An Interview with Dr Stephanie Terreni Brown
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A close conversation with our Co-Founder and Managing Director Dr Stephanie Terreni Brown. A look into her past, her work and what changes she wants to make in the world.
What are the water health missions that drive you?
Drinking contaminated water can lead to a host of diseases and health consequences, including things that might seem like they’ve been relegated to the Victorian era, like cholera and typhoid, but are rife today in many areas across the world. At best, they are unpleasant but at their worst they can kill – and children are most vulnerable. They are entirely preventable, and this makes me mad! Come on world. Let’s go!
“I was always struck by how something so simple and absolutely universal – the need to drink clean water, the need to go to the loo – is so deeply imbued by inequality and absolutely unfair and unjust.”
What is your professional background?
When I was a teenager, searching around for what I wanted to do, my uncle told me that water was the future: it would be the source of conflicts, it would drive global geopolitics, and its protection was paramount. I wasn’t scientifically minded enough to study water chemistry or engineering, but I was (and still am) fascinated by people, and particularly how we interact with each other, what drives and sustains inequality, and how we are shaped by the environments we live in. So, with my uncle’s advice in my mind and always keen to learn about people, I studied Geography as an undergrad at Durham, spent a year studying International Development at UC Berkeley, did a Masters in African Studies at Oxford, and went on to do a PhD at Edinburgh Uni that looked at access to toilets, hygiene, and water in Uganda.
Throughout all of these various academic adventures into water and people, I was always struck by how something so simple and absolutely universal – the need to drink clean water, the need to go to the loo – is so deeply imbued by inequality and absolutely unfair and unjust. I thought addressing these issues through research and my academic life was the way to go, but that wasn’t to be.
Instead, I left a post-doc career in academia for management consultancy, which was a great opportunity for me to experience commercial mindset and ways of working, and despite loving the job and thriving on the fast pace of work, I was still hankering to put my research into practice and make a difference to people in need. So when the opportunity came about with Clean Water Wave, there was no looking back!
“I studied Geography as an undergrad at Durham, spent a year studying International Development at UC Berkeley, did a Masters in African Studies at Oxford, and went on to do a PhD at Edinburgh Uni.”
How did you get involved with CWW?
Diane and I met via our dogs! Watson and Cody are firm friends, and through hanging out in the local park and meeting on walks, we discovered our mutual interests in water. Diane had been working with Howard on a project in West Bengal in India where they were testing methods of treating drinking water that was absolutely not fit for purpose. It was killer water. We shared our experiences of working and living in situations where we had seen the impact that drinking contaminated water was having on a daily basis – the illness and devastation wrought by the consumption of dirty water – and agreed there was so much room for improvement. None of us had seen any water treatment system that was fully functional and effective in rural or low income urban contexts. We knew we could do something about it and it would be criminal for us not to at least try! And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since we were officially incorporated in 2017 – developing, testing and trialling our technology to provide clean water to rural or low income communities.
What is your role at CWW?
To be a passionately enthusiastic leader for Clean Water Wave! Chief Cheerleader and Translator of Technical Stuff. More prosaically, I lead on the development of the business, manage our team of employees and volunteers, and oversee the financial and research-related engagements we have.
“I lead on the development of the business, manage our team of employees and volunteers, and oversee the financial and research-related engagements we have.”
What impact can CWW have on the world?
I hope we have a truly significant global impact. We have technology that is applicable for every country and a purposeful approach to business that sets us apart from most other companies. We’re determined to not only be leaders in water treatment, but also to drive training in low income areas on water, sanitisation and hygiene, and to partner with like-minded organisations to ensure that clean, safe drinking water is accessible to all. Over the next five years, I see us scaling up our work in the UK, successfully entering multiple international markets, and ensuring that safe drinking water is being made available at affordable rates to the most marginalised communities.
“For us, no matter who you are or where you live, you have the right to access clean and safe drinking water.”
Explain the CAFE.
CAFE is our unique product for low energy decentralised treatment of water. CAFE means high quality water can be delivered without mains electricity supply or lots of maintenance or reliance on chemicals for treatment purposes. It is a plug and play piece of kit designed to be robust and extremely long lasting. For us, no matter who you are or where you live, you have the right to access clean and safe drinking water. We have created a revolutionary technology, that offers the most robust, cost effective, secure and reliable clean water in any location. There is a lot of clever technology out there that cleans water – but it’s often far too expensive, energy-intensive, and maintenance-heavy to be effective for rural and small scale community use, and what tech is out there for community-use often doesn’t provide water that’s actually safe to drink.
“We have created a revolutionary technology, the CAFE filtration system, that offers the most robust, cost effective, secure and reliable clean water in any location.”
Where do you sell it?
We have territory-specific distributors who have bought the license to our product for commercial sales. These commercial sales are to mining companies, the agricultural sector, and water treatment companies (for drinking water treatment and for wastewater tertiary treatment). We’re a social enterprise, with a unique business model that sees us reinvesting all profits from selling the CAFE to commercial partners into funding CAFE installations for communities in need. We are working with other social enterprises like Challenges Worldwide to deliver the CAFE to low income communities for drinking water and agricultural water treatment purposes.
What has been your worst moment?
Realising the extent of the water problems we are all facing – it felt like the more research we did into water quality issues the more problems we found, regardless of whether you live in Europe, North America, or sub-Saharan Africa.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Realising we can do something about it gives us all great hope. It’s a privilege to work with the awesome people I work with, and to work towards achieving such a fundamental right to have safe water.
What are your five top priorities?
- Showcasing the importance of water treatment for human health, the food chain, and critically that of the oceans – all pollution eventually ends up in the seas, and that has a huge impact on our planet’s ability to regulate its climate.
- Establishing more international licensees.
- Installing water treatment systems for communities in our priority countries.
- Developing our network of manufacturers.
- Maintaining our commitment to people and planet as we grow, and working with our manufactures, distributors and licensees to make sure everyone’s on board.
“We’re determined to not only be leaders in water treatment, but also to drive training in low income areas on water, sanitisation and hygiene.”
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
Both governments are committed to driving innovation, yet a lot of public pots of money – particularly those that are intended to help develop tech and innovation – are not open to social enterprises. This seems bonkers to me. Social enterprises are businesses.
Both governments also need to better understand the impact of water quality on our environment; recently, the COVID19 crisis has showcased how we can track incidents of COVID in sewage, giving us early warning of where hotspots might be. I know people don’t like thinking about their poo, but it demonstrates something critical – that everything we flush down the loo ends up in the oceans, and this in turn has an impact on our marine life, and on our planet’s ability to absorb CO2. Lots of us take pharmaceuticals of one kind or another (ibuprofen, statins, HRT etc etc) and about 40-90% of this gets excreted by our bodies. Pharma and other chemicals (like oxybenzone, found in sunscreen) can have a massively detrimental impact on marine life. But if we can remove more of these pollutants at the sewage works, we can have a big impact on our overall water quality and health. Our system can help achieve this very affordably.
What has been the most valuable lesson that you have learned so far?
Product development takes a lot of time. And money. And constant pushing. Knowing more about manufacturing processes would have been extremely valuable at the start; there’s a lot of translation that is needed at every stage of the development process to ensure what you want is actually what you get.
“My uncle told me that water was the future: it would be the source of conflicts, it would drive global geopolitics, and its protection was paramount.”
We are a group of pioneers, scientists, philanthropists, economists and storytellers challenging the way clean water is provided globally.
Internationally recognised in our fields, each member of the team has hands on experience of working in the field and has helped to develop our technology.
Together, we have the scientific, technical, commercial and critical community engagement skills to deliver and make the Clean Water Wave mission a reality.