On April 1, 2008, Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prizewinner and founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and Antoine Frérot, Veolia Environnement's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, officially created Grameen-Veolia Water Ltd., a joint venture to devise drinking-water access solutions for Bangladesh's most impoverished rural communities.
Abundant but contaminated freshwater
Nature was generous with Bangladesh. The country is blessed with plentiful freshwater and many underground sources with relatively shallow and therefore easy-to-access aquifers. However, for essentially geological reasons, nearly all of the groundwater is contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic.
As a result, between 30 and 80 million Bangladeshis are currently exposed to the sometimes fatal consequences of arsenicosis.
It was to address this situation that Grameen Healthcare, a Grameen Bank subsidiary, and Veolia Water decided to pool their strengths and expertise to produce drinking water accessible to the low-income rural populations of Bangladesh.
The principles of social business
For Grameen, it is an opportunity to apply the social business principles established by its founder and 2006 Nobel Peace Prizewinner, Muhammad Yunus, to the supply of drinking water. This involves adapting market economy mechanisms so that they work for the poorest communities, to provide sustainable solutions for these communities rather than exclude them through handouts or temporary subsidies.
According to social business principles, society's goals are to produce collective benefits, not to post profits. In line with the social business precepts of "no loss, no dividend," all profits from the sale of drinking water will be reinvested to expand the project and replicate it in other villages.
The infrastructure was built locally using the skills and expertise transferred by Veolia Water to local residents and the project has created 10 jobs.
Muhammad Yunus and Antoine Frérot sign the agreement to create Grameen-Veolia Water Ltd.
The project's first two phases provided drinking and cooking water to the 40,000 residents of the Goalmari and Padua villages, a group of villages 100 kilometers east of the capital city, Dhaka. The water conforms to WHO recommendations and is priced in accordance with the local communities' standard of living.
The water distribution network supplies 22 standpipes, giving residents access to drinking water less than 50 meters from their home.
The project ultimately aims to provide water to 100,000 residents.