QUEST FOR CLEAN WATER
No human can exist without water and yet 789 million people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water. It is one of the world’s most complex problems to solve and Made Blue is one of organisations on a global scale looking for solutions to this urgent matter - to help bring clean drinking water to the parts of the world where it is scarce.
Small english became an official partner of Made Blue in 2019 and since then, every purchase on the web shop provides 2000 litres of clean drinking water to people in need. This August, I got to sit down with Machiel, one of the founders of Made Blue and we dived deep into a conversation about radical transparency, the origins of Made Blue and how it became to be what it is - a double entity with a truly innovative organisational structure which has passed the first test of time and endurance by remaining present with a steady growth rate for 5 years straight since the founding. More importantly, this growth is directly related to the impact. As Machiel stresses several times during our conversation, impact is their main focus. It is not about the organisation, it is not about the growth, it is about the impact.
photo: C Maximova
Let's talk about water!
When you think about water, most people tend to think about showering and if they shower less, they are helping the environment. However, there are many other ways that we can take care of and educate ourselves about our water footprint… think like this; every 100 grams of cotton on average takes about 100 litres of drinking water.
Is that the math behind it?
Yes, not including rainfall, the water being used to wash and colour the fiber adds up to 100 litres of drinking water to 100 grams on average. This is why buying sustainable clothing is much better for the environment. Our story shows how we can make an impact, take responsibility and continue to do so with fair pricing, which is not so hard.
It really isn’t that hard, as I have observed from my own experiences, it does take a little more planning though... and awareness, but it’s not that hard.
Take a 300 gram cotton shirt that mirrors 300 litres of water which would be 9 euro cents. Imagine your item would be 39.09 euros - there’s barely any difference!
Small english grew from a tiny idea into a global community; I refer to them as sharks. It is about being kind, brave and focused. However, to get the job done, any job, one does need to have a certain mindset and a structure. I wanted to write this article about the way you work because some people in the Small english community have asked me what these 2000 donated litres of clean water mean, how much money goes into this and how does this whole thing work. It is my understanding that it is a very innovative organisational structure and I really would like the Small english community to find out about it. Where should we start?
The great thing that happened to us is that we got to build this venture with entrepreneurs instead of consumers which allows us to make a lot of impact - there are about 350 companies currently supporting Made Blue.
Since our first discussions in 2019, I’ve seen a significant change and transformation of your website!
We work with ambassadors all over the world, we work with companies that we know and we try to meet them. However, we are conscious of flying around the globe. Travelling would also take too many assets which should go to providing access to water not to cover travel expenses. Luckily there are many opportunities to meet the ambassadors while they are traveling.
How did you come to do this type of work?
I studied International Business in Maastricht. At the end of my studies, I got involved with this course that helps to start your own business, and with a few friends, we had the opportunity to participate in this business venture contest which we won with an idea of “bringing talent from companies to Africa to have them sort out challenges for local NGO’s". This gave me the opportunity to set up and do work in African countries - we went from supporting coffee farmers with upgrading their bookkeeping systems, collaborating with Red Cross and solving various economic challenges. Always aimed at supporting the local community. In case of a disaster a different approach is needed of course, but many challenges in developing countries can be solved using an entrepreneurial approach.
Crisis response is a different type of a situation.
Exactly. But with long term struggles, it does really pay off to look at things from the business perspective. We did tons of initiatives but always aimed at business wise problem solving. In 2013 we got in touch with some quite large companies in the cleaning industry. There was this company called Hago. And they are working with about 40 000 staff cleaning throughout Europe. Cleaning airports, railway stations, office buildings. They challenged us with a proposition. "With cleaning we use a lot of water. We want to save water. We want to use less water. However, if we tell our staff to simply use less water, it is an empty message. Why do we need to go through all the hustle of using less water." This is when the idea hit - what if we could make sure the water you no longer use for cleaning becomes available as clean drinking water for people in need!
That would be an incentive to save water.
It is basically an incentive and also a trigger to really act upon saving water. Every litre of water saved here, becomes available in other countries. However, physically this is impossible. It is not like when you close the tap here, there is another tap elsewhere on a different side of the planet where that water magically becomes available. If it worked that way, I would not be sitting here. (laughs)
We would live in a different world if closing a tap here would mean a tap opens elsewhere.
Wouldn’t that be great! Unfortunately it’s not like that. Made Blue was created with myself, Frank & Robin; who I’ve known for 15 years. We spent a long time talking to the government, institutions and charities to figure out how we can do this.
In 2014, we made a basic promise that 30 cents donated results in 1000 litres delivered and we’re still building and growing that for Made Blue today. If you want to give access to water, it has to be done in a sustainable and long term way. (Small english has opted to donate 50 cents for each 1000 litres)
Water should be accessible to everyone so we create mini water structures - not like the hand pumps which usually get shown in media, we mean connecting to existing government pipelines and extending them into neighbourhoods that need them. If we are working really remotely, then we construct a deep well of 300 - 400 metres in depth.
Is drilling also one of your activities?
We drill at great depth which gives two advantages - you get water of very high quality and the well is not affected by fluctuating ground water levels. That way, by simply connecting pipelines, you can transport water to surrounding communities and connect to public taps at, schools, village centres and clinics. With vital structures being underground we can keep mechanical defaults or misuse at a minimum.
Well... everything that works longterm, seems expensive first.
Yes, that’s a basic fact. We are blessed with choices we made in the past, all of the funding coming from participating companies. There are no subsidies or funds from governments forcing us to deliver under certain specific timeframes or specific areas, we can really take a long term perspective and decide to work in an area 5, 6 maybe even 10 years or longer without restraints.
The role of Made Blue is to create awareness about saving water and giving back. On the other hand, our role, in fact, has sparked new technologies, new ideas of giving access to clean water and hygiene to people across the world by simply setting up cool, sustainable and innovative projects.
What is your role within the organisation?
With 6 of us currently, we are a small organisation, focused on impact and effectiveness. We work remotely or use the spaces provided by the companies we work with. Robin is the financial brain and Frank is organising the operation, making sure things happen - both here in the Netherlands as in the countries in which we set up the water projects. Nick operates Made Blue Water in hospitality, Marida is the first contact for all of our donors and Anne supports our communications. I myself focus on building and growing Made Blue and connecting new ambassadors.
It is so interesting and also valuable that you are a team who has been working together for a long time, this teamwork has not been born recently.
We really are a team that works well together which is a blessing and the main reason that Made Blue is a success story. We know each other very well and this helped us with our connections and ambassadors. Frank, Robin, Nick, Anne, Marida - we are all in this together and with prime focus on impact. We make impact by using the energy and the funds trusted to us by the companies who support Made Blue. It is not me making impact as a person , it is really the joint effort of all of us. With your support. That we are able to do this. But we also believe in growing impact by staying small.
Meaning to not grow a bigger organisation out of Made Blue?
I think we can double our impact, without the need of doubling our team. Maybe just by growing the team with one or two, we can for sure double the amount of impact we are making.
How would you see the development in the future? The end goal is to provide access to clean drinking water to everybody yet it is a long road for this statement to translate into reality.
Will we ever get there? We do not know; hopefully yes! It’s a tough question; nobody has a crystal ball to see the future and we are being surprised like once a week! Really, it can be anything... for example, last week there was someone sending us a picture of the Made Blue logo on this service van driving around in South Korea. It turned out to be a local reseller of one of our donors, taking pride in supporting our work through its local dealership.
You did not have a partner or ambassador there?
No. What happened was that our ambassador in Singapore had been so enthusiastic and set up liaisons in surrounding countries managed by him. So many things are happening and we are working on growing Made Blue actively in countries such as Germany, France and Belgium and the UK. There is a kick off planned in the first week of 2021 and we will start building a team in Paris. It took us quite a while to get there, however, now we have made sure it’s easy to copy and create other hubs in major cities.
It would be that these hubs are technically not a part of the Made Blue organisation in the Netherlands but structurally they are the same, and they have the same logo.
Exactly! We do not operate a factory and we do not produce things, we generate a story and of course, produce access to clean water. We work with trusted local partners and it is my core belief that the local teams manage it very well. We finance this so it can be made possible.
It is my understanding that there are two organisations. There is one organisation which receives the donations and then there is another organisation and they operate jointly.
Yes, there is Made Blue Foundation and there is Made Blue Social Venture. We have grants for projects (never a loan) and we make sure these grants are put to use that results in local ownership.
That’s what I have gathered from the videos (Made Blue Youtube Channel), that at the end there is always someone who is taking care of the facility.
We help set up local ownership as soon as the water structure is finalized, for example by asking the community to set up a water committee that collects small user fees. A family would for example pay 20 cents to use the water facility for a week. 20 cents is not a lot to us, however, it’s enough for a basic salary for the person taking care of the facility, the cleaning, the daily tasks, future repairs and expansion. We support and cover initial investments. However, we never take ownership of the structures installed. At the same time, we would not typically fund future expansion because if everything works according to the plan, the expansion of the structure would be financed from their own savings. We have seen that happening with the projects done three, four years ago: structures are being expanded continuously.
Implementing strategy must test your patience since strategies do not always come into reality in the exact form initially intended.
It does, we have experienced projects not going well and this is the reason why we work in different areas. Different partners enable us to learn and compare. We really try to understand how we can get the most impact per euro invested in the most sustainable way. We track our investments and impact over time, learning how impact differs between regions, techniques, ownership structures et cetera. However, at the end of the day, we cannot judge who deserves more funds - it’s really to see and understand how we can get the most impact per Euro.
Made Blue registered charity seeks maximum impact and maximum effectiveness for every euro that is being invested. As you mentioned before, you are correct, Made Blue is a double entity organisation. Made Blue Foundation receiving all the donations and basically funding grants in projects. And the other entity is Made Blue Social Venture and with this vehicle we set up new and risky, at least, risk bearing ways of generating more funds.
Maybe you have seen it in the hotel. (We are meeting at the QO Hotel , also an ambassador of Made Blue). There are bottles of Made Blue water in the rooms. For this, we have provided machinery that filters, chills and carbonates tap water and then it is being placed in the rooms: a super-sustainable way of serving water, for every bottle served, QO donates a thousand times as much water for developing countries. The investments in equipment and glassware needed (to make the bottles, machinery etc.), do not fit within the core purpose of the Made Blue Foundation. That is why we created the Made Blue Social Venture as part of the Made Blue Foundation, and handling investments and risks on its behalf.
We want to be the most entrepreneurial charity on the planet, but also the most transparent charity on the planet, so that is why we set up the Made Blue Social Venture as a part of Made Blue which is doing the business with eventual successes being granted to the foundation. However, the losses not hurting the foundation.
Would you describe that as the educational work which needs to be done within society?
It’s two sided - we want to educate people to stop outsourcing water and start doing your own thing which will make the impact. It’s more sustainable, saves on packaging and a lot of transport. We are making people aware of the impact they are making with their buying decision - it’s in our hands. Working with you, sustainable products being produced, you are making people aware of the impact they are making with their buying decision. Because they decide to buy sustainable they do decide to change the world a little bit by using their buying power.
I think people do not always realise how much power they have by choosing certain products. I have certainly been guilty of this myself in the past.
It is tremendous and we make these choices every day.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work, especially with the Covid situation?
We are optimistic and innovative. Even today, Made Blue is growing and the Covid situation will not change soon… the world changes all the time however as a society, we are more aware of sustainability and the impact we are having on the planet. We are also able to demonstrate to entrepreneurs and companies how they can make a huge difference. It is important to understand there are risks that we take as there are no huge future profits we can use to cover eventual losses. We want to invest in growth - however, our biggest challenge is to take it slowly and not to rush. We are proud of where we are and what we’ve ach