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.
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.
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.
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.