CHANGEchallenges – Filters, Silver, and Hijackings (Oh my!)

May 2, 2016

There have been many words written about the challenges of affecting positive change in systems, places, and contexts that are not yet mature or are otherwise still developing. We’ve certainly contributed our fair share of thoughts on the subject; talking and writing about the nuances of working across cultures and economies will be something with which anyone involved in development projects will be familiar. While we won’t stop thinking about those big challenges, this series of posts is dedicated to the less-often discussed little problems that can happen in a project. Hard lessons are learned daily and reflecting upon them allows us to make positive, if not difficult, growths. As they say, change ain’t easy.

One of our longest running initiatives is the CeraMaji water filter project in East Africa. For nearly a decade, ICChange has been working with local partners to build and sell ceramic water filters in a financially and socially sustainable way. In that time, we’ve become better with each shipment at managing the supply chain of raw materials needed to build the filters in a predicable way. A lot goes into a filter: you need the right clay, you need the right machines (and the parts to keep them running), you need buckets and spigots, and, if you want to add an additional layer of protection to ensure your filter is keeping bacteria out of the water, you need colloidal silver.

Almost all of our filter components are sourced and manufactured locally in Kenya but we have to ship in colloidal silver via the airport in Nairobi. We’ve shipped this same quantity of silver countless times over the years without problem, but when we quality-tested the most recent batch of filters we found that there was no silver on any of them. When we asked our team members at the factory, they said that we ran out of silver and couldn’t coat the most recent batch of filters. We knew we had placed an order for silver but the factory manager was insistent nothing had shown up.

When he called the logistics company, we got an interesting answer: our package (and many others) had been hijacked! Two people had intercepted the truck at the airport and neither the vehicle nor any of the packages had been recovered. The shipping company offered us a small refund but even most insurance won’t cover hijackings so the only thing we could do was place another order and hope this truck made it to the factory with a little less drama. We’ve now received that shipment, coated the filters, and thankfully we were able to fill all orders in the mean time using our existing inventory.

Challenges like this one are common when you want to work on difficult problems, but it’s only one of many. Come back soon to read more and, if you feel like helping us buy some more colloidal silver, please consider donating today.



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