We spoke to Jaden Smith about his work educating people about clean water and sanitation

Jaden SmithHollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Jaden Smith, entrepreneur and son of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, spoke to Business Insider about using tech to tackle the problems of water supply and sanitation across the world.
  • Smith has made a documentary called "Brave Blue World" - which is set to launch in December - along with several other prominent water activists and entrepreneurs. It focuses on people across the world who lack access to affordable, clean water, and how innovative new tech can help secure such access.
  • Two key figures from the documentary, Gary White and Paul O'Callaghan, also spoke to BI alongside Smith.
  • White is cofounder of Water.org, a nonprofit aid organisation that helps people in the developing world access water and sanitation, while O'Callaghan is CEO of BlueTech Research, a market intelligence firm focused on water-related tech.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Actor and activist Jaden Smith, son of Jada Pinket and Will Smith, says there is an "educational barrier" stopping the world from tackling its shortage of clean, readily available water.

Smith spoke to Business Insider at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal earlier this month about an upcoming documentary called "Brave Blue World," which he created along with several other prominent activists.

Two other major figures in the documentary, Gary White and Paul O'Callaghan, spoke to BI alongside Smith.

White is cofounder of Water.org, a nonprofit aid organisation helping people in the developing world access water and sanitation by providing small loans. His cofounder is the actor Matt Damon. To date, Water.org says it has reached more than 20 million people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. O'Callaghan is founder and CEO of BlueTech Research, a market intelligence firm focused on water-related tech.

Filmed across six continents, Brave Blue World focuses on people in developing countries who lack access to affordable, clean water, and the innovative technologies being used to help.

According to Water.org research, 785 million people - 1 in 9 people on the planet - lack access to safe water, while some 2 billion people lack access to a toilet.

Smith says most people don't know how much of an issue access to clean water is

Asked what the number one goal of the documentary is, Smith said: "I think the big goal is always to bring awareness to people, because everybody wants the world to be a better place. But a lot of people aren't aware of what's going on, and aren't aware of ways they can help the world.

"That's an educational barrier, and I feel like documentaries are perfect ways to get out a lot of dense information in a way that people can really understand and grasp. That's going to be the big purpose: getting people to see what's happening, and learn something new, and say 'oh, this is how I can be involved', because I just got educated on this."

21-year-old Smith is no novice when it comes to tackling water-related issues.

Michigan Detroit Flint waterIn this Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015 photo, Genetha Campbell carries free water being distributed at the Lincoln Park United Methodist Church in Flint, Michigan.AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Aged just 11, he cofounded bottled water firm Just Goods alongside Drew Fitzgerald, a US tech entrepreneur minded towards environmental issues. The firm's signature product is JUST Water: spring water sold in bottles made from plant-derived materials, and is reportedly worth $100 million.

The "Karate Kid" star is also cofounder of 501cthree.org, a nonprofit that provides mobile water filtration systems - called "Water Boxes" - for the residents of Flint, Michigan. The city's residents have not had an adequate supply of clean water since 2014 when the city's main water source was changed to the lead-contaminated Flint River. The water has taken the lives of at least 12 residents since 2014, though recent reports suggest the true death toll may be far higher.

501cthree.org provides mobile water filtration systems to Flint than purify 10 gallons of water every 60 seconds

Elaborating on his work with 501cthree.org, Smith said: "We always had the idea that JUST Water was like the extra-small version of what we wanted to do. I wanted to be able to expand all over the world.

"Then I realised that if you can't help the places that are closest to home, you definitely won't be able to help the places that are very, very far away," he continued. "So we started off working in Flint, because of the crisis that's been going on down there, [to which] no-one's been paying attention."

According to 501cthree.org, its Water Boxes can purify 10 gallons of water every 60 seconds, and have been specifically calibrated to remove lead from Flint's water.

O'Callaghan and White also spoke to Business Insider about Flint and the problems of water supply and sanitation.

They emphasized the need for creative technologies like the Water Box, and the need for corporations to change their approach towards the problems.

Villagers collect clean water from a broken water supply line in the suburbs of Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.Villagers collect clean water from a broken water supply line in the suburbs of Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.B. K. Bangash / AP

They argued that it's too difficult to repurpose existing infrastructure for sanitation, and that's where alternative ideas need to kick in.

"When you think about how one could ever go to a city like Dar es Salaam or Jakarta and put in a complete network of pipes, it is quite difficult to imagine," O'Callaghan said. "It almost becomes an unsolvable problem when you try and think of that happening. That's where this creative thinking has to happen, even in places like Flint, because that infrastructure is now 100 years old.

Meanwhile, White said Water.org's microfinancing approach can help corporations see people in need of water as "a market to be served" rather than "a problem to be solved."

"If it costs $200 to connect, you don't have that much money in your pocket," he said. "You can afford to pay the water vendor a dollar or two today every day, but you don't have the cash flow or the savings to get the connection.

"What we do is fill in that missing place with our partners, so that they can get access to an affordable loan, get the connection that they need, and then recover lots of cash in the process. One woman I met in the Philippines was paying $60 to the vendors. Now she's paying $5 for her water utility and $5 for her loan payment. So, right away, she has $50 in her pocket to contribute to advancing the welfare of her own family.

"Once that kind of mindset can be absorbed across different organisations and different financial institutions, then - all of a sudden - there's lots of people coming and solving the problem, not just us."

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