Plastic pollution has become one of the most damaging forms of pollution in modern society. Due to its unique quality of slow disintegration, that could take up to 400 years to fully decompose, it has become alarmingly harmful to our ecosystem. With the increased utilization of single use plastic, our ecosystem is becoming overflowed with and overall congested with plastic. Not only do animals run the risk of ingesting and possibly choking on plastic, but us humans have also begun to consume microplastic particles through our contaminated food source. With climate change having such an influential impact throughout different regions, it has caused many driven individuals to dedicate their careers to tackling these environmental issues.
In Peru, we see plastic pollution posing a threat to certain vulnerable areas, such as beaches and rivers, to be deemed as hazardous due to its high contamination rates. With a lack of a proper waste management and recycling model, densely populated cities, such as Lima, have greater negative environmental effects compared to smaller areas, since they generate a greater amount of trash that isn’t properly disposed of. The Peruvian government has taken action to address climate change issues through policies that ban single use plastic in vulnerable areas and a taxation on plastic bag purchases.
However, the Peruvian community cannot solely rely on these policies to reduce their carbon footprint. There has to be more impactful cultural changes to not only reduce their carbon footprint, but to reverse the damages that have already been made. Peruvians would have to begin with altering the way they function on a daily basis, especially with their product consumption. That is why we are seeing a growth of small business innovators introducing new sustainable ideas of how we can confront these environmental issues through their business models.
We see how essential small businesses are in the Peruvian economy and how they help create employment opportunities throughout the community. However, even though small businesses play a major role in the community, the majority of them struggle to survive. Factors such as assembling a strong reliable team and resisting social pressure are a few obstacles that entrepreneurs must endure. The more fundamental entrepreneurial barriers are obtaining monetary funding and operational support. Platforms, such as Kunan, have been recognizing how difficult it is for small businesses to obtain these vital elements and are supporting them by providing them with these resources.
Kunan is one specific Peruvian platform that focuses on supporting business models that aim to improve environmental and social issues. Kunan was founded in 2014 through an alliance between Global Shapers and Telefonica. The platform includes components that give innovators the opportunity to grow as entrepreneurs. These components are grouped into four categories: high impact, commercial channels, spaces and networking, and resources.
The category, high impact, or alto impacto, gives entrepreneurs, whose business model demonstrates a high impact potential, the opportunity to participate in contests where awards can be achieved. This category includes the Kunan Desafio, or Kunan Challenge, which is the most recognized award that Kunan presents. The annual grand prize consists of a monetary award of S/40,000 (equivalent to 11,135.86 USD) and four months of technical support, provided by NESsT, a business accelerator of social enterprises.
The categories, commercial channels and spaces and networking, focus on the Red Kunan, or the Kunan network. This networking platform allows for entrepreneurs with similar business objectives to link together and potentially create commercial ties. This makes it easier for businesses to develop professional relations that are needed to ultimately progress in their entrepreneurial journey. Lastly, the category ‘resources’ provides innovators with services that could be beneficial to entrepreneurs. Such resources include Kunan TV, which gives access to social entrepreneurial videos that can be seen as useful content for these individuals.
Latina Republic had the opportunity to interview Stefanie Delgado, one of the co-founders and the CEO of IGUA, the company that won the Kunan Desafio 2019. IGUA is a water purification business that focuses on providing universal access to safe drinking water throughout communities in Lima, Peru. They use advanced technology to purify the water that is distributed to the different locations in which their water fountains are installed. Their business model has a triple impact, where their services address environmental, social, and economic concerns.
The environmental issues that IGUA addresses is the promotion of reusable water bottles. Since IGUA water fountains only distribute water, it requires consumers to provide their own containers for them to store it in. This reduces the usage of single use plastic bottles that are harmful to our environment. The social issues that IGUA focuses on is the universal access to purified water. IGUA attempts to make their prices as economical as possible so that everybody has the opportunity to use their services. Lastly, IGUA creates economic opportunities for small business owners to earn an extra income by hosting an IGUA purification fountain in their property.
Throughout the interview, we gained more insight of IGUA’s mission and how participating in the Kunan Desafio has helped IGUA advance as a social business.
Latina Republic: What is your position at IGUA?
Stefanie Delgado: Co-founder and CEO.
Latina Republic: How does IGUA help with social and / or environmental problems?
Stefanie Delgado: Igua creates sustainable access to pure water for all Peruvians, through a network of intelligent purification fountains, in urban areas. The fountains filter water from the public network in multiple stages, to guarantee safety standards. Users need their own container to be able to buy our water at S / 0.50 per liter, from S / 0.10 (200 ml).
Each water fountain has an electronic system that allows monitoring the state of the filter and managing the fountain remotely. Additionally, our users do not have to come into physical contact with the fountain to serve themselves water, since we offer virtual payments through an app and they can activate the water flow through touchless sensors. UVC light guarantees the elimination of bacteria and viruses.
Our fountains are installed in crowded locations, in order to create access to safe water to as many people as possible. We develop business partnerships with the companies that host our fountains, based on sales commissions. Igua installs the water fountain, provides technical support and monitors the water quality without charge. Our business partner covers operating expenses (water and electricity) and keeps the fountain clean. At the end of each month, we both profit from the created revenue.
In this sense, IGUA is a triple impact social company:
– environmental, because we avoid the consumption of unnecessary plastic (bottled water).
– social, because we create access to pure water at much more affordable prices.
– economic, because we create a source of additional income for our business partners, without the need of any initial investment.
Latina Republic: How proactive would you say Peru is in getting involved environmentally?
Stefanie Delgado: In general terms, I believe that consumers have an increasing environmental awareness, although this aspect is still subordinate to price requirements in the vast majority of the population when choosing products or services.
In 2019 Law 30884 came into force, which regulates single-use plastics and other disposable containers or containers. This law prohibits:
– The sale, purchase and use of single-use plastics (bags, straws) in protected natural areas, beaches, museums, areas declared as Natural or Cultural Heritage of Humanity and governmental organizations.
– The delivery of printed advertising and newspapers in plastic bags.
– The manufacture and commercialization of straws (with some exceptions).
– The use of non-reusable plastic bags in supermarkets and shops in general, which have to be replaced by reusable bags or others whose degradation does not generate microplastics.
– Plastic bottles for soda, shampoo and other personal hygiene items, must include 15% of recycled PET. This percentage is low, considering that the main brands such as Coca Cola are already above this percentage.
The law itself is good, but it could be much more aggressive in terms of quotas and implementation times. And in general, government agencies responsible for environmental issues and the conservation of natural areas could be much more efficient in their state policies and actions.
Latin Republic: How did you find out and apply for the Kunan Challenge?
Stefanie Delgado: The Kunan Challenge is the most important entrepreneurship contest in Peru. We applied for the first time in 2017, the year Igua was constituted, and in 2019.
Latina Republic: How did winning the Kunan Desafio help advance IGUA’s goal of addressing environmental issues?
Stefanie Delgado: Winning the Kunan Challenge has been one of the most important acknowledgments Igua has achieved to date and has impacted us in several aspects:
– The preparation process for the challenge: the finalists of this challenge had the opportunity to be part of a bootcamp with special trainings and mentoring. I met several social entrepreneurs from the Kunan Network, who have been leading incredible projects throughout Peru.
– The monetary award itself, and having access to technical support from NESsT, an incubator for social enterprises, which has been supporting us on various issues in recent months.
– Greater public exposure.
– Access to mentors. For example, one of the most important mentors we have, a specialist in finance and business strategy, approached us after the Kunan Challenge. We have been working together since December 2019.
– Access to commercial contacts. Through Kunan, we have access to a very large network of companies. This is very helpful for our process of implementing a network of water fountains in Lima.
Members of the community using the IGUA water fountain station. Photo courtesy of Stefanie Delgado.
Latina Republic: How do you think winning the Kunan Challenge can help other innovators improve their business?
Stefanie Delgado: I believe that all the points mentioned above apply to any other social enterprise that wins the Kunan Challenge.
Business owners and fountain users testimonies of their experience with the IGUA water purification fountain. Video courtesy of Stefanie Delgado.
Latina Republic: In your opinion, how important is it that platforms like Kunan exist to promote and support companies that address social and environmental problems?
Stefanie Delgado: The role played by Kunan and similar platforms is very important to support social enterprises.
– First, to create awareness about what social enterprises are and the role they play in society. Social enterprises themselves are a new form of entrepreneurship, and there is still a lot of work to be done to explain how their business model is designed.
– To create more exposure about the work and the impact social enterprises are creating in Peru.
– To develop a network of social enterprises throughout Peru, and facilitate the exchange of experiences and knowledge.
– To connect social enterprises with potential clients (traditional companies and consumers).
Latina Republic: How important is it to IGUA to keep prices affordable especially for low-income communities?
Stefanie Delgado: This point is very important to us, because it is part of our social mission, which is “to develop innovative solutions to create universal and sustainable access to safe water.” Still, being able to cover our operating expenses is fundamental to be sustainable in the long term as a company. So it is a delicate balance between social impact and business sustainability that has to be carefully monitored.
Latina Republic: Does IGUA have plans to expand its services outside of Lima, Peru?
Stefanie Delgado: Yes. Next year we will be focused on expanding our network in Lima. Starting in 2022, we plan to expand our services to other cities.
Latina Republic: What advice would you give to other countries trying to provide similar services to their communities?
Stefanie Delgado: In general, creating access to safe water is a typical public service. Governments should be providing this service. There are many countries where these services are offered efficiently by governmental institutions. But still, consumers buy bottled water. In these cases, the most important task is to raise awareness among the population about the environmental problems caused by the consumption of single-use plastic. In case of countries in which public water is not safe to drink, such as Peru, and most countries in Latin America, I think it is very helpful to connect with other entrepreneurs who are already developing this type of solution, to share experiences and accelerate the learning process.
IGUA is only one of the sustainable businesses that we see creating a powerful impact on how Peruvians are preventing plastic pollution. With the help of Kunan, IGUA and many other innovators have had the opportunity to grow and produce significant, sustainable changes in their communities through their business models. The growth of sustainable business models is essential to solving environmental issues because it will change how businesses function and demonstrate how impactful the community’s habits have on climate change.
Through Kunan, we can see how beneficial these platforms are for empowering these types of businesses to thrive. With the growth of sustainable innovators using this platform, Peru will see an increase in successful small businesses with the objective to combat climate change. Not only will the growth of sustainable businesses improve the economy of Peru, but it will also help the country progress to a more sustainable future.
To learn more about Kunan, you can follow their Instagram page, @kunan_es_ahora or on their Facebook page, Kunan.
To learn more about IGUA, you can follow their Instagram page, @tomaigua or on their Facebook page, IGUA, or their web www.igua.pe
My name is Margarita Salazar, and I am currently a senior at Mount Saint Mary’s University, where I will obtain my Sociology degree. I am a product of two immigrant individuals who traveled to the United States to escape the turmoil they faced in their home countries in Latin America. As a result of many of my Salvadoran family members currently seeking refuge in the United States, I have found myself connecting more with the immigrant community through voluntary work at a refugee and family service center that also assists my family members. This experience has exposed me to cultural, political, and economic issues that immigrants in the United States face and made me want to pursue a career in community outreach within the immigrant population. While working with these organizations, I also realized how important storytelling is when amplifying these commonly suppressed voices. I believe that storytelling is a powerful tool used to educate audiences about social issues that are often silenced or promote current innovations that are not typically broadcasted on a large scale. Latina Republic is a great platform to not only reinforce these voices but also for individuals to connect and become inspired by them. Through my experience with Latina Republic, I hope to make meaningful connections with individuals and their stories that will influence me to strengthen my advocacy for immigrant rights.