Harvesting with care a natural resource is not that simple. When it has to do with water in an environment which suffers from dryness several months every year it becomes highly sensitive. Moreover even if 26% of Aqua belongs to the founder’s family, Aqua Danone remains a foreign company.
Our approach has been to demonstrate that wherever Aqua operates, local communities have better access to water and by working together we can consolidate the long term sustainability of the resources. Easy to say and yet very challenging to achieve. Let’s say it’s simply a necessary condition to be “able to operate”, and it has become a full part of Aqua’s operational business model.
In the past five years, we have developed around 30 sustainability projects under a program called “Aqua Lestari”. Among these initiatives there have been some impressive achievements like around our Klaten factory where we have taken the leadership to develop a set of projects aiming at sustainable water management. It consists of empowering local communities, understanding ground water, supporting farmer’s irrigation management, rebuilding the traditional structure of authority in the villages to manage the resource, developing micro business to keep the young generation working in the villages.
Personally the project that I think is the most important is probably the simplest which aims at bringing water and sanitation to the villages around our plants. It’s nothing but common sense: how can we even imagine that people living in a village that is less than a kilometer away from a huge water plant should not have access to water themselves?
In terms of business impact, the “one for ten” project has been an incredible corporate signature and a true “door- opener”.
On the overall, the main key success factor for our projects has been the way we have improved our knowhow to cooperate with many stakeholders: NGOs, local governments, heads of villages, farmers.
You learn what capacity building is about; you learn how important it is to create the conditions for sustainability of these initiatives. A decisive step is to recreate traditional structures of authority in the villages so that there is a collective approach to handle these natural challenges. It requires time. We are just getting out of a long harmful dry season without severe disruption for our operation in spite of threats; I see this as a sign of credibility of our projects.
If we are consistent, we are better protected against pressures and attacks in a very volatile environment. Aqua is a gift of the nature; Aqua has to give back to nature.
These projects are fully consistent with the DNA of Aqua brand, with the way we live our social responsibility, they illustrate for our young employees the values we believe in.
And we are moving things: 60 000 villagers now have a better access to clean water and better hygiene practices, more than 10 000 farmers have been trained to sustainable farming practices, half a million trees have been planted, thousand of waste pickers are engaged in cooperatives.
Let’s say Aqua Danone has reached a certain level of “credibility” locally. Now, does it make our life easier to get new licenses and convince local communities to open new sites? Maybe, but challenges keep emerging and we have not yet solved the basic question to transport water from the remote wild mountains to consumers in a smooth way.
You need a committed and competent team with a clear brief from the senior management of the company on ambition, objectives, resources and also clear limits to the actions. Aqua has built a very powerful combination of internal resources and network of partners. It is about selecting the right partners for the right projects. We co create with the best experts in their area of competence. Internally we build “intelligence” to manage these projects.
It has to be genuine and therefore remains far from perfect. The big challenge is to find the right way to communicate internally about these projects and engage not just specialists but the entire company, everyone in the organization with the same passion and belief.