Local social entrepreneurs flex muscles to meet global needs

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(Photo: SHAWN DOWD/@sdowdphoto/, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Right now in villages in Uganda, Nepal and other global locations, residents are using handheld, solar-powered devices to convert salt water into chlorine that’ll be used to sanitize drinking water in their rural homes.

The idea for the patent-pending device came from local couple Patrick and Elizabeth Shores, who sensed grassroots local partnership could help thousands access safe drinking water. The plastic cup-like device is manufactured by Harbec, Inc. in Ontario, Wayne County, and the chlorine catch bottles are made by Nalgene, based in Penfield.

Untapped Shores executive director Elizabeth Shores

Together, these Rochester-based entrepreneurs and businesses have offered an innovative, self-sustaining solution to a global problem. Untapped Shores devices are now in more than 25 countries.

Smaller means more flexible

The Shores, like other local entrepreneurs, saw that while larger scale charities can bring major change to developing cities or disaster torn areas, smaller operations can be nimble enough to create tailored solutions to impact overlooked regions.

In the U.S., 11 percent of surveyed adults between 18 and 64 years old are engaged in total social entrepreneurship activity — one of the highest percentages among 58 global economies, according to a 2016 Social Entrepreneurship Report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

“Social entrepreneurship” is defined in the report as any kind of activity or organization that has a particularly social, environmental or community objective.

Clean water endeavors stemming from larger organizations, such as digging wells or distributing chlorine tablets, “rarely make their way out to these very rural areas,” said Patrick Shores.

The device, which launched at the end of last year, uses technology that’s not new — it’s similar to pool technology — but the Shores found the concept could be applied in a way that’s cheaply made, and easily used and transported. The finished kits costs about $150, and they are given to needy areas thanks to private donations, which are largely from the Rochester area, he said.

“We took the gold standard for water purification, and we created a device to make it accessible,” he said.

Untapped Shores’ model allows village residents, especially women and children, to use the device to make a living by selling clean water or the devices themselves. This is in addition to the benefits of clean water to fight disease, said Elizabeth Shores.

“A big part of our charity is sustaining social enterprise,” she said. “That’s been one of our favorite parts of the whole model.”

Untapped Shores normally works with people in inland villages who don’t have access to ocean salt water, but salt is one of the cheapest, most easy-to-get items in some of the poorest countries in the world, she said.

The device works with a solar-powered portable battery or a car battery, and about 10 milliliters of chlorine, or enough to fill two bottlecaps, could cleanse a typical office water cooler, she said. At full usage capacity, the device can clean enough water for about 2,000 people a day.

Developing countries often lack both clean water and adequate medical supplies. InterVol, another Rochester-based humanitarian organization, has been distributing excess or expired (but still useable) medical supplies to dozens of global destinations for nearly three decades.

Medical personnel drop supplies in bins located at Rochester-area hospitals and InterVol picks up the supplies, which can range from wheelchairs to Band-Aids. Volunteers sort the items at one of several Rochester-area locations, and InterVol ships everything to countries where hygienic medical supplies are difficult to come by. The organization also donate supplies to Boy Scout summer camps and other local efforts.

“We’re reusing and really doing more (with supplies) that would otherwise end up in landfills,” said InterVol’s director Nicole Jones, calling InterVol “Rochester’s best-kept secret.”

It takes a village

Small scale organizations relish community support to gain momentum, and in Rochester, there’s plenty of that to go around.

InterVol relies in large part on volunteers to gather and sort supplies, said Jones.

“Community support isn’t just important to InterVol; it’s vital,” she said. Medical professionals from Rochester Regional Health and the UR Medicine system have lent their knowledge to supply sorting and service trips.

“Our small staff, donors and volunteers are truly connected to our mission, and feel a lot of ownership and pride in what is being done,” she added.

Untapped Shores wouldn’t be what it is today without Nalgene and Harbec jumping on board, and University of Rochester students and alumni offering assistance in bringing the devices overseas, said Patrick Shores.

“Nalgene is known worldwide as the benchmark for high quality water bottles,” said Eric Hansen, marketing director for the company. “We were thrilled (the Shores) approached us and we loved the idea from the very beginning.”

One of the most powerful points of Untapped Shores’ vision is that ordinary people can be a part of it, said Michael Lightman of Buffalo. As a UR student three years ago, Lightman went to Jordan to donate an Untapped Shores water purification kit to the Jordan River Foundation, and to teach personnel how to use it.

The Foundation is a nonprofit non-governmental organization working on social justice issues. Lightman spent just a few hours training representatives on the device.

“(Untapped Shores) can get people who are hungry to make a difference to actually make a difference in a way that they don’t have to dedicate themselves full-time,” said Lightman. Rather than committing to an entire humanitarian trip, for example, ordinary people would be more apt to take one manageable step — such as packing a device in a suitcase on a vacation — to help someone in need.

That’s another advantage to being a smaller organization, Lightman continued — “To be sustainable, we need people to move dynamically and be agile,” he said. “The model (Untapped Shores) uses allows them to cut the red tape very quickly.”

Rochester acted as an essential incubator for these organizations to branch out on a global scale, said Patrick Shores, and they’re just getting started — they have projects lined up for the next five years.

“This is a Rochester story for solving the global clean water crisis,” he said.

STADDEO@Gannett.com

Source: USA Today

Note: this article does not represent the viewpoint of this website.

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