— AAAS Entrepreneur (@AAAS_Entr) September 21, 2016
AAAS Member Samina Sarwat is the founder and CEO of Astha Purifier, a water filter designed to tackle arsenic contamination of drinking water in Bangladesh and other affected countries using readily available rice husk ash.
Samina was a finalist in this year’s GIST Tech-I Competition, an annual competition for science and technology entrepreneurs from 135 emerging economies around the world. GIST Tech-I is part of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative and has been implemented by AAAS since 2014.
We asked Samina what motivated her to support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6, Clean Water and Sanitation. Her responses are summarized below.
As a business student, what led you to toward social entrepreneurship and toward tackling water purification, specifically?
My business education background has always motivated me to work on ventures of my own. The affinity for social entrepreneurship came from another source.
It has always struck me as odd, how unfair our society is. While some are reaching for the stars, others cannot safely fulfil their basic necessities. I’ve always believed that, with the resources I have access to, I have the ability to make a difference in the lives of these disadvantaged people.
That line of thought got me into social entrepreneurship. My first project was making a low cost building material suitable for the local conditions in Bangladesh. Then, during a time when I was researching problems facing the Bangladeshi populace, I truly understood the horrible threat arsenic poisoning of groundwater posed to people. From then on, I’ve focused on water purification.
How did you go about developing the Astha Purifer technology?
After I decided to focus on water purification, my team and I did a lot of research to find purification methods suitable for the local environment and capable of tackling the main problem at hand, which is arsenic poisoning.
When we discovered the possibility of using rice husks for this process –that was a true ‘Eureka’ moment! Here is a resource that is abundantly available everywhere in Bangladesh, and which can be extremely effective in removing arsenic with just a bit of chemical treatment.
The treated rice husk ash has properties that absorb heavy metal particles such as arsenic away from water. So if you have a filtration bed made of this material, water going through this layer will have all the arsenic and other harmful metallic particles removed.
Anyways, from then on, we focused on developing a feasible product concept that would be effective enough to use as a source of safe drinking water, and affordable enough to reach the people who need it the most.
How have you been able to gain support for your project?
The main support has been my team, without which I really couldn’t have done much. We are only three people, but we were really enthusiastic about this idea. I mean, you can potentially have an impact on 20 million lives every year with this thing! My teammates worked very hard to give shape to this dream, this idea and make it into something real.
Also, competing in GIST Tech-I was an amazing experience. Not only did I gain tons of insight on how to efficiently run a social enterprise, I got to know people who can really help me out with this in the long run. Also, as winner of the first place project in the idea section, I received a seed capital prize, which will really accelerate the progress of our project!
Do you have plans to launch the Astha Purifier in other markets?
Yes, definitely. Access to clean water is a basic need that, sadly, still cannot be fulfilled in so many places all around the world. Also, arsenic poisoning of groundwater is not a uniquely Bangladeshi problem. It also exists in places inside USA, Argentina, etc. These are all people drinking the kind of water that will slowly poison and kill many of them.
So yes, we would definitely like to reach those places with Astha and help people have access to safe drinking water. But our first priority is definitely reaching the Bangladeshi at-risk populace who are the biggest victims of this problem.
Visit http://www.gistnetwork.org/content/astha-purifier for more information about Samina’s water purifier.