Thirsty? Here in the U.S., we all are lucky to have access to clean drinking water, but many people in the developing world are not so lucky. More than one in six people lack access to adequate drinking water in developing countries. This amounts to nearly 1.1 billion people without access to safe affordable drinking water, a basic necessity to live a healthy and productive life. What if the clean water we purchase here could help bring clean water to those who lack it around the world?
As students at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, we should feel an obligation to share our privilege and work towards solving global inequities like this one, even through minor contributions and slight changes to our lifestyles.
A current Harvard student and an HBS graduate have made it their mission to bring clean water to people all over the world by providing us the opportunity to purchase water that will further water projects in developing countries when they founded Nika Water Co. three years ago. Theirs is an example we can all follow.
Nika, which is Zulu for "to give," was originally founded in San Diego by former HBS graduate Jeff Church and a team of young social entrepreneurs, one of which—Kara M. Kubarych ’13—is now a sophomore at Harvard. The social business sells purified carbon neutral bottled water (which means that they invest in carbon offsetting programs, such as their reforestation project in Nicaragua) and donates 100 percent of the profits to clean water, sanitation, and other poverty alleviation projects in Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya through partnerships with established non-profits.
While water purification for big populations may seem unachievable and costly, in fact, twenty five dollars can bring clean water to a person for a lifetime. Relatively speaking, $25 is a little pirce to pay with big returns. Because most of us spend $25 every week on eating out or at Starbucks or CVS, it hardly seems fair that petty spending in developed countries equates to essentially the cost of a life in an under-developed country.
Church realized the injustice of this disparity and got the idea for Nika Water after he traveled to Kenya with his family in 2007 and saw the devastating effects of the clean water crisis. Although people are often skeptical about the work of NGOs and how they use their money, to insure quality and transparency in its giving, Nika selects and monitors its beneficiaries carefully. Church visits each site and meets with the aid workers on the ground before investing in a project. The team also visits the projects to witness its impact and sustainability. Last March, the founding members of Nika traveled to Nicaragua where they turned on a system that brought clean water to 750 villagers for the first time. The team plans to work on the final phase of a two-year community development project this summer in Kenya with Free the Children.
Since its launch in spring 2009, Nika Water has expanded dramatically and is now carried in over 500 stores in Southern California. This fall the product expanded to Boston and is sold in many stores in Harvard Square as well as Harvard vending machines. The success of Nika at Harvard can be attributed to the hard work of Kara Kubarych and a small team of Harvard students dedicated to the idea of using business for good.
Kubarych, who was very involved in the launch of Nika as a senior in high school, is now eager to spread the trend of this philanthropic company from the west coast to the east.
Currently, she’s coordinating a Nika Business Development Team that is planning to work with other Boston colleges and vendors to promote the product and cause. While there are many great service and development groups at Harvard, working with Nika offers students a different, more entrepreneurial, experience. “Social enterprise can make a real sustainable impact on global issues,” Kubarych says. “It is exciting to see Nika grow and evolve with the help of likeminded students and conscious consumers.”
The social and environmentally conscious design and mission of Nika seems to be catching on quickly in Harvard Square and will hopefully expand more in the Boston area. Water is essential for life, and we take it for granted every day. There are many projects students can get involved in that work toward bringing clean water to populations that need it most, such as Children of the Border, where Harvard students travel to the Dominican Republic during the summer to install wells in communities. Even if you don’t want to dedicate a substantial amount of time or money to bring others clean water, with a smart design like Nika, helping someone halfway across the world survive is as easy as a trip to the Science Center vending machine.
Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House. Her column appears biweekly.