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Water Unite Tackling Global Water Challenges Through Impact Investing

In a recent interview with The FutureList, Louis Goring-Morris, Partnerships Director at Water Unite, delves into his journey from academic studies in development and economics to joining Water Unite. Louis highlights the evolving landscape of water security, the underestimated risks it entails, and how innovative solutions backed by strategic investments can herald a brighter, more sustainable future.

The FutureList: What drew you to your current role and industry?

Louis Goring-Morris: My university studies focused on development and economics which triggered my interest in how sustainable finance can be an enabler to tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. I completed my degree by travelling to Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka, to evaluate the socio-economic recovery following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Whilst researching, it became clear to me that an extensive toolkit of patient capital is required to stimulate growth in volatile markets, but one ‘tool’ stood out and it was impact investing. There is no doubt that enabling local entrepreneurs to scale local solutions without all the red tape which comes from ‘top down’ government funding has its advantages. At that time, the sector was well understood by DFIs, Family Offices and HNWIs but less so by corporates and certainly not by their customers. In my position as a Partnerships Director I’m fortunate to be able to work with analysts getting into details around balance sheets and impact data as well as take a step back and collaborate with sustainability and marketing professions to make impact investment digestible for their everyday consumers. We’ve now raised over $10 million using this approach.

The FutureList: Can you name one person in your industry who has impacted your thinking the most, and why?

Louis Goring-Morris: Water Unite’s Founder, Duncan Goose, has been integral in shaping my thinking around creating impact. Prior to setting up Water Unite, Duncan founded One Water – a bottled water brand that donates profits to The One Foundation to fund sustainable water solutions for communities in Africa. He was one of pioneers in developing the like-for-like donation model, which is much more prevalent today. In doing so, he created a method that can raise funds for humanitarian projects in developing countries by harnessing the power of everyday consumerism – rather than focusing on traditional charitable models. To date, The One Foundation has raised over $30 million for WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) projects. His approach to creating impact drove the message that business-as-usual will never be enough and that we must think big to take on the big issues our planet faces today. I believe we still harness this innovative approach at Water Unite today, in particular our drive to integrate major corporates into the impact investing sector.

The FutureList: Are there any existing risks which you’ve found to be critically underestimated across the ecosystem?

Louis Goring-Morris: Our focus is on tackling water poverty, pollution and insecurity. The issues surrounding water insecurity have historically been critically underestimated, in particular given the impacts of climate change. If you look at the pipeline of investable Global South opportunities in the water sector, traditional WASH models have received the vast majority of funding (both grants and investments). These models are crucial in improving immediate access to services but with half of the world’s population living in areas facing water scarcity as early as 2025, the focus must shift to climate resilient and adaptive innovations. Major companies are only just waking up to the realisation that global water security is a major risk to their businesses, both in terms of their employees health but also the strength of their supply chains. However, there is hope. We’re seeing increasing numbers of early-stage stage water-techs with innovative solutions to water insecurity, models such as AI & IoT precision irrigation software, decentralised air-to-water generators and wave powered desalination plants. To stimulate the ecosystem, investors will need to accept the higher risk associated with these earlier-stage companies but those who pick the winners will be rewarded with both greater impact and financial returns. 

 The FutureList: How do you think investors can contribute to ecosystem building beyond raising funds, deploying capital and supporting their portfolio companies?

Louis Goring-Morris: Investors have an important role to play in developing ecosystems for their area of impact. Beyond the business as usual methods, contributions are made via catalysing additional funding, advocating and knowledge sharing. Water Unite moved into impact investing to catalyse further funding into the water sector. If we can use patient capital to de-risk the market and leverage new funding into previously hard to invest innovations, then we’ve been successful in building out the ecosystem. For example, we’re in the process of engaging with several Family Officers who have previously avoided the water sector. In addition, whilst entrepreneurs are focused on the day-to-day running of their businesses, investors are often well placed to advocate for global challenges at large. By using the right platforms, such as COP27 and World Water Week, we’ve been able to draw attention to underestimated issues and champion the solutions that often already exist. Lastly, we’re fortunate to have a bird’s eye view of developments in the market. Given this position, it’s essential to facilitate sharing of knowledge and best practices between investees and other investors. We’ve seen this in action whilst working to remove exploitation and child labour from the plastics value chain. Transparency on what is working in one market, or not in another, only accelerates sustainable development. It’s a classic case of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’

The FutureList: Water Unite is a global nonprofit and impact investor funding water, sanitation and waste management solutions. Can you highlight some notable innovations in your portfolio?

Louis Goring-Morris: We’re fortunate to have a fantastic portfolio of impact-driven companies managed through Water Unite Impact, an investment vehicle providing risk-tolerant capital to SMEs in the Global South. The first four investments have been made into Sanivation, Mr Green Africa, GREE New Energy and Jibu. 

Our first investment was into Sanivation, based in Naivasha, Kenya. They design, build and operate circular economy treatment plants that take in sludge from pit latrines and septic tanks. This waste is treated then and combined with other waste products such as sawdust to produce a solid fuel, or briquette. These briquettes provide a low-carbon bioenergy alternative to fossil fuel. Our second investment, Mr Green Africa (MGA) is based in Nairobi, Kenya. MGA aims to solve plastic waste and exploitation issues by providing a transparent value chain by sourcing their plastic waste ethically whilst giving waste pickers their fair share. Their model revolves around collecting plastic from waste pickers and businesses then transporting it to their recycling plants to produce high quality recycled plastics. The plastics are then sold to FMCG brands, such as Unilever, with a fair share of profits being distributed to the bottom of the recycling chain. 

We’re also supporting GREE New Energy which are based in Indonesia. GREE offers a new generation of wastewater treatment facilities centred on a waste-to-energy model with significant decarbonisation impacts added to the supply of green power to rural areas of emergent countries. Biogas solutions reduce pollution in waterways as well as decarbonise the food supply chain. Most recently we’ve backed Jibu, based in Rwanda but operating across eight countries in East Africa. They pair financing with an innovative franchise model to empower entrepreneurs to provide for their communities’ basic needs, in particular via last mile water kiosks. Decentralised, on-site production allows franchises to sell high volumes of clean drinking water directly from their high visibility retail points to end customers.

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