Joy in filtered water

Sometimes I forget how much fun there is in the work we do.

Philip Wilson, founder of Ecofiltro in Guatemala, reminded me of this. While I was in Guatemala last month for a board meeting of Safe Passage, Philip gave me a tour of the plant where he produces clay pot water filters. He sparkled as he showed me the clean floors, open-aired plant, solar panels, and organic garden.

An entrepreneur who founded a successful web services company, he spends most of his time now running Ecofiltro, a “social business” whose goal is to reach one million rural Guatemalans with clean water by the year 2020.

Philip’s family foundation had been working with the inventor of this inexpensive water filtration system for 20 years. In 2007 Philip proposed that he take the technology and turn it into a business. Ecofiltro’s hybrid approach uses urban sales of filters to finance the distribution of rural filters at an affordable price.

Philip says his sister, trained as a social worker, didn’t talk to him for a few months because he charged rural families for the filters. But he had watched her try for years to distribute chlorine tablets to rural Guatemalans, only to find that they used the chlorine to clean their clothes or floors, but not to purify their drinking water.

Now Ecofiltro has 50 employees, has helped one million people gain access to clean water, and the open technology is being used in 59 factories in 38 countries. In addition to using solar energy and growing organic produce for its employees, Ecofiltro has just gotten certified to sell carbon credits.

Does private enterprise trump nonprofit?  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that a passionate, creative, Wharton-trained entrepreneur is getting more filters out there than in the previous 20 years.  And that he’s having a ball.

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