From Board Room to Bungoma: Changing Lives Through Smart Technology

This article was originally published on Triple Pundit on World Water Day, March 22 2016.

Nigel Clarke, Operations Director At Jaguar Land Rover, Sub-Saharan Africa, explains how getting hands on with a CSR project made him appreciate how smart technology can truly change lives

This autumn, I had the privilege of taking part in the launch of a new smart technology project Jaguar Land Rover is supporting in western Kenya. The project is part of an integrated Climate+Care programme, which uses smart technology to deliver measurable social and environmental impacts around the world.

Innovation and new technologies are core to our business. They  drive product development and environmental innovation, as we strive to reduce the impact of our global operations and our vehicles. We’re also investing in smart technology to improve the lives for people in the communities we operate in through our Global CSR Programme. We have an ambitious target to create opportunities for 12 million people around the world by 2020.

It all makes sense in theory, but as I headed out of the board room and into Bungoma County, to help ClimateCare put our new LifeStraw Safe Water for Schools project into action, I wasn’t expecting the experience to make such an impact on me, or my colleagues.

It was 7am on a Monday morning when I joined a team of Jaguar Land Rover employees, selected from across our business, to meet our ClimateCare partners and head off to our first school. There was no special treatment – we were there to do a job. That job was to kick-start the distribution of award-winning LifeStraw water purification technology to schools across the region.

Our investment in this smart technology will provide over 300,000 school children in western Kenya with access to safe water in school for the first time – reducing their risk of contracting water-borne diseases including typhoid and cholera and giving them the opportunity for a better education and opportunity to learn and excel at school.

The programme is impressive. The LifeStraw technology, manufactured by Vestergaard,  is simple to use and doesn’t require any power or chemicals. Its provision is accompanied by an ongoing education, monitoring and measurement programme to ensure the purifiers are well-maintained and appropriately used.

Our expert programme partners, ClimateCare did a great job creating a robust programme which aligns with our corporate responsibility objectives and commitment to innovation and technology. Not only that, but the hands-on experience they organised for our employees who joined distribution teams for a week has created and inspired a new, motivated group of sustainability ambassadors from across our business.

Team Leader Chris Harris of Jaguar Land Rover installs one of the first LifeStraw Community water purifiers for pupils at the Visionary Academy, Bungoma County.

Team Leader Chris Harris of Jaguar Land Rover installs one of the first LifeStraw Community water purifiers for pupils at the Visionary Academy, Bungoma County.

At Visionary Academy, I met Vivienne Wafula, a nine year old girl in class four. Vivienne was sick with typhoid just the previous year and had to miss a week of lessons. Now her school has LifeStraw Community water purifiers, meaning she and her fellow pupils have access to safe water at school.  Speaking to Vivienne was inspiring – she plans to study hard, pass her exams and go to University to pursue a career in nursing. Vivienne was just one of the many ambitious pupils that we met during our trip.

Vivienne Warfula, 9 years old, who attends the Visionary Academy in Bungoma County. Photo credit: Kate Holt.

Vivienne Warfula, 9 years old, who attends the Visionary Academy in Bungoma County. Photo credit: Kate Holt.

I really enjoyed talking to the pupils at the schools, enjoying a glass of safe water with them and seeing our Jaguar Land Rover volunteers in action, distributing the technology and training teachers and children in its use. This brought home the real impact this programme will have, creating opportunities for a whole generation of school-children in Bungoma.

Sharing a glass of safe water with a pupil at the Visionary Academy, Bungoma County.

Sharing a glass of safe water with a pupil at the Visionary Academy, Bungoma County.

From a business perspective this project is delivering even more. Yes, we are helping to meet our CSR targets, but we are also empowering the people our business will rely on in the future and in doing so, helping build stronger communities. The eager, motivated children we met may well become our future customers and employees.

And getting hands on with the project is bringing out the best in our people. It’s brought colleagues together from different sites, disciplines and countries to work together. It’s helped focus them on the core priorities and values that drive our businesses and how we operate. It’s given them the opportunity to do something meaningful, to experience something extraordinary, and to take that learning and pride back to the business and inspire their peers.

The team that took part in the project launch, myself included, are now back at our day jobs, but it’s no longer business as usual. We’ve fostered a team of pro-active advocates that are already driving change across the business, identifying ways we can do business differently to create positive impacts around the world.

In a large global business like ours, there’s no substitute for bringing people together for this kind of shared experience. As it says on our team T-shirts: Smart technology changes lives – we just didn’t realise how much it would change our own.