There’s a surprise round every corner in life. Last week I was listening to global brands talk about the future challenges of sustainability with an outside chance of becoming purpose-led. Today I heard the story of an entrepreneur who has been running an entirely purpose-led business for 10 years. Meet Hattie Hasan of Stopcocks: an energetic crusader for the right of people everywhere to have clean water. And a woman plumber.
You might think choosing to be a plumber and cracking the male dominated trade a big enough challenge for one lifetime. But underlying the decision to train to become a plumber lies a lifelong relationship with water. This is Hattie’s story.
Highlights of the purpose-led Water Women
Clearly an observant person by nature, Hattie’s first experience of water scarcity came in her home country of Cyrpus as a teenager when she discovered a place where the water taps shut off at midday – a complete contrast to growing up in rainy England.
Although originally qualified as a teacher, the pull of self-determination and an entrepreneurial career plus a latent connection to water, led Hattie to re-train as a plumber in her late 20s. Once qualified, Hattie struggled to get employment from the closed ranks of the male-dominated trade, so set up on her own. Clearly entrepreneurial at heart, her first advertising was a skills swop with a publishing house, and armed with second hand tools and phone at home, Stopcocks was launched – although the name ‘dropped from the sky’ a little later. Inspired – it always makes me giggle.
With clients flowing through the door (pardon the pun), sheer busy-ness took Hattie away from her purpose for a while until the floods and droughts in Ethiopia of the early part of this century happened. Two intentions formed: build an army of women plumbers; help those without access to water.
Out of Africa
In 2008 a chance meeting with Dr Karambu Ringera of the International Peace Initiatve. Among her many projects is a home for children, the Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH), set up to mitigate the effects of poverty and HIV/AIDS to improve the lives of vulnerable children in Kenya. With support from the Ecologia Youth Trust, KACH also collaborates to provide eco-technology and organic agriculture trainings at the nearby community centre so that local families can learn how to grow diverse crops, without using damaging chemical fertilizers, on small pieces of land in order to provide themselves and the children with a nutritious diet. Training in waste recycling and eco-technologies such as biogas cookers are also provided and proving to be invaluable to local households. But water is a problem. The first Stopcocks international project emerged.
In October this year, Hattie and her partner Mica left for a 3 week trip to KACH, with little or no idea what they would find or how they could be helpful. Hattie’s eagle eye, combined with the resourceful talent of a young KACH worker Joy, soon shaped the perfect project. Rainwater collection systems had failed, leaving KACH and the village with the only choice to purchase expensive pumped water from the public system.
Restoring the water collection system had the potential to halve the water costs for the entire community. In three weeks, using simple technology for gabian baskets instead of concrete for bases, Hattie and Mica had managed to construct 4 water collection systems which would collect over 20,000 litres of water – enough to flush the existing toilet systems for year, provide water for crop irrigation and still leave some for drinking. And almost more importantly, left behind an instruction manual on how to do it and trained up one individual to teach others. This is what it takes.
Teach a man to fish….. teach a woman plumbing….
Before they had even landed back in the UK, a fifth project was up and running, and houses in the local village had started to look at how they could implement something similar. What can be achieved through grade-roots engagement, simple creativity and the determination and vision of two water women.
If you’re anything like me, or you have ever been involved in bilateral aid in any way, you may be feeling a small sense of exasperation as you listen to this story, and be wondering why, after decades of aid pouring into Africa, no-one has solved the issue of village water. Africa’s hard to understand. All the strategic plans in the world don’t always work there. Often it’s the simple and practical that takes hold.
It’s Hattie’s intention to go back with more of Stopcocks plumber next time and extend the project far and wide throughout Kenya, tracking progress and impact as they go in order to get the project to a charitable status where it can successful apply for international funding to scale up even further. Here’s a business that has always had a purpose at its heart. Sometimes it takes a while for it to emerge. What’s clear is that a business has to be thriving commercially first before its purpose can take flight, but sometimes all it takes is a little serendipity for purpose to flow.
There’s something that words alone can’t convey about Hattie. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve spoken to, the most articulate plumber I have ever met, and also a stand-up comedian (or is that supposed to be comedienne, not sure). At the time of interview she was hopping about on one foot after an operation, so our conversation is interspersed with knocks at the door and telephones which she couldn’t move to answer. As I interview business leaders and entrepreneurs about purpose-led business, one thing strikes me like a brick around the head every time, and that’s the depth of personality (a pretty crap word for integrity, commitment, duty, purpose, character, determination) that true entrepreneurs need. Hattie is a shining example and has it in spades. Or is that monkey-wrenches?
If listening to this inspiring story of one woman’s vision for a cleaner, more sustainable water world in Kenya, and you would like to contribute to their project, please call or email Stopcocks through their website. I know they would be delighted for any support. Oh, and if you fancy a career as a plumber………..