Entrepreneurship and water, the winning combination for our future

One of humanity’s most pressing problems is the lack of access to drinking water, and finding a solution to the worsening global water crisis is the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6. Drop by drop, there are several entrepreneurial solutions that are harnessing innovation and joining efforts to help ensure the right to water.

Guaranteeing access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one of the commitments the international community has made as part of the 2030 Agenda, but current efforts are falling far short of what is needed to reach this goal on time. According to the United Nations, 1,6 billion people will lack access to safe water by 2030 if the current pace continues. International efforts need to be quadrupled to meet SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 6, in a race against time where innovation can play a decisive role.

The recent UN Water Conference marks the halfway point through the International Decade for Action’s “Water for Sustainable Development”, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018. It has called for international, scientific and cross-sectoral cooperation to turn the commitment into tangible, impactful initiatives. The critical players in this game to secure the future of our planet? Entrepreneurs, investment and public-private partnerships.

The water crisis and the need for entrepreneurship

The latest figures, which come from 2020, reveal that 26% of the world’s population currently lacks access to safe, clean water. According to the World Resources Institute’s Water Risk Atlas, very few countries are out of danger, either because of a lack of access to water or because of poor management and governance.

Although global water use is projected to grow by 1% every year, warns UNESCO, water scarcity is fast becoming a major concern not only in countries where it was already endemic, but also in regions where water is currently plentiful, such as a large percentage of Latin America.

Foto 3

“The climate crisis means that water availability is quite uncertain, because droughts are now more frequent and rainy periods are longer”, says Tatiana Malvasio, COO and co-founder of efficient irrigation management platform Kilimo. “This leads to problems with the soil, economic problems due to crop losses, food availability, higher prices, and more”.

Water scarcity affects the most vulnerable groups and regions unequally: only 30% of low-income households have access to safe water, as opposed to 98% of high-income households. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 75% of the population has access to safe water, compared to only 30% in sub-Saharan Africa, while in Europe and North America, 96% of the population has access to safe water. The water crisis also has a gender component: women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80% of households without easy access to water, and also face other problems related to access to sanitation and glass ceilings in the water industry.

Foto 1

The agricultural sector in the crosshairs

Conserving water resources is a vital component in the fight against climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently published a report called ‘AR6 Synthesis: Climate Change 2023’, which summarises five years of reports on the climate crisis and pinpoints better on-farm water management and storage and irrigation as effective ways to reduce the risks.

To this end, projects that offer more efficient methods for using and reusing water are becoming fundamental allies in the fight against climate change. The agrotech category includes startups like the Spanish BrioAgro, which is developing an algorithm for intelligent irrigation; and the British Trinity AgTech, which offers software with a host of features, one of which makes it possible to calculate the impact that agricultural practices have on water pollution. Both have conducted pilot tests with several BBVA departments in a process facilitated by BBVA Open Innovation.

As for Kilimo, it was founded in Argentina and is already operating in five other countries in the Americas. Its platform lets users get irrigation recommendations based on meteorological and satellite data, helping them optimise water and energy use. “The possibility of accessing data today is a great help for farmers, because it allows them to take action on the uncontrollable in nature”, says Malvasio.

Foto 2
“Data allows us to take action on the uncontrollable in nature”

Kilimo also collaborates with companies like Google and Microsoft to develop water compensation projects, which help companies achieve their “water neutrality” goals through irrigation savings from farmers who use Kilimo’s solution, and who receive economic compensation in return. “It’s an initiative that allows us to generate incentives for farmers, which encourage them to incorporate technology into their production; and to connect all society stakeholders to develop solutions”, explains Malvasio.

Partnerships, circularity and ESG criteria

Numerous initiatives for water conservation, saving and accessibility are thriving thanks to government and private company involvement. For example, the European Union promotes a significant number of R&D projects, such as the Prima initiative, the Horizon Europe project and EIT Food. BIOAZUL, an engineering and technology consulting company, participates in all of them. “We work on different projects related to the use of reclaimed water for agriculture. Here we not only close the water cycle, but also cycles of nutrients that are conserved in order to cut down on the use of fertilisers”, says Antonia Lorenzo, founding partner and head of R&D. “Through participation in all these projects and in several initiatives at the European and global level, we have understood how water is interconnected with ecosystems, with industry, with gender… It is very important to understand that what you do with water can have negative or positive consequences on the environment at multiple levels”.

"What you do with water can have negative or positive consequences on the environment at multiple levels"

Meanwhile, Spanish company AUARA helps to promote Access to water by selling natural mineral water bottled in recycled plastic containers. “AUARA was founded as a social enterprise geared towards bringing water to where it’s needed. To this end, we allocate 100% of our profits to implementing projects (wells, sanitation, reservoirs) in disadvantaged communities”, says company CEO Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros. The company has already provided nearly 100,000 people in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and Central America with access to drinking water through the installation and construction of 130 water facilities.

“All companies can do their part to find solutions to the water crisis, whether it is at the heart of their business or whether they have to manage and reduce their own use”, says Espinosa de los Monteros. The increasingly sustainable management of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem, he notes, “with green mobility plans, recycling systems, volunteer programmes and net zero policies is an enormous example and awareness-raising value”.

"The increasingly sustainable management of the entrepreneurial ecosystem itself is an enormous example"

Awareness and collaboration, the cornerstones of water entrepreneurship

Key sectors in the water arena, such as agriculture, are taking significant steps to optimise their use of resources by harnessing the power of innovation. “Trust is key”, underscores Kilimo’s Tatiana Malvasio. “Companies have a huge responsibility to make technology more accessible”. Making changes involves a certain risk, says Antonia Lorenzo of BIOAZUL. “We have to build proof that this isn’t going to negatively affect the business to support the transition to more regenerative agriculture”.

Synergies are the other great winner in the race to solve the water crisis. “Innovation requires the involvement of all stakeholders involved—governments, companies, the third sector and citizens—to meet the increasingly pressing challenges of sustainable development”, says AUARA’s Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros. Lorenzo also points out the potential of international cooperation. “It helps you to open your mind and develop solutions that are more versatile when it comes to adapting them to different local contexts”. She added that working with public research organisations “also allows us to benefit from their work and transform it into innovation to bring it to market”.

“We have to work together so that everyone’s interests can continue to thrive for the benefit of societies”, Malvasio said. Entrepreneurship, innovation and cooperation are the cornerstones that will make it possible for us to channel water, this essential resource, towards circularity and sustainable use.

Filter by city
Filtrar por tipo de evento
This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site.