Viva con Agua is committed to a world without thirst. In an exclusive interview, co-founder Tobias Rau reveals how it works and how you can be active in times of Corona
Tobias Rau Managing Director Viva con Agua (Photographer Lars Jockumsen)
Author: House of Eden
Tobias Rau is chairman of the board and co-founder of Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli eV Motivated to combine something useful with fun, Viva con Agua today stands for an NGO that promotes creativity and meaning. And that works: the supported projects have already provided several million people worldwide with access to clean drinking water.
In an exclusive interview, Rau reveals the success concept of Viva con Agua, discusses the current challenges posed by COVID-19 and shows how effortlessly everyone can get involved socially.
Engagement has to be fun - The Universal Language Approach
This attitude is anchored in the founding history of Viva con Agua. At that time we were young and our aim was to combine development cooperation with what we enjoy. That's why we focused on the Universal Language Approach set, i.e. the universal languages: music, art and sport. These connect cultures and people from all over the world. So the idea arose to combine things that we like to do ourselves with something meaningful or useful.
At Viva Con Agua there are no limits to creativity
Participation, codetermination and self-fulfillment are important aspects for volunteer work. When we started organizing concerts, exhibitions, soccer games and sporting events to collect donations, it was easy for us to acquire artists and celebrities. Probably because we were out and about in their natural environment.
We did what we enjoyed - and when you enjoy something, you do it with passion and usually better. There are no limits to creativity in order to get involved with Viva con Agua. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute in a way that corresponds to their interests. An artist can paint a picture, a musician can donate a concert - everything is possible from cherry pit spitting to volleyball. Ultimately, it's about meeting like-minded people and working together for a higher goal.
Project Ethiopia © by Endalk Photography for Viva con Aqua
Water for everyone and everyone for water
This is our vision and we mean it seriously. In the ideal Viva con Agua world, everyone has access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. In the best case, a maximum of many people should make their contribution and get involved. It is our job to inspire, sensitize and motivate people.
While some people commit themselves with time, a donation or the purchase of one of our products is also a commitment to Viva con Agua. With our products, we give people the opportunity to do something good by making a purchase decision. All activities support ours Water projects.
The added value of our Viva con agua waters is not just about quenching your own thirst, but also about giving other people access to clean water. The same principle applies to our social business gold bucket: with the purchase of social toilet paper, you support water and sanitation projects worldwide.
We are the "We don't get on your nerves NGO"
The fact that people can determine their own commitment and contribute their own interests speaks for itself: Thousands of volunteers and artists are active for Viva con Agua. In doing so, we want to make commitment possible at a low-threshold level: Nobody has to bend over or overstep their limits.
Depending on the individual life situation, drop-in, drop-out is possible: You can contribute once, regularly or over many years. That depends on your own willingness, whatever we communicate - especially in the NGO sector, authenticity and transparency are extremely important.
In the projects it is important to us that we work on an equal footing with the local people. In most cases we learn more than we can give. On project trips, we therefore always seek direct contact with locals and bring in the approach of universal languages in order to establish a connection in a joyful way. With this vehicle, cultural and linguistic differences can easily be bridged.
Tobias Rau, Managing Director Viva con Agua © by Henrik Wiards
Climate neutrality and sustainability are very important
The support of Viva con Agua and the purchase of our products finance our worldwide projects. The water projects are long-term and sustainable and follow the WASH triad (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), i.e. always include the components of sanitation and hygiene in order to guarantee permanent access to clean drinking water.
So while we generally promote drinking tap water, as it is ecologically much more sustainable than drinking water from a bottle, we want to sell a maximum of many bottles at the same time.
Sustainability is a top priority in the production of our water. We try to be as climate neutral as possible. Sure, we fly to our projects, that is inevitable. But we compensate for this and the following applies: no domestic flights, CO2-neutral water production, regional bottlers and suppliers. Since climate change results in droughts, among other things, and has a significant impact on the groundwater level, it is closely linked to our projects, which is why we also pay attention to climate and environmental protection.
© by Stefan Groenveld for Viva con Agua
COVID-19 makes hygiene and clean drinking water more important than ever
Currently, due to the corona pandemic, our project trips are flat. And financially, we are also noticing a decent dent, as many of our analog activities and events cannot take place. The fact that this money cannot now flow into drinking water and sanitation projects is problematic in that it is more important than ever, since clean drinking water and hygiene contribute to COVID-19 prevention.
As a consequence, we are now trying to save money, and ask proactively Donate, prioritize projects and try to translate forms of engagement and events into the digital world. But we already did pre-Corona, Corona prevention.
From the beginning, WASH has been the cornerstone of our projects. That includes clean water, toilets and hygiene. We convey this WASH triad through the universal languages in workshops and training courses.
Social engagement also works digitally
Due to Corona, Viva con Agua has worked hard on its digital infrastructure. That is arguably a positive aspect of COVID-19. By breaking away from analog activities, we have transformed a lot into the digital world and optimized our digital infrastructure. For example, we have improved our transparency: What happens to the euro that I donate? We also have a large platform, the poolwhere people can get involved and register for activities.
Online conferences and Instagram streams also ensured coverage. The digital is simply practical and is very important these days, especially for scaling. Nevertheless: It is and will be an addition. Despite all the advantages, there is no substitute for personal contact, which is why we look forward to being back on the analogue route soon. I don't know anyone who would prefer a like to a real hug.
Ethiopia was our first project in Africa
Of all the projects, Ethiopia is an emotional project for me personally. In 2006 it was our first project on African soil. Since then I've actually been there at least once a year and have been friends with the people for many years.
For one thing, we work there with the Welthungerhilfe, but also with local, Ethiopian organizations. This is how we create jobs and strengthen - which is particularly relevant for us - the idea of ownership. If wells are built, they belong to the people there, they pay their own share and take care of the administration. We help people to help themselves with a view to the future.
When we started in 2005, none of us could have imagined that Viva con Agua would become what it is today. We have evolved day by day - learning by doing. This year it's our 15th birthday and again we don't know what will be in 2030.
What is certain, however, is that our story is not yet fully told. We will therefore continue to push further social business models in the future and establish products on the market that support the goal of realizing water and sanitary facilities worldwide.
And when it comes to activities for donations, the creative potential is far from being exhausted. We invite everyone to take part and contribute their own ideas. As a guide, our Viva con Agua book will appear in December - a guide in 15 steps to activism.
As long as we stay with our hearts and dedication, Viva con Agua will continue to develop positively.
Thank you very much for the interview, dear Tobias!