CINCINNATI — P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program has won the 2012 Economist Social Innovation Award.
“As a Company, we are both honored by the recognition and inspired by our employees and global partners who have worked to deliver more than 5 billion liters of clean drinking water to families in developing countries, helping save nearly 30,000 lives,” said P&G CEO, president and chairman of the board, Bob McDonald.
The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program works with partners in more than 65 countries to share its P&G Purifier of Water packets, which contain a patented powdered technology that transforms dirty and contaminated water into clean, drinkable water.
P&G received the award a the Economist’s 11th annual Innovation Award gala, held at the NAFTA Center in London, and attended by global leaders in business, academia, research and development and government. Winners were named in eight categories, including bioscience, energy and the environment, social innovation and computing/telecommunications. Other winners this year included Google, Garmin, GeneTech and MIT.
Receiving the award for P&G were Dr. Phil Souter and Dr. Greg Allgood.
Souter, a P&G research and development section head with the company for 15 years, invented the powder technology that, when mixed with water, removes dirt, cysts and pollutants, while killing bacteria and viruses. Souter first began working on the innovation when he was a research scientist, studying the possibility of recycling laundry water to help with water shortages. At the same time, personal travels took him to South East Asia where he saw a broader need: clean drinking water globally. When he changed assignments, Souter took his new passion with him. And when asked to focus on developing new products, he requested for and won funding to do still more research on making safe drinking water. Working alone at first, he went from an idea to a product within two years.
“I started to think about whether the bigger opportunity might be to clean up water people were drinking to make it safe to use. Combining the technical insights from the wash water recycling with the consumer insights from my travel experiences lead me to believe that I might have found an opportunity where I could actually make a difference,” Souter said.
Now called P&G Purifier of Water, the powder comes in small packets. When stirred into 10 liters of dirty water, it causes heavy metals, dirt and parasites to pull together and fall to the bottom of the container, where they can be strained through a filter cloth. After 20 minutes, the disinfectant in the powder leaves the water clean enough to drink.
“My work on this project has been a source of both personal pride and humble understanding, as I’ve come to realize that every once in a while, life puts us in a position — opens to us a door — to make a difference,” Souter said. “Sometimes it’s luck, sometimes it’s fate that enables us to recognize that opportunity, and then tap the needed resources and our own skills to find a way through the open door. I am humbled that our innovation has helped so many. I share the celebration of this award with countless others who continue to work on the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program.”
Allgood, a 26-year P&G employee, has served as founder and director of the nonprofit Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program since 2004, helping take Souter’s innovation to families and children around the world. The Economist called Allgood’s work the second innovation in the story, creating new distribution strategies with global organizations to help distribute the packets where they are needed most and innovating to find ways to scale up the program, through partnerships, enabling P&G to deliver more than it could alone.
“This award recognizes the people behind the innovation, those who implement an idea to improve the world,” said Economist editor Tom Standage. “This innovation and the work of (the Children’s Safe Drinking Water) program is saving lives.”
“It was 2004. I was sharing our water purification packets with villagers in western Kenya, where villagers collect drinking water from shallow ponds they share with livestock. As we were preparing to leave, a woman grabbed my arm and dropped to her knees. She begged me for more packets for her children, as someone had stolen the bucket of clean water I’d given her earlier. I knew without a doubt that I had to find a way to keep the program alive, and growing,” said Allgood when asked to share his “eureka moment,” when he knew the program had both his personal and professional commitment.
“This is a true honor, and one that I accept on behalf of P&G employees and our many safe drinking water partners around the world who have helped us build and expand this program. It’s unacceptable that more than 2,000 children die every day from unclean drinking water,” Allgood added. “P&G is more committed than ever to scale up the program to reach our goal of saving one live every hour by providing 2 billion liters of clean drinking water every year by 2020.”