Numbers roll off Stanley Samuel’s tongue as easily as ABC: “The water footprint of a cup of coffee is 130 litres; this shirt I’m wearing, 250 litres; breakfast, lunch and dinner for a family of four is 26,800 litres.”
As CEO of water solutions provider Ecosoftt, Samuel knows first hand the unimaginable impact water has on daily life.
This year, his firm became the first Singapore organisation to receive the Zayed Sustainability Prize, a global award that rewards innovation, impact and inspiration in sustainable development solutions.
Its biggest project is the restoration of the Narmada River in India’s Madhya Pradesh state. Partnering schools, hotels, hospitals and towns along a 400km stretch, Ecosoftt installed some 40 water reclamation systems that intercept close to 50 million litres of sewage daily. Today, water in the holy river — which sees half a million pilgrims take a dip during festive periods — is of potable quality.
“Water and I have a strange connection,” reveals the former Nestle executive, who himself hails from the central Indian state. “I used to wake up at 4am to fill water as a young boy. Then I moved to New Delhi, a big city, and again I found myself getting up at 4am, but to steal water from our neighbour’s tank. Later, through working for one of the largest food and beverage companies, I realised this thing called our water footprint.”
So when faced with a choice of pursuing water as a career after retirement or while age was on his side, “the universe conspired such that I’d start earlier on”, he shares.
Founded in 2012 by Samuel and Marcus Lim, a Singaporean he met during their INSEAD Executive MBA programme, Ecosoftt takes on a blend of profit and not-for-profit projects, translating what it does commercially for the benefit of communities.
“It’s applying business acumen to doing good,” Samuel explains.
“We were a Powerpoint slide and an idea. It took us a while to convince both commercial clients and the ruralised, marginalised community, and guess who said ‘yes’ first? A rural community.
We sat down to discuss the risks and Marcus’ words were: ‘We’ll at least make a difference in the lives of one community. If we’re successful, we continue; at worst, we stop.”
In the last five years, projects run by the firm have treated more than 100 million litres of sewage, reduced freshwater intake by more than 50 million litres and reduced groundwater extraction by another 50 million litres.
For more on trailblazing leaders, read our series on alphas here.