Aurora Magazine

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Interview: Fariel Salahuddin

Published 24 May, 2021 04:54pm
The CEO and Founder of Goats for Water talks about the aims of her movement.

M. FAIQ LODHI: What inspired you to start Goats for Water?
FARIEL SALAHUDDIN: It was a twist of fate. I was working in the power/energy sector, dealing with large infrastructure projects focusing on policy and advisory to the government. This took me to villages and it inspired me to start this movement. At that time, off-grid solar energy was something Pakistan was just stepping into and I was exploring its potential in off-grid communities and I found it interesting. The first village I went to was Pathan Goth in Jamshoro. Although this village was literally two hours outside Karachi the contrast was jarring. Karachi has every possible amenity you could think of, yet just two hours away, this community was facing acute scarcity of water. They had to buy tankers from Karachi, which was super expensive for them. Although they had dug a well, they could not pump the water because their diesel pump had broken down. Seeing these people live in such water-stressed conditions was horrendous.

It was experiences like these that led me to develop the concept of Goats for Water. How could I make it possible for these communities to have access to water, sustainable energy and other resources, without it becoming a strain on their pockets? Then it hit me – these communities had gold right there! People in these villages owned about 300 to 400 livestock animals, goats predominantly, which amounted to huge amounts of wealth. I asked if they would exchange their livestock for water pumps and other material and they were totally willing. We installed pumps and they gave us goats, which we sold during Eid to cover the cost of the water pumps while leaving a profit margin for us. That is how Goats for Water came about.

MFL: How do you select the villages you work with?
We are working in Tharparkar, Jamshoro and are starting in Badin. We do not choose the districts – it depends on whether we can find partners who will work with us. We work through grassroots NGOs as well as private organisations that are interested in our franchise model. In this partnership, we transfer the knowledge we have to our partners who then initiate our strategies on-ground.

MFL: How are you leveraging TED and other similar platforms to spread your message?
: When I started this venture, the vision was to create an alternative mechanism not only for marginalised small-holder farmer families in Pakistan, but for people anywhere in the world where this is needed – particularly in the developing world. To achieve this vision, these platforms have helped us in various stages of our development. Initially, Spring Accelerator helped me hone my vision and supported me in establishing my business model, so that it would be scalable. The Cartier Women's Initiative was important because of the funding and the award I received from them, and more importantly, the training they provided in putting together a group of entrepreneurs from around the world to impart leadership skills and the knowledge required to take our venture to the next stage. Similarly, Summit helped bring together likeminded groups of business leaders to act as an effective networking event to connect us to investors. The TED Fellowships are a different platform altogether. They asked me what I wanted to gain out of this, and I said I wanted to broadcast my idea, so it can gain momentum in other parts of the world, especially in terms of connecting us with partners.

MFL: How does your work facilitate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
The SDGs are a good way to globally set targets regarding where we are moving to as a global community. Pakistan has lately become a lot more aware and conscious about them. I see the efforts made by the government; small things that go unnoticed – for example the fact that this government has pardoned many women under trial, and allowed them to return to their families. However, for NGOs, the SDGs are becoming a list of boxes they have to tick, with little focus on how it translates on the ground. This where the essence of the SDGs has been lost and needs to be regained.

MFL: What has it been like to navigate government approvals and coordination?
: As a social enterprise, the main difficulty was gaining access to the communities and finding partners. Apart from this, it has been lovely to connect with the people in the agriculture sector and on the ground. We are excited about being in talks with the telecommunication companies in terms of gaining access to areas where the outreach to small-holder farmers is limited.

MFL: How can other businesses help?
: What is needed is innovation on the tech side. Currently, we are relying on external technology. One of the things we need are micro-grids. This is something which development agencies have shied away from because they are expensive and this is where the tech innovation comes in, in order make it sustainable. We have a lot of talent in Pakistan and a lot of innovation in institutions such as NED and other engineering schools.

MFL: What message would you give to young people venturing into sustainable energy and development studies?
Schooling is all about acquiring hard skills, which is the knowledge that you cannot gain on your own, such as pure sciences and STEM subjects. I also believe there need to be a wider scope around the kind of economics that is taught.

MFL: How has Covid-19 affected your work?
We have grown because we are in the food business. Initially, we could only sell the animals procured during Eid. We have now started selling to meat companies like Al-Shaheer (Meat One) and we are launching our own meat line, Goats for Meat. We recently became a supplier to Metro, a company that has been incredibly supportive. They are farsighted in that they understand the concept of traceability, which we are introducing into the meat industry. This means that we can tell you which household an animal came from and what it ate. We have also been selling meat to exporters and we are stepping into that space ourselves.

MFL: How do you see this venture developing?
Our entire model is about bringing self-reliance and affordability to all assets that are affordable through the existing monetary system. We are looking at low-cost housing and other assets that small-holder farmers and households need and which they are unable to afford through cash. My vision is to introduce digitised, tokenised assets, so that farmers can use ‘goat coins’ instead of rupees – not only in Pakistan; we are in talks with partners in Kenya. We have a lot of interest from other parts of the world where people can use this model.

Faiq Lodhi is a Career Advisor and Coordinator for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at the Beaconhouse College Campus. He has a postgrad in British, American and Postcolonial Studies from the University of Münster, Germany.