’t always know what they are talking about. The media and others always are attracted to the latest shiny object, like atmospheric water generators that take water vapor out of the air. These ideas are neither new, nor cost-effective. The latest gadget from a so-called expert isn’t a viable substitute for field-tested, evidence-based solutions.
2) Local political pressures regarding improvement of people’s lives (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it theory). In Mexico, we installed a water purification system to great fanfare by the local mayor. Six months later, the newly-elected mayor disconnected everything because it wasn’t his idea.
3) Power of the bottled water industry is keeping pricing at a point where it is inaccessible to the poor. The average price of daily safe water for the rural poor is 1/3 to half of their daily income. Yet the bottled water industry pays fractions of pennies for the water and sells for dollars.
4) Draconian customs regulations and unreasonable fees at the borders and beyond of many countries work as a disincentive to help the people of their country. In Mexico, for example, when we want to DONATE a water purification system to the people of Mexico, the government charges us $3,600 in Value-Added Tax. Likewise, in Tanzania, Guatemala and so on. Getting charged to make a gift!
5) I wish I understood how deeply ingrained we are to giving, giving and giving vs. “teaching men to fish.” We do more harm than good with perpetual welfare. We see it in our own country. People need opportunity for education, for gainful employment. We are hard-wired to care for our families and for ourselves. Our charitable impulses should be better directed towards investments into enterprise, mentorship for their success and assurance of sustainability.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
The key word here is relevance. What you are doing must always be relevant and if it isn’t, move on.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
I would invest one million dollars in forty water purification and bottling plants in the developing world, each one providing 10,000 people with access to safe drinking water every day for the rest of their lives, as well as economic opportunity for women and young men.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
The Beatles lyric — “In the end, The Love You Take is Equal to the Love You Make”
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Because I run my advertising firm as well — which takes up just as much of my brain space…if not my heart and creative juices: Quarter Your Day: Divide your work day into quarters where you are able to give 100% of your time, energy and effort into one thing. If it is drudgery or boring at least you know it will be done soon, and then start another quarter refreshed and renewed. Scattered focus is the leading cause for loss of productivity.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Imagine being involved in something that puts the infrastructure in place for tens of thousands of villages each with the potential to earn $100,000 US Dollars in revenue, providing a return to those investors who may want to fund the establishment of these enterprises. Smart investment for high impact, bringing hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. Solve the global water crisis, empower the poor, break the chains of generational dependency… one village at a time.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook — https:///wwwfacebook.com/H2OpenDoors
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/h2opendoors
Website — http://www.H2OpenDoors.org
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About the Author:
Christina D. Warner is a healthcare marketer at Walgreens Boots Alliance. She is a Duke Business School alumnus and has innovated commercially for Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Veniti (now Boston Scientific) and Goldman Sachs. Christina is a regular columnist for Authority Magazine and Thrive Global and has been quoted in many national publications. You can download her free ‘How To Get Into the C-Suite and More: top secrets from CEO’s, political figures, and best-selling authors. Connect with Christina at LinkedInor Twitter