Private Sector, Public Water: Why Enterprises Must Address Global Water Insecurity

By: Sundar Mahalingam, President of Strategy at HCL Corporation

One of the most urgent aspects of climate change in the near-term is our global freshwater supply. By 2030, the global demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by an alarming 40%. Without substantial changes and innovative solutions, this reality will have drastic impacts across the globe. To ensure a viable future for countries, communities, families and individuals, deliberate and sustained collective investment in technology-driven solutions to climate challenges is essential to our literal survival. In 2015, the United Nations released their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development , listing 17 goals, with issues around water sitting as the 6th goal, highlighting the global urgency of this issue.

Though some areas of the world have an over-abundance of water, whether from nearby lakes or other bodies of water, a healthy amount of yearly rainfall or even water carried via complex water infrastructure, other parts of the world suffer from a significant scarcity of water. This duality makes a combined global effort a greater challenge, but it’s one we must, and are certainly capable of addressing as a global community.

As our climate changes and our infrastructure deteriorates, we’re seeing issues of water access seep into other regions not typically considered vulnerable to water issues. Take, for example, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in June of 2014 from inadequately treated water caused national outrage, as an entire city was unable to easily access fresh drinking water. To this day, Flint residents still struggle with access to water. But it’s not just crumbling infrastructure, it’s climate impacts. In 2022, major flooding of the Mississippi River caused a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and in Pakistan, historic flooding has left a third of the country under water, and both tragically and ironically, without access to clean drinking water.

One only needs to visit a grocery store that lies within range of an incoming hurricane to see the water aisle picked clean to witness first-hand how water scarcity can so easily emerge. But rather than surface fear, we do ourselves all a service allowing these issues to inspire positive, future-focused and innovation-driven change that will have lasting impacts for generations to come.

Fresh Water Requires Fresh Ideas

While there are a multitude of initiatives addressing issues of access to fresh water from governments around the world, it’s quite clear that the problem is far outpacing any current solutions. Partisanship and bureaucracy are factors contributing to the slow pace at which governments often address long-tailed issues like climate change and water insecurity. And while it’s clear that governments can, if they want, mobilize the private sector for immediate action (e.g., WWII armaments manufacturing; COVID19 vaccine development & distribution), they’ve yet to do so for access to fresh water.

Fresh water requires fresh ideas and decisive action, and the private sector, especially startups, are uniquely positioned to move quickly to develop and implement technology-driven solutions to the world’s water issues. Startups and other for-profit enterprises have the organizational infrastructure in place to move quickly to deliver results. The same entrepreneurial spirit that fuels the success of so many businesses around the world is the same mentality that enables organizations to burst through the barriers that too often impede federal and NGO programs. But this must be a collective or at least a collaborative endeavor; no one company can solve these issues on their own. Instead, the private sector must work together.

Bringing investment into action means empowering the right people to unleash new and innovative solutions to challenges of this scale. One such example is HCL’s recent partnership with the World Economic Forum’s UpLink Global to develop a first-of-its-kind water innovation ecosystem that supports water-focused entrepreneurs with grants to ensure they have the resources to bring their ideas to reality. The program’s first challenge to these water-focused entrepreneurs – dubbed “aquapreneurs” – was issued just this past September.

Programs like the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative help streamline and simplify the research and discovery processes for uncovering solutions, as well as connect aquapreneurs to existing water-focused networks and in-flight initiatives. With the backing of leading global innovators, the people working to solve these challenges will gain access to more financial opportunities – including public, private and venture funding – empowering them to quickly scale projects and promote water conservation awareness and advocacy to a broader global audience.

Making real change requires new ways of thinking. For ideas, tools, methodologies and solutions to deliver scalable, sustainable and impactful end results, business leaders must empower those on the front lines of innovation.