The importance of recognizing water’s importance to sustainable development goals (SDGs) was on full display during WEF 2024 in Davos, Switzerland this week. Leaders agreed during the “Out of Balance with Water” panel discussion that scaling proven water solutions is critical to water sustainability.
While philanthropic activities are significant, it’s important that corporations reevaluate how business is conducted to make water a catalyst for achieving SDGs. Strategies of enterprises around the world should place water at the center and be bold about the global water issues we face today.
The current global climate crisis and increasing scarcity of freshwater resources have propelled the urgency to find innovative solutions and reshape our approach to water. The HCL Group has taken steps to drive freshwater sector innovation through a partnership with UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum, setting an example for bringing transformative change for a sustainable, water-resilient future.
There’s a very real risk that the natural ecosystems that were once major sources of sequestration of carbon are going to instead become sources of carbon dioxide emissions. To solve the climate crisis, we must solve the water crisis and reverse the current trajectory.
“It’s really how we respond that is extremely critical at the moment and I think in this journey, each country, each neighborhood, each village in every society all over the world is in a different lifecycle in their relationship to water,” said HCLTech Chairperson Roshni Nadar Malhotra. “And I think this is where innovation plays a very large role.”
Addressing the challenges of water sustainability
Water scarcity is a growing problem worldwide and is the cause for many humanitarian disasters, including droughts and agricultural impacts. Focus on improving water sustainability will not just help maintaining fresh drinking water and growing crops, it will also benefit petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and high-tech industries like the semiconductor industry and data centers.
To address these challenges, we have to change our relationship to water by treating it as a necessity for life and not a luxury. Additionally, it will require scaling great innovations and solutions in both developing nations and even in the most advanced countries.
“I think today we’re sitting in a world where water is managing you, not the other way around and there’s some great innovations and solutions out there waiting to be scaled,” said Malhotra. “They need more funding, they need more patient capital and they need more marketplaces where the global solution can also be localized.”
HCLTech driving freshwater sector innovation
Recently, HCLTech and UpLink announced through their partnership the top 10 water-focused entrepreneurs who will receive a financial award from a total pool of $2.2 million as part of the Zero Water Waste Challenge. This challenge is a five-year initiative that aims to find innovative solutions that conserve and restore freshwater ecosystems.
This is the second out of five innovation challenges under the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative. The HCL Group has committed $15 million in total to drive freshwater sector innovation for five years until 2027. In under a year, its commitment saw a 10x return on investment as the first cohort of Aquapreneurs collectively raised $54.5 million after joining the UpLink Innovation Ecosystem.
The focus of this year’s challenge was directed toward capturing and protecting freshwater supply, water reuse and recycling of materials and saving water in agriculture.
“What this initiative is enabling is a marketplace for water and water-based innovations and solutions,” said Malhotra. “We are able to offer [Aquapreneurs] market access, how to define their demand environment, which countries to go to, and how to sell and create an ecosystem.”
While there’s still plenty of work to be done on water sustainability, leaders at the WEF panel agreed that the world is beginning to wake up to the realities of the water crisis. And those who have not woken up just yet, will be forced to soon. Addressing the situation will require scale and speed as the urgency gets higher and higher. The cost of no action is simply too high and organizations are beginning to understand this reality.