Structure Transparency and Accountability from the Bottom Up

A social entrepreneur’s journey is a steep and constant learning curve! For Guido van Hofwegen and his wife Lieselotte Heederik making a pan-continent move from the Netherlands to Banda Aceh in Indonesia is a testimony of that. With the aim to support the post Tsunami reconstruction work in Indonesia, the couple soon realized the massive issue of clean drinking water the local population was facing. They founded Nazava Water Filters in 2009, providing safe and affordable water that could be treated at home. Almost a decade later the enterprise has served 110,000 families across the world, providing 550 thousand people with access to safe drinking water but they feel the real achievement has been building of a social enterprise that is sustainable and can continue to provide many more people with drinking water in the years to come.  Guido and Lieselotte feel that the support they received from empowering people. Network (epNetwork) helped them a lot in this endeavor.

What are the benefits if you are an epNetwork member?

The various training opportunities allow entrepreneurs to hear about each other’s experiences and adopt suitable organizational structures. The meetings bring liked-minded individuals from across the world, facilitating networking and open opportunities for collaboration and partnership. We are currently in talks with epNetwork member Ricardo Braun from Brazil who we met at a training in Amsterdam. Together we are exploring options how we can jointly produce a new mobile water filter for communities in Brazil.

The Nazava team pose for a group photo outside their warehouse. (Photo credit: Nazava)

How have epNetwork trainings helped your organization?

The trainings have been very useful for us particularly the two trainings in Mumbai (epOnsite) and Amsterdam (epWorkshop) in 2017. We learnt about alternative models of organizational development and heard from our peers about their different organizational structures. We learnt about leading and coordinating meetings with team members.

What have been the biggest takeaways for you from the workshops?

For us, the most interesting learning was the importance of role rather than the task in an organization. We found the decentralized decision-making model – Holocracy more beneficial than a hierarchical one.

A decentralized decision-making structure helps free up time for the owners and the other Managers. This approach supports distributing decision making into the various departments rather than burdening senior management with each and every detail. Also, at the training, where we made decisions as a group rather than an individual, we found this very useful. We think this approach makes the decision-making process more democratic.

How did you change your organizational structure after the trainings?

We started working on defining all roles and within each “circle” or part of the organization. Our employees are encouraged to take on the onus and execute their responsibilities on their own. We started implementing this structure after the training in Mumbai. Though this is still pretty much “work-in-progress”, we have tasted some success in our social media marketing and production teams who are functioning as more independent units. After the training in Amsterdam, we started working with “Wunderlist” a cloud-based task management application that allows all team members to assign tasks to each other and have an overview of all jobs within the organization. Using this application did not leave the managers with the sole responsibility of supervising and delegating but introduced a new culture within the team that gave access to all employees. This created a lot of transparency and also made our employees more accountable. However, we would still like to see our employees working at the bottom of the structure assigning more tasks to the top management.

What challenges did you face when you switched to a different organizational model?

Initially, we were a little apprehensive that the application may be too technical for my team that is not so tech savvy. Though this is still an ongoing process, the new model and tools were received well by our employees. Our staff members have started using the lists and are defining their roles better but they still need more training. We aim that with more training our staff can take charge of their circles without much meddling from the management. We realize it is easy to fall back into hierarchical structures if junior level employees fail to take up their responsibilities. To achieve this, we believe weekly coaching is a key!

Team members of Nazava set off to a village to explain the benefits of the filter to women’s groups. (Photo credit: Nazava)

How easy has it been to set-up and grow your business in a country culturally and economically so different from the Netherlands?

Language and cultural differences cannot be a barrier for long. In Indonesia, we saw that 250 million people were deprived of clean and affordable drinking water. It threw a real challenge but also brought an opportunity to come up with a product that plugged the gap in the market. Of course, we faced bureaucratic hurdles when opening a bank account etc., but Indonesia really inspired to bring a viable solution! Our water filters are easy on the pockets for the locals as well as easy to use. If we continued to live in Europe we would never have got this opportunity to make a social impact at this scale. We had only 20,000 Euros with us and with so many competitors we could have not achieved much in Europe. Currently, we are also expanding our business to Ethiopia where we have so far sold 4,000 filters serving around 20,000 users.

Nazava team demonstrates filter usage to farmers in Amhara, Ethiopia. (Photo credit: Nazava) 

A volunteer explains children about safe drinking water at a school in Bali. (Photo credit: Social Impakt)

 What is your advice to young social entrepreneurs?

Always put your passion first and even if you face challenges dare to take risks. I (Guido) drifted slightly away from my initial professional background as a consultant on agriculture and the environment; we saw the need of the people of Indonesia and tailored a product that would suit them. A big lesson for us was that economically underserved communities do not necessarily want something cheap they want a good product. We feel it is easier to take risk when working outside of your comfort zone. You will find support systems as we did from our community and organizations like the empowering people. Network.

Lieselotte Heederik is the Founder and Director Business Development of Nazava. She is an award winning a social entrepreneur and development professional. She grew up in Bolivia, Kenya and Yemen and studied Rural Development Sociology at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands which is rated as one of the best agricultural universities in the world. She also studied Advanced Development Studies at the Radboud University.

Guido van Hofwegen is the Co-founder and Director of Nazava. He is passionate about selling water filters because he loves feedback on how their products make the life more convenient and healthier for consumers. He graduated from Wageningen University, where he learnt that the best technological improvements for rural communities should be labor saving, income generating and should reduce risk. He applied the same principals and developed Nazava.

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