Today’s Industry Person of the Week is a motivated individual who is doing great work to implement water solutions through Wristsponsible around the world as well as support the Pump Industry through W. S. Darley And Company. Meet Kevin Sofen, who also hosts the Rethinking H20 Podcast!
Q. How did you get started working in the industry?
Kevin: Water is the defining characteristic in my life. I grew up on the Pacific Ocean, spent summers on a lake in Wisconsin, and now live on Lake Michigan. It is my belief that every human in the world deserves access to safe drinking water for both consumption and enjoyment, something that is currently not the situation for billions around the world.
When I was in my early 20’s, my passion to provide safe water solutions for those in need was solidified when I studied aboard via Semester at Sea. I had the opportunity to walk through the streets of Takoardi Ghana. As a sheltered American from California, this was my first experience seeing an open sewage system and how people obtained water on a daily basis with inadequate infrastructure. One year later I lived in Beijing for 6 months and found myself travelling to Tianjin. On this train ride, I saw multiple lakes contaminated by algae eutrophication. During both of these moments, I committed myself to find different sustainable solutions that can address the root problems.
In 2012, I was fortunate to start working for a local Chicago company called W.S. Darley & Company that was starting their own water solutions division. After now working in the water industry for 8 years, I believe that the best solution for a local community is the best solution that works for them. Sometimes a $50 water storage tank is the best solution, or maybe a $30,000 solar and wind powered water enterprise. At the initial onset it’s critical to work with the local community, understand the cultural issues, what’s worked in the past, who are significant players in the community, figure out what technology can be most effectively implemented, define the project scope, fund-raise, and then perform project management. In the past five years, I have successfully helped install solar and wind powered water treatment and water enterprise solutions in Nepal, Tanzania and Cuba. While I continue to work on these projects with partner charities, my main focus is to bring these same water solutions to those in North America struggling with access to safe water.
Q. What is your favorite part of your job? What are you most proud of?
Kevin: Many people in the world talk about the water crisis that exists. While there are serious water crises around the world, there are just as many water opportunities. By working for Darley and starting my own charity, Wristsponsible, it is my ambition to build a community of action that works to implement grass roots water solutions. Our ultimate goal is to work with different customer segments to raise more awareness and financial capital so we can complete more water projects.
I am most proud of that fact that through our work we have helped implement over 12 sustainable drinking water projects around the world. Most notably in Peru, Nepal, Tanzania, Kenya, Navajo Nation, and Flint, Michigan. These projects range from solar powered water treatment, point of use lead removal, permaculture farms, and social enterprise water projects.
Q. Can you talk about a cool project(s) you’ve worked on?
Kevin: Marginalized communities, like Flint and Navajo Nation in North America, struggle with access to safe water. Due to lack of infrastructure and water services, many communities of color and indigenous communities are forced to live in unsafe conditions. As of now, bottled water is considered to be the solution which does not promote self-reliance. This creates a negative feedback loop where organizations look to bottled water as the solution to the problem. Organizations feel good about helping, yet are only prolonging the problem. Long term water solutions are ignored while bottled water reinforces dependency on outside help and does not build self-reliance.
I have seen organizations build their brand around helping people in Flint Michigan and Navajo Nation by providing truckloads of bottled water. Bottled water is a new phenomenon within the past 50 years that does serve a purpose immediately after a disaster, however it creates numerous environmental and social problems over time. Families that live on a fixed income receive bottled water for free, but eventually the donations run out, and then they are forced to spend their minimal dollars on expensive bottled water. I’ve grown frustrated by the copious amount of money funneled to bottled water and know there are long term solutions that can be implemented to solve the core problem. Today, there are long term, practical and sustainable solutions that can break the cycle of dependency and provide self-reliance for struggling communities. Within Flint, I work with certified, tested and verified Point of Entry lead removal technology that can be implemented into a residential household for $2,500. With 23,000 houses across Flint, we can fix the Flint water problem with $57,500,000.
In Navajo Nation for places without clean, running water or basic plumbing, we empower American communities to build and manage low-cost systems that bring safe, hot and cold water into homes, schools and community centers. Water projects are community-led, and designed to measurably improve human rights standards like health, gender equity and economic development. Many houses in Navajo Nation live off the grid and mainly need access to water storage tanks, low level chlorination and functioning plumbing systems. We can implement functioning water systems or Permaculture projects across the Navajo Nation for under $5,000.
Q. What advice would you give to someone new to the industry?
Kevin: Just start somewhere. The water industry is very broad, and there are opportunities all over the place. I had no idea what I was doing except for the fact that I love water and want to help others. Even today I know that if your intentions are in the right place and if your intent is to be of service to others; then it will all work out. I recommend anyone that is passionate about water to reach out to me and explore collaboration. I am an open book and know that it takes a village to make a difference.
Thank you, Kevin, for being our Industry Person of the Week and for your work to help provide clean water to people around the world.