Ehtesham Shahid

Joana Bacallo will celebrate her 30th birthday early next month. The senior stewardess at the Dubai-based Emirates Airline is used to being mid-air on such occasions, taking different flight paths and meticulously attending to passengers. However, this time around a special plan has been taking shape for weeks.

Joana’s friends and volunteers – from faraway places such as Germany and Brazil – are flying in to reach the remote rural Pulag Mountains of the Philippines. Together, they are planning a life time experience for a group of 200 children. There will be mountaineering, fun and frolic, eating on banana leaves and gifts to mark the occasion.

The week-long celebration has been arranged in partnership with Juan Portrait – an organization of photographers, students, and volunteers. The message to be delivered is the following – cities must consume and conserve clean water so that the same can be ensured in remote villages. “Future generations are going to inherit major challenges related to water and the more they are sensitized about it the better, especially in remote rural areas,” Joana says.

Joana became a self-proclaimed water entrepreneur due to the clean water crises in her home town, Manila, and other cities she frequented. The joy of being home after hours of flying would be marred by the need to boil water before drinking. This prompted her to launch a startup, Aqua Pura Natural, with the objective to provide clean and pure water to communities.

Understandably, there were obstacles on the way and some detractors even suggested on her face that she should have an exit plan ready. Yet, undeterred, she maintained a lean business model and eventually succeeded. As the organization grew from strength to strength, Joana’s bonuses went into trucks for transporting water, reaching far-flung areas.

With her savings, and relentless crowd funding, she managed to take the enterprise to the next level. She made trips to China and brought machines that could purify water at a large scale. Her apartment in Manila was turned into an industrial unit where water was purified, bottled and distributed.

Ironically, the project gained immense popularity when disaster struck, in 2013, in the form of typhoon Haiyan. The demand for her water skyrocketed and stretched the company’s reach beyond the domestic market. This gave her a sense of achievement and the reassurance that she was on the right track.
Going countryside

Having succeeded with her social business in a major city, one of Joana’s next objectives is to provide sustainable solutions for faraway villages. Plans are afoot to recycle water for the benefit of coconut farmers. She is working to get access to the latest technology and attending water conferences to discuss ideas and projects.

Joana’s success as an entrepreneur can be attributed to her ability to identify the challenges and finding ways to overcome them. “It is all about managing time and resources,” she says. Her years of flying experience have helped shape her perception of customer care and hospitality. “I have never been to the areas where my purified water bottles reach; I see this as power of communication and enterprise,” she says.

Individuals and communities with the least access to resources are the ones who need the most help and the earlier we realize this the better it will be
Ehtesham Shahid

At one level, Joana’s story is also about sensitizing people in the urban sphere about the common challenges they share with the countryside. Her trip to the mountains is all about experiencing firsthand that such villages and communities exist and require support.

Being a social entrepreneur is not about making money but making a difference. Individuals and communities with the least access to resources are the ones who need the most help and the earlier we realize this the better it will be. By pursuing her passion and doing what it takes to make a difference, Joana has reiterated this fact.

Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.