150,000 Children Die Every Year in Pakistan from Drinking Dirty Water

The solution is simple: provide clean drinking water.

It was a dream come true to help people by providing something they needed every day.

— Franklin Woodland.

One child dies every four minutes in Pakistan from drinking dirty water. According to Franklin Wright, a software engineer and founder of Pristine Water, a water company in Pakistan, these deaths are preventable. You don’t need a new drug. You don’t need any research. You don’t need any new technology. All it takes is safe water. The people in Pakistan can’t drink the tap water and have to buy bottled water, but most of the time the bottled water they purchase is contaminated.

Franklin graduated college with a degree in software engineering and ended up owning his own consulting firm. He hired mechanical and electrical engineers who would then build custom software systems for Microsoft. After 20 years of working with fortune 500 companies, Franklin began to feel a calling towards something else. Around this time, he had made a significant investment in a new company that offered government software services to the defense industry. When the financial crisis hit, and his intermediary went bankrupt, it caused his whole business to tank. This presented a window of opportunity for Franklin to start from scratch once again.

Franklin decided to align himself with a relief and development agency through some relationships with others doing the same in Somalia. He began to travel around the world and examine the possibilities of where he could start a business. Although Franklin was not well versed in the philanthropic or non-profit world, he had a straightforward goal: help people get jobs.

He met a couple who started a company in Pakistan where they loaned money to approximately 300 women in savings groups, teaching them how to invest and save. Franklin resonated with the couple’s business fluency and was drawn into their world. They invited Franklin to stay at their home and introduced him to many people in Karachi. Their generosity opened the door to opportunity: Pakistan has many systemic problems, so Franklin decided to look into possible business ventures.

He made a spreadsheet of 25 different business ideas and decided to look further into selling furniture. Franklin sought professional advice on the matter and reached out tothe former CEO of an established furniture company. He warned Franklin of the complexity of such a venture and suggested that he should address the specific needs in Karachi. He advised, “That’s not really what you want to do, that’s not why you left America and why you are leaving technology to do this.” He urged Franklin to pursue something in one of these five areas: healthcare, education, energy, agriculture, dairy, or water. He contended that ventures in these areas would help people in need and were also recession proof.

After some research, Franklin concluded that clean water was the biggest need. 300,000 children die every year in Pakistan. Half of them die from drinking dirty water and it is completely preventable. Franklin discovered that poor people in Pakistan already buy water in reusable containers, but a lot of the water is contaminated. Franklin reinforced this unfortunate fact, “They are buying contaminated water. It is really sad. So I thought if I could manufacture safe drinking water and sell it at the same price that they’re buying contaminated water for, that it would be a slam dunk.”

Franklin imported a reverse osmosis manufacturing machine, built a small facility, and started to purify water in Karachi. Right now, the operation can bring clean water to about 20,000 people per day. He then hired around 15 people to deliver water to shopkeepers in Pakistan. Franklin felt like it was a dream come true to help people by providing something they needed every day.

Many products that aimed to bring clean water to Pakistan were not effective, complicated to use, and some even involved back washing. Franklin explained that if a person is making 200 dollars a month, which is common in Pakistan, they will not be able to spend 12 dollars on a water bottle with a straw in it.

Myth #1: Poor people have a lot of spare time to use appliances that take a long time to filter water.

Franklin explained, “People think poor people have all this free time on their hands. That’s not true at all. They have dignity and worth. They know that they are valuable. Everyone knows that as a human being and so they are not willing to spend 30 minutes going through 20 steps in English when they don’t speak English.”

The goal was to have 30,000 people drinking his water every day. Franklin had previously owned a million dollar business in the U.S., so setting a high goal didn’t scare him. He started an investment company and began asking people for investments. People laughed at him. They asked, “You’re going to sell water for a penny per liter to poor people and that is going to make money?” People deemed it as a bad business idea, but loved the mission and wanted to help. Instead of receiving investments, Franklin began to accept donations which led to the formation of a charity called the Global Impact Fund.

This is how it works:

The donations made to the Global Impact Fund are directly invested in the water company in Pakistan, Pristine Water. A brand new well was recently built at their water manufacturing facility in Karachi. They use the well to extract the water out of the ground from an aquifer.

Myth #2: If you dig a well deep enough, you’ll get pure water.

Wells can get contaminated with surface water if they are not constructed properly. A scientist at Dow Chemical Company who holds a Ph.D. in water engineering, has helped Franklin assess the process, materials, and machines. He even helped design the well to make certain no contamination would come in. After the water has been extracted, they run it through a reverse osmosis machine, which jams the water through microscopic holes in a filter. The holes allow only the water molecules to slide through — keeping out all of the contaminated molecules, including arsenic, lead, jet fuel, pesticides, and radiation. Franklin clarified,

Reverse osmosis is more expensive, but I wanted to make sure what I was giving people was safe. There are a lot of other, cheaper, not as effective solutions and I didn’t want to use any of those. I wanted to make sure I could wake up every day and feel confident that people were getting the right water.

There is no human intervention in the process — the machine does it all. After the water has been processed, everything is extracted from the water except for hydrogen and oxygen, including minerals. Since sodium, magnesium, and calcium are all natural occurring minerals in water, they have to put those minerals back in for the water to taste right. Pristine Water purchases imported minerals from a large pharmaceutical company to guarantee the mineral quality is food-grade.

Franklin was in Jordan a couple years ago and was considering it as a location for his water business. He learned that Jordanians believe that human bodies are sacred and that nothing bad should be put into them. Because it is beyond their culture to put something bad in their water, they submit to the health laws. On the contrary, Pakistanis don’t necessarily feel the same way. Franklin elaborated,

It’s a different culture. They are very desperate in a lot of cases and they need money. Most Pakistanis don’t make enough to pay their bills, so they are like 20% negative each month. They have to go get another 20% every month even after working 6 days a week for 10 hours a day, and they will still be short. So any opportunity to make additional money permeates the whole culture.

Pristine Water tests their water regularly at an outside lab. They also have a microbiologist who proactively helps the employees create a hygienic environment. Franklin is confident that after six years of manufacturing, people respect the brand and the company, “They trust it. They know we care about them and care about what we are manufacturing.”

Suzuki has a joint venture with Tecno, a glass manufacturing company that makes windshields, and Pristine water is currently providing drinking water for the engineers at their facility in Pakistan. They were asked by Tecno to provide water with a different chemical composition for Tecno’s industrial application — a testament to Pristine Water’s astute manufacturing ability. They also had a pharmaceutical company request the same thing. Franklin explained, “They had 8 or 10 vendors and not one of them had the right thing. We were the only ones who had the right chemical composition — even though they had specified it.”

The Role of Pakistani Women

Pristine Water employs women to go door to door in the slums and talk to young mothers about the importance of clean water. The women in Pakistan are very influential in their families. Most are responsible for taking care of the children and preparing food. These mothers know what is best for their family, so if they tell their husbands that they need to switch to cleaner water, they will impact that buying decision.

“Our water costs one or two pennies more, but it’s safe. It’s not going to kill your kids or your husband.”

Franklin Woodland.

Franklin explained that,

Mothers also respond to the fact that if their husbands get sick, that means they will be out of work and cannot make money for the family. That is going to seriously impact the family because he doesn’t receive sick time at work, the don’t have any margin, any savings, if he’s sick then they aren’t earning money. So we lead with that — the financial benefit of drinking our water. We show them how it’s actually better for them to pay for clean water for their husband for a year than for him to get sick for three days.

Children are the most vulnerable when drinking contaminated water, especially under the age of one. Due to their small size and low weight, if they develop a waterborne disease like typhoid, dysentery, or cholera, it will cause severe diarrhea. Infants around 10 to 15 pounds will start losing fluid at a rapid pace. Parents have about two hours to take action, but many decide to wait it out. According to Franklin, some Pakistanis are reluctant to initiate, so there is a need to explain why taking these sick children to a clinic or hospital is vital to their survival. Pristine Water takes a proactive approach to this issue by educating mothers about the benefits of electrolyte mixtures and urging them to have these prepared to give to their sick children.

Remember Franklin’s sole objective mentioned earlier? To help people get jobs. Many women that Pristine Water hires are largely marginalized and have a difficult time finding a job. They are divorced, struggle with mental health issues, or have familial problems. Pristine Water provides free drinking water to the entire family of employees and have made a huge impact by creating job opportunities in Pakistan.

When people regularly drinking dirty water, their stomachs are constantly upset, they have chronic mild diarrhea, and it corrupts their palate. Franklin explains:

We want all of our employees drinking our water and we have had families tell us that we changed their whole life by giving them free drinking water that is clean. They didn’t realize how sick they previously were. Pakistanis love spicy food, so it is really diabolical how it corrupts the palate and damages their ability to correctly taste food.

Myth #3: Your body gets used to drinking dirty water.

Franklin clarifies, “You don’t get used to eating poop. Your body constantly rejects it and you can die from it. It is really a sad state of affairs how sick people are and they don’t even realize it, but instead, accept it as a way of life.”

Myth #4: If the water looks clear and doesn’t smell, it is OK to drink.

He continues, “That is not true! Even if the water is clear and doesn’t smell, it can have lead, arsenic, or precious metals in it which you can’t detect without a lab test. Boiling the water will get rid of microbiological contamination but it will not get rid of precious metals like lead or arsenic.”

If water that contains arsenic or nitrates is boiled, it can become concentrated which is very dangerous. Contaminated water that contains nitrates comes from the agricultural runoff that heavy rains bring. Nitrates can cause mental retardation and developmental disabilities and these effects are permanent. Children have a 45% higher absorption rate than adults do, so when they drink a small amount of contaminated water, it gets absorbed into their blood very quickly.

How can we help?

Pristine Water is a for-profit business in Pakistan, which is owned by Franklin’s investment company, International Water Technologies Corporation. The Global Impact Fund (GIF) is a charity in the United States which acts as an investor in the International Water Technologies Corporation. Donations made to the Global Impact Fund are directly invested into Pristine Water, helping to expand operations and provide water for thousands more in Pakistan. A couple years ago, Franklin made a concerted effort to raise a large amount of money for capital investments in Pristine Water. Last year, they successfully moved into a nice facility.

Pristine Water’s current objectives include:

  1. Pristine water would like to use staffing augmentation or recruiters to help find more qualified people to run the Pristine Water business in Pakistan.
  2. Pristine Water needs to upgrade their machines, tanks, and build new labs. These new machines will wash, fill, and cap the bottles without any human intervention. This automation will help support continuous improvement by raising hygienic standards and making the process air tight. This automation will not impact the need for labor jobs. Pristine Water will educate their laborers by training them on the automation technique.
  3. Pristine water need more vehicles for delivery. Trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles can be used for water delivery. Motorcycles rickshaws are very fuel efficient and make it easy to maneuver the many unpaved city streets. Franklin is excited about providing entrepreneurial opportunities for distribution companies in Pakistan. The motorcycle rickshaws can be financed for people through Pristine Water and paid back by performing water delivery services. This would allow them to keep the motorcycle rickshaw and start their own business.
  4. Pristine Water is interested in expanding to other cities in Pakistan. They currently provide clean drinking water to the employees and patients at Community Health Services, an organization in Pakistan that provides free healthcare to people living in Pakistani slums. They have about 30 health clinics in Karachi and they operate in the same slums as Pristine Water does. Pristine Water currently provides water to 9 of Community Health Services’ locations, and they have requested that Pristine Water provide water to the other 21 locations throughout Pakistan. Karachi has a population of about 21 million people and Pristine Water needs money to grow their business — opening up new warehouses, new manufacturing plants, expanding transportation operations, and hiring more managers. They will need to hire more women to go door to door and educate mothers about the health and financial benefits of clean water for their husband and children.
  5. Pristine Water is also launching a technology education program aimed to appeal to an entire Pakistani family. In addition to helping women, they would like to provide services for the children and fathers. It will be an after school program where kids learn how to use a computer and the internet. For teenagers, they will launch a coding curriculum — the manufacturing industry creates a significant demand for engineers in Pakistan. The program will also include job training, providing hard skills that people can translate into a living wage. For adults, there will be a literacy program that will give them the opportunity to learn how to read and write. The program will be run by Pakistanis, as education is highly valued in their culture.
  6. Pristine Water is always looking for business professionals who want to contribute to their initiatives. People have helped with marketing, sales, and logistics. Some have traveled to Pakistan and some have worked from their home office.

To anyone who is interested in making a donation: The Global Impact Fund is a 501C3 organization recognized by the U.S. government. They are a non-profit organization in the state of Illinois and all gifts are tax-deductible.

A $7 monthly donation will provide clean drinking water to a family of 6 in Pakistan. Please visit gifinternational.org to make a donation. Every donation matters.

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