The Ripple Effect: Business, Inclusion and Clean Water Solutions

In this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show, Toby talks with Hannah Bellamy of charity: water about the lack of global access to clean waters and the role of businesses and HR professionals in addressing it.

My guest in this conversation is Hannah Bellamy who sat down with me to talk about her work to bring clean water to everyone. In this episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast. Hannah Bellamy joined me to talk about water. I was keen to learn how water relates to the work that we do in diversity and inclusion and how that agenda links to diversity and inclusion more broadly. So, get ready for an intriguing episode of The Inclusive Growth Show.

We got started with some introductions and I asked Hannah to tell me a bit more about who she is, her background, her current role, and her unique perspective on the charity she works for.

‘I work for a global organisation called charity: water and I’m the Managing Director here in the UK. I came to the charity through all sorts of different routes. My very first job was actually in publishing. I studied literature at university and went into the world in a very idealistic way, wanted to go into publishing and discover great literature and works of art and things. I quickly realised that publishing is a business and it has to work like any other.

It has to be able to sell its products and make them in a way which ensures there’s enough profit to be able to invest in future books. Once I realised that and that it wasn’t just about going out and discovering the next great thing, I decided that I would jump into business head first. I went and worked for a very large corporate on their graduate scheme and learned all about business – what it is how it does, how to bring people along with you, but also balance the books and all the many different considerations.

Within that, I realised the thing that most appealed to me and what was most important to me when I was in the workplace was the ethics of the business. So, how a business treats its employees, its customers, as well as considering supply chains and considering the organisation’s role within the world.
That was about 20 years ago, and I think the focus on those areas has really grown. I was working for an energy company at the time. It was fascinating to see how you source energy. How do you go into countries which are extremely different, with very different ways of working in terms of government and everything else? How do you source things responsibly? How do you then deliver energy to people’s homes and ensure that the environmental impact is considered and minimised? On top of that, thinking about how important what you’re supplying is to people.

So, lights on, heating on, people being able to cook. I jumped into all of that and learned so much about what business is and how it can impact people’s lives. How it can really grow and what does that mean for different people in different scenarios? Having done that for a while, I realised that my strongest motivation was around the charitable side of it. So, not only doing all of the business side, but actually trying to not only do things in the most responsible way, but also deliver positive impact.

I worked in partnership with a number of different charities and decided to leave and go work directly with a charity. That’s because I was motivated by thinking about climate change and what that means. What gets to me and my gut is kids and giving them an actual start in life and all the different roles and things there are to consider in terms of diversity and inclusion.’

Hannah is now at Charity: water, so I asked her, ‘Could you tell me more about the water crisis and the work that your charity does to address this?’

‘Of course. Right now, it might be very difficult for some of us to imagine, but there are 703 million people, which is almost one in ten people, who don’t have access to clean, safe water. What that looks like and feels like is not being able to turn the tap, obviously, but there’s a lot beyond that. I’ve met lots of different women in different countries who have this role of collecting water . One of our teammates lives in Malawi. For her family, what this looked like was her getting up at about 5:00 am, every single morning, putting on a very old pair of flip flops and walking about half an hour up and down a very uneven ravine. Unsteady on her feet, queuing, with lots of other people who are also going to collect water to their families.

Queuing and seeing cows drink from the water source, a pond type. I say pond. It’s only a few centimetres deep, pretty dirty, full of parasites, possibly leeches, sharing it with animals who are drinking there and pooing there and everything else. Queuing until you could actually access this water. Using a scoop, a bit like a plastic saucepan-type shaped thing maybe, or a cup and putting it into a jerrycan, all this water and putting that onto her head. Going back up over the ravine, down, taking it to her family and starting to go about the day, which would be preparing breakfast, cleaning the home, getting the kids ready for school. Sending them off to school. Looking after the goats, some subsistence farming. Then what you think, “Oh, great, she’s done”, she’s not done. Once the kids have gone off to school, that first amount of water she could carry is finished. And so once again, she’s off, she’s walking that half an hour route, back up the ravine, very unsteady, collecting more water and it’s pure drudgery.

So, the water crisis not only looks like not being able to access clean water and have that immediate human need met within the home but actually drudgery and chores and in many places about 80% of women will be doing the collecting of water which keeps them away from doing anything else.
The other side of it is not only holding people back in their potential, not having access to clean water and sanitation is the leading killer of children under five years old. I always think about that and the fact that we know how to solve this. This is something we know how to fix. I just think how can we not be motivated to want to fix this problem to save a lot of people from this drudgery and to save these children’s lives?’

The work I do with my team at Mildon is around diversity and inclusion within the workplace. We mainly work with HR professionals. I asked Hannah why she thinks HR leaders and businesses should care about issues like clean water and how does the situation that she’s just outlined relate to their employees and their role in society?

‘It’s such an interesting question. I think it touches people in so many different ways. How I look at it, and particularly when I think about HR professionals and that side of things, is that I go back to when I worked in a corporate role. I was in corporate responsibility doing employee volunteering and motivating employees, getting them engaged and involved with caring about the business. I think about it from that perspective. What’s hard when you are in that role and you’re trying to do that, is to think about how in businesses people are extremely different with a huge variety of passions and interests. Everyone has different things that motivate them. Things that perhaps hold them back and things that are going on with them in their lives.

What we see is that clean water is, first of all, something we all need. The next thing is it’s something we can all agree on. So, in a time when we’re particularly polarised and when the workplace could be difficult with certain global issues, it’s a time to find a cause that you can bring people together around. Finding a shared interest is important within that HR role. So, that’s the first piece for me.

We actually say it’s something we can all agree on. We even use that tagline. Clean water is the first thing you can talk to anybody about. And we have never had anyone say, that’s a really bad idea. Don’t provide clean water. They don’t need clean water. People can disagree on so many other things, but you are not going to have this separation. The topic can really unite employees around a cause and finding a cause is important.

I was reading a British study, by Dr. Fleming from the University of Oxford who published it just a week or so ago looking at 90 different interventions that professionals are bringing into the workplace to see how can we boost the wellbeing of employees. So, is it around coaching? Is it around any type of meditation? Is it counselling services? As I said, he looked at around 90 different interventions. And what he found is the only one that moved the needle on well-being was the chance to be involved with a charity. And so that’s huge.’

I asked Hannah if she could share an example that points to how starting to solve this problem also addresses other issues that we might be seeing in education or in health and things like that.

‘When we’re talking about the water crisis, it’s not something I experienced growing up. But that’s not to say that a lot of people within the UK and many other countries didn’t experience it when they were young. Perhaps their parents did, or their grandparents did. Last October with Charity: water, we took what we’re talking about to the streets to try and make it real for people and help them understand it. We went into London and we projected a woman walking for water. This woman lives in the Sahel region which bridges Niger and Mali. It’s a harsh desert arid environment. Some say it’s one of the harshest places you can live. Accessing water means pulling it out from 800-year-old wells. It’s extremely dangerous, extremely arduous. The water table is moving and people are losing water there. It’s a difficult situation in terms of getting water. So, we had this film of this woman walking in that scenario, really elegant and beautiful. We projected this film, starting at Waterloo. Then we went across the bridge to the National Gallery. We projected her walking up on these things. And what that showed was the distance. This would be a 30-minute round trip that somebody would do to collect water. And while we were projecting the film, we were on Waterloo Bridge to engage people and have conversations. Lots of people have a glance, they’ll chat for a second and then they’re gone and they’re on with their day. But this one woman and her son stopped and they were stopped and they were chatting and she was smiling, beaming with happiness.

I tried to explain what we were doing. I said, ‘We are charity: water. We are here because 703 million people don’t have access to clean water. We want to spread awareness.’ And she said, ‘This is great. I’ve been trying to tell my son for years that this is what my life was like and he never got it and now he can see it.’

He was 11. She’d lived in the UK for a number of years. He was born here, but to her this was a very real, not that distant memory and she still had family living this way. She actually came from the Sahel region. So, for her, it really felt relevant. I think that’s what’s important. It’s very easy if it’s not relevant immediately to you or me to not realise that many of us work in global organisations or we have people who come from different countries.

Just because people are British it doesn’t mean that at some point they haven’t lived somewhere else or they don’t have family who live somewhere else. We all are humans and interacting. I think that whilst it isn’t a day-to-day reality here in London, there are many people here who do and have experienced this. That was eye-opening just to think about this for me. And the more I’ve talked to people about this, the more people have said, ‘That’s why I first supported charity: water’.

We had another supporter from Moldova, and her family live in Moldova. She would talk about how her grandparents have a well and this is how they access their water. So, it’s not always what we think and it does touch people in so many different ways that we don’t always realise.’

My next question was about what inclusive growth means to Hannah in the context of the work she does.

‘Growth is hugely important. Of course, we want to be inclusive and bring everybody with us. The reason growth is important is sometimes different for a business. They want to grow and they want to acquire new customers and they want products and services to be successful. But for me, all growth leads to more people accessing clean water.

At charity: water we have what we call a hundred per cent model. It means that every single pound and penny of public donations is invested in one of the 22 countries we work in. It’s invested in sustainable clean water solutions. Every time growth happens, I know I’m impacting someone else. It’s important because if we look at this as a global issue for a global workforce and a global customer base this is where some of the future employees, future customers and people are. Every pound that we invest in clean water infrastructure generates between £4-£8 within that local economy.

‘By investing in clean water, investing in what may seem like a far-off future, what we’re doing is raising the potential of people on this planet. Because otherwise, it holds people back, who otherwise spend hours doing this really long tedious chore, having no time to do anything else. Once that’s taken away, what it means is that women in these communities become entrepreneurs. They find their passions and their creativity and they make things. They may sell those things and their children go to school and they receive their education. Then maybe they go to other places and they join businesses and they do all sorts of other things. This one thing, this one clean water solution, the ripple effects are massive.’

I know that Hannah has recently worked with the Boston Consulting Group and they’ve been supporting charity: water so I asked her, ‘How do you see businesses and charities working together?’

‘Boston Consulting Group have done a number of different projects for us and they’ve done them pro bono. They give us access to ideas and resources and everything else, and the strategic thinking that we can’t do otherwise day-to-day whilst trying to build an organisational impact. For example, I’m looking day-to-day at what the numbers are in terms of donations. What are we doing there? So, to step back and look at the strategy is very helpful. Boston Consulting Group giving their time and their expertise is hugely valuable. It’s something that we need and we can then take and hopefully act upon and grow ourselves.

We get help from other businesses. Travis Smith for example, they’re a legal firm. They give us pro bono legal support. They’ll look at things like our employee handbook checking our employment policies and how are we treating people because we have to consider that ourselves.

Then there are other organisations we work with, Bending Spoons, for example. They give us every candidate they see for a role, and even when they don’t get the role, they will make a donation to us on their behalf. So, it’s a way of just saying thank you. We have quite a few businesses who do things like that when it’s an employee’s birthday for example, or we have others who go beyond that. Beam Suntory, they do what’s called One Suntory Walk. Many different employees in different locations around the world will walk to fundraise and bring that money to charity: water.

We also work on the marketing side of things and project launches. Instead of Black Friday last year, Stanley Cups did what they called a Glow Week. They gave 25% of revenue on their website to charity: water and we’re bringing clean water to thousands of people thanks to that. So, there are different ways that businesses can get involved. I think the main thing for me, and this goes back to me and why I do what I do, is business going beyond developing the product and the service and that is the purpose piece. Giving employees something to unite around and bringing that to the workplace and then spreading that further to others by engaging with a charity that is the right fit to have that knock-on impact. There are all these amazing people with incredible skills, passion, and they want to do something else to see and map the impact and see what they’ve achieved.’

Since the majority of listeners to The Inclusive Growth Show work in HR, I was keen to understand what HR leaders could do within their organisations to support causes like Clean Water and how they could they become a force for good in society.

‘For me, the first thing is having that step back realisation that many employees do want to do good through charitable work, and it boosts engagement and helps keep employees. So, once you’ve thought about that, then it’s thinking about what cause is relevant to my employees or to us as a business. The barrier we sometimes face is people say, “Oh, well in our workplace, we want to help a local cause because this is where we’re based and this is what is important to us.”

So, it may be a food bank, it may be something else, and don’t stop doing that. That’s not my message. My message is that yes, do those things, but as I’ve already said, people have all these different backgrounds and all these different experiences and all these different passions and you have to do more than just work on your doorstep.

People often say things like, well, charity begins at home and all these other things, but we are a global human race. As I’ve said, dirty water is the leading killer of children under the age of five. So, if you really want to do something and to move the needle and stop that, you can. We have the power to do that as people. That’s what I think. So, HR leaders are perfectly placed because they’re about people and bringing people together and moving people and creating movements.

For me, this is something they could definitely do and I would love them to do and I’d love to chat with any of them. I always want to come in and give presentations and talk and get ideas flowing as to what works in any workplace in terms of fundraising. Finding out what that would look like for different organisations.’

If we look at the United Nations sustainability goal of clean water, that’s the one that always jumps out at me as being something that we could probably all easily relate to. In the UK we all pretty much use water on a daily basis to drink or make a cup of tea. Have a bath or a shower. I think it is something that we can all understand. Then if we look at something like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s right there at the bottom in terms of our basic human needs along with shelter and security and stuff like that. So, it is, like Hannah said, a big unifier. I asked Hannah, ‘What’s your vision for the future and where do you see your organisation heading?’

‘I’ll just comment quickly on the UN sustainability goals because you reminded me that there is that sustainability development goal number six around clean water and sanitation and it’s really important. But if you achieve that one, if you move the needle on number six, you impact eight others. So, zero hunger is impacted because you’re not going to have as many parasites and things in the water for children. So, they don’t have to eat quite as much. It also helps to sustain the subsistence farmers. If you look at it improves the environment and the local infrastructure. It reduces poverty and in education, gender equity. So, it just goes on and on.’

I am in full agreement with Hannah here. When she was describing a woman walking half an hour each way to fetch water, I thought that there is a big gender equality discussion to be had. As Hannah has pointed out, it’s not just about water, it’s the impact on the other sustainability goals like gender inequalities.

Hannah added, ‘I always say it’s a social injustice issue. It’s not right. And it’s not fair. I look at so many other issues and so many things I care about and we all want to help but we don’t know how to fix them. This is something we do know how to fix. I look to the future and I want to see a day, and I believe we will see a day, where every single person will have access to clean and safe drinking water. What a moment we can all celebrate when we’ve managed to achieve that. Giving everybody that one place to start from. “You will not be born into a clinic where your mother is unable to wash after giving birth. You will go to a school and there will be toilets and there will be drinking water. And at home, you will have drinking water and you will be able to wash and you’ll have that dignity.” Give everybody that chance. So, for me, we just have to keep going until that happens.’

To support the work of charity: water or to learn more about what they do visit their website. To get in touch with Hannah Bellamy reach out through her LinkedIn page.

For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to the Mildon website.

The Ripple Effect: Business, Inclusion and Clean Water Solutions - Mildon