Anna Luísa Beserra Santos: CEO of Sustainable Development and Water for All – Ep. 136

About Anna Luísa & Sustainable Development and Water for All:

Anna Luísa Beserra Santos is the CEO of Sustainable Development & Water For All, a Brazilian organization bringing water and sanitation to people who lack access.

Proper water and sanitation have the power to reduce the number of deaths from waterborne diseases by as much as 65%, and Anna and her startup have already benefitted more than 20,000 people in 15 Brazilian states.

Anna founded her startup in 2015 at the age of 17, and in 2019 she won the UN Champions of the Earth Award. She was also the youngest Brazilian graduate in Leadership for New Enterprises from MIT at the age of 18.

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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She Created Clean Water Technology At 15 Years Old! 

*2:14 – “Since I was a child, my dream was to become a scientist and do something to change the world. And when I was 15 years old, a lot of things happened and made me realize that I wanted to be a scientist and develop something to make clean water a reality for millions of families starting in Brazil, but eventually going worldwide. And that’s when I created my first technology called Aqualuz that cleans the water using just the sun radiation, the sun energy. It’s a technology that we’re now implementing in Brazil and more than 4000 people use it.” 

4:45 – “There are millions of people here in Brazil that doesn’t have access to tap water that sometimes needs to walk miles until they find a water source that is contaminated. And when they deliver this water to their kids mainly or for themselves, they become sick. They get what we call the water-related disease. And with this, there is a lot of more consequences that impact in the rest of the life of this people. So this is a complex problem. I would say there is a lot of factors that makes this happen and continue to happen right now. And some of this family already have a cell phone or they have WIFI in their house, but they don’t have access to water or even a toilet in their homes.” 

Using The Sun To Get Clean Water

*8:13 – “I found a methodology that uses the sun to clean the water in usually plastic bottles. So I tried to understand as much as possible how this methodology worked and how I could improve it to implement in Brazil, considering the Brazilian culture also. So the first unit of Aqualuz came in 2013 when I was 15, and it wasn’t as good as it is right now, but it was what I could do using the things that I have in my house with the help of my father. So for me was a really good realization. And every time that I could realize, well I could improve the technology by doing this, and then I did this improvement. And right now we are already in the version number 14 of Aqualuz so there’s been a lot of improvements, and we are still improving the technology.” 

11:45 – “It is about 54 centimeters. And it has a very short height because the secret is you need to expose as maximum as possible the water to the sun radiation. So you need to have pretty flat amounts of water. So this water will receive as many radiation from the sun as possible. Then the cover is made of glass. So we will make the access to the sun and then water to the sun easier. And what we use for the sun is the UV light. So the UV light has this potential to kills the microorganism by doing some cellular damage on the DNA, they will break this stuff. It is the same principle that give us the skin cancer is the same thing that we use. That’s why we need to use sunscreen. But the microorganism doesn’t have a sunscreen, so they will be dead when they are exposed to the sun. And this make the water safe to drink in the microbiological way.”

20:10 – “We have two lines of products. One is the Aqua – that we have Aqualuz and the other is Sanu. Aqua for water and Sanu for sanitation. And Aqualuz is one. We have Aquasalina that is a solar disseminator. So Aqualuz is just for fresh water and Aquasalina is for water with more kind of chemicals or too much salty or other kind of contaminations. And we have Aquabarro. There is a very particular technology. Talking about Brazilian culture, we have clay filters very common here, but they have limitations, technically speaking for the kind of water that we treat. So we are changing the methodology of treating the water and for a new kind of place user. So it’s called barro, because barro is clay in Portuguese. And in this second line we have three more technologies. One is Sanuseco – that is dry bathroom. So that people would have the opportunity to have toilets in their houses without worrying about the water source. So they wouldn’t need water at all to use the bathroom. And usually we implement this technology with Sanuplant that is our technology that cleans the water from the houses of water and the urine from Sanuseco using just plants. So it’s very sustainable also. And the last is the Sanufauca. So there is technology for people that already have a bathroom with water source. So they need something a little bit more complex to treat the sewage from the house. But it’s also use plants and some microbes.” 

Giving Kids A Brighter Future 

*33:50 – “We could see that water is really much more important than we realize. We could understand how when the family has access to water, the kids’ grades at school become better. And we can see that those kids has a brighter future because of this. We can see the parents that sometimes they need to skip work to take care of the kids because they are sick, because of the water. They need to go to a very, very bad hospital, very far from their house and spend money because they don’t have cars or motorcycle or Lamborghinis. So it’s very expensive for them to go to the hospital and then need to buy medicines to treat the kids. And so a lot of money that could be reinvested in a lot of other things that are important for them if they just have access to water. So by just giving access to water to them we can have a lot of different situation for those families.” 

44:45 – Ross: “But if there are more competitors, then the end goal is achieved, which is sanitation for all, drinking water for all. So in the end, you would encourage competitors versus discourage them, right?”

Anna Luisa: “Yes. And the good thing is we can learn by each other. We can understand that most of the time the technologies are complementary. They can solve different problems that right now we can’t solve. They can seek more investments and make our goal in common a reality.”

Ross: “Because you wouldn’t want somebody watching this, maybe even a young Brazilian or whoever might end up watching this. You wouldn’t want them to think, ‘Oh, she’s already doing that, so I should do something else.’ You would say, ‘No, no, no, come on, join me in this fight.’” 

Anna Luisa: “Yes. Definitely. Learn from my mistakes. See what I’ve been doing wrong and right, and do it for yourself.” 

45:52 – “Sometimes it’s hard for me to think about five years from now. It’s easier from two. Our goal for 2024 is we want to achieve a million people – still it’s a small number compared to the population that we really need to achieve. But from the perspective that we are right now, it’s a really big number. It’s almost impossible to achieve. And I will say that we would have more technology. We would have more partners to really have more people working with us and making this dream come true.” 

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