Sunil Lalvani, Founder and CEO, Project Maji

Sunil Lalvani, Founder and CEO, Project Maji

Sunil Lalvani, founder and CEO of Project Maji, a non-profit social enterprise engaged in providing easy access to clean water to African rural communities. It is an interesting conversation as he talks not just about his organisation’s sustainable work, but also claims that this serious water problem is solvable.

Podcast

Overview

W.H. Auden has rightly said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” We are all aware of the challenges the world faces today in easy access, management, and preservation of this essential resource.  The question is what do we do about it? Daily news debates, magazine articles, webinars & seminars about the scarcity of water especially in certain communities with difficult access, are all leading to anything?

We momentarily get inspired and then carry on with our lives. However, certain individuals and organisations are relentlessly working towards making a difference.

Today, on TBCY, we have Sunil Lalvani, founder and CEO of Project Maji, a non-profit social enterprise engaged in providing easy access to clean water to African rural communities. It is an interesting conversation as he talks not just about his organisation’s sustainable work, but also claims that this serious water problem is solvable.

 

About Sunil Lalvani

Sunil Lalvani is the founder & CEO of Project Maji, Dubai based social enterprise that is deploying sustainable resources and solutions to provide easy access to clean water to rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Previously, Sunil was heading his family business Binatone, a consumer electronics company working across the globe. He brings his business management skills & experiences that have made Project Maji a success.

DISCUSSION

Mr. Lalvani discusses how an initiative that started as a CSR activity for his family business slowly became his passion, and he was motivated to for a stand-alone venture. He narrates how the idea took birth in his life.

Along with the team of his engineers, he brought with him the business skills to address the problem innovatively. Finally, they succeeded in leveraging solar technology and developed solar power kiosks for the communities in Africa, ensuring sustainable access to water instead of a one-time gift.

Project Maji has also won the YPO Global Impact Award and Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water for tackling the long-standing crisis.

Plans for Expanding the Operations

Sunil states that, defining a clear vision of addressing a million people by 2025, helped them expand their operations beyond Ghana. He credits his partners for fruitful results in Kenya that is on the other side of Africa. 

He says: “For me, it is critical to have a right partner than to focus on geographical proximity.”

He shares his plans on starting operations in Uganda in 2022 and soon in parts of the Philippines and India too.

Reasons for Increased Water Challenges

Sunil strongly believes that the water access issue in the world is solvable with purpose-driven resources and political will. He talks about his cost-efficient solar powers kiosks compared to many other technologically inferior and expensive solutions they are losing tenders to.

He expresses his disappointment: “I understand capitalism. But why are things like education, health, etc. are being played by rampant corruption? A lot of good NGOs get trapped in bureaucracy, and we are trying to break it by being more entrepreneurial.”

He states that groundwater is enough for sustainable drinking water needs, but agriculture and other industries are taking it up. The solution lies in tackling the needs of those industries to make groundwater sustainable.

Solutions

He discusses rainwater harvesting but how it is not clean and, more than that, addresses his concern owing to the rising rain unpredictability due to climate change.

Second, he points the importance of education. He shares his experiences of making people understand to not use water from open sources. Talking about desalinating ocean or seawater, it is only possible for rich nations, that too with subsidies as it is power-hungry.

He strongly requests the governments to develop well-researched, rightly motivated solutions to tackle the problem and avoid water-related conflicts. He says: “Governments of the world have to start taking the environment seriously. There is no combined mindset, and everyone is thinking selfishly. We live in a connected world. It is important to understand that the effect on one part is going to affect the other.”

Profile

Sunil Lalvani is a British born Asian who has lived and worked in the UK, Hong Kong, India,  Russia, Nigeria and Ghana before settling in Dubai with his family in 2002. 

Sunil’s was a serial entrepreneur before joining his family’s electronics business, Binatone  (www.binatonelifestyle.com), where he worked from 1994. He became Group Managing  Director in 2008 until 2015, shifting the heart of business operations to the UAE during that  time. 

In 2014, in Ghana, after witnessing the shocking, but all too common scene of children  collecting dirty water from roadside puddles, Sunil founded Project Maji  (www.projectmaji.org), a social enterprise focused on providing sustainable access to safe  water in rural communities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. 

Sunil now runs Project Maji from its office in Dubai at the International Humanitarian City. 

Along with speaking, advocating and mentoring on Social Impact and Impact Investing, Sunil  is now a full time Social Entrepreneur. He has been recognized and featured by  Entrepreneur and Real Leaders magazines as well as CNBC. His ultimate vision is to make  Project Maji a lead organisation in overseeing an end to the global water crisis. 

Project Maji was the proud winner of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Water  Award in 2020 as well as being selected as a YPO Global Impact Award Winner YPO that  same year. 

In 18 years, Sunil has served numerous positions on the YPO board and was the Chapter  Chair of the Emirates chapter in 2014/15, overseeing the official registration of the Chapter  at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. The same year that YPO hosted its annual global  “EDGE” event in the Dubai (attended by 3,000 delegates). 

Sunil lives in Dubai with his wife of 25 years. His 22-year-old son, who was the Under 18 UAE  national fencing (Epee) champion in 2017, is reading Aerospace Engineering at Bristol  University and his 20-year-old daughter, Hospitality at Bournemouth University. 

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