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Every week we meet up with inspiring people and we talk to them about issues that play a role in the world of MARIE-STELLA MARIS. Last week we talked to Alice Bouman-Dentener, President of Women for Water Partnership. This week we meet Sjef Ernes, President of Aqua for all. An entrepreneur with a passion for water…

What is it that you do?
“Water ‘runs’ through my whole personal history. I started in the drink water sector, having worked for E-Water Group and waterworks NRE in Eindhoven. Currently, I am president of Aqua for All.
Aqua for All bridges the gap between the water sector and development cooperation. We make connections, in a way similar to an estate agency. The combination between business and the social aspect of water appeals to me. I have the best job of my life. And I mean that! In that sense, water is a very motivating theme.”

What is the main strength of Aqua for All?
“In ten years, Aqua for All has developed into a company that is continually innovating and concerned with \"where can we make the difference?\" What is the difference between yesterday and today? If what we did today is the same as we’ve done yesterday, we haven’t learned anything. We make connections based on trust, openness, respect and friendship. If you assume that you are not better than another person, if you respect each other, you can cooperate. Then you're on the same wavelength. Then you can truly share.”

What characterizes you?
\"I am passionate, idealistic and enterprising. But at the same time, I know I can be forceful, stubborn or impatient. These characteristics lie close to each other. Everyone should be aware of this imbalance: whatever a person’s strength might be, it can also be your pitfall. As a person, I try to be aware of constructive criticism. If you’re open for criticism, you will receive feedback. And enough people around me pull me back when needed.\"

Where would you like to contribute most?
“Development is more than ‘just’ charity. It is looking for opportunities and for the right people that can and will make these opportunities work. It is also important to think in business terms. I am interested in making that combination work. I want to contribute to development 2.0 (it is already 2.1?).”


What role do the following themes play in your life?
“I love sailing. It's a wonderful feeling to be close to the wind, focussed on a speck on the horizon. Swimming on the other hand, I dread. Just as showering and the rain. In that sense, I really don’t have a thing with water.
What interests me is the function of water. And the importance of it. Water has something to do with dignity and with a sense of justice. It is distressing to see in what circumstances people are willing or forced to live. Really degrading. That touches me, drives me. Water is a very basic product. It isn’t just necessary to survive, but also to make something of your life. Health, energy, climate; it all has something to do with water. In that sense I think it is quite normal that the topic of water is so often the basis of any development program cq discussion.”

“It is unjust that there are still people lacking basic facilities such as water. I feel that with my efforts, I can contribute to a better world. This is my way of sharing. Being able to help really motivates me. It gives me strength. I don’t know what stress is, I’m rarely upset and can’t imagine ever being \"burned-out\". Sharing doesn’t cost me any energy, it actually energizes me!”

“In recent years, I’ve met many inspiring people. What I will always remember is a visit to a project in Djombe, Tanzania, where we helped farmers to a loan for their growing business. We visited a farmer who took a huge risk by applying for a loan and putting up his own company as collateral. And that means a lot. After three years he succeeded and paid off the loan for his pump.
He lived in the middle of nowhere; a really poor, poor farmer. But as he stood there with a twinkle in his  eyes and a satisfied smile he told us passionately about what he had undertaken. And how he eventually succeeded. That, I can really enjoy.
The best part was his gratitude. But he was not only grateful that we had funded the project. Above all, he was grateful for the trust and cooperation. And for the time we had taken to visit and speak with him.”

“Part of the growth that we have gone through with Aqua for All was created by the cooperation with our partners. They came with refreshing and innovative ideas which we could then strengthen with our own knowledge. But that also creates expectations. To be able to constantly improve and innovate, you therefore have to stay sharp and up to date. That's a different kind of growth. That is growing in value; offering an ‘extra’ on what’s expected.”

“Aqua for All makes connections between people who want to do something together. We do that especially here in the Netherlands. But always with attention for people in developing countries; local businesses, community groups, the end-users. We try to make knowledge and resources available in the form of projects and products that are accessible for the end-users. Making connections is not always easy, but as a Tanzanian proverb says, “Alone, you're faster. But together you will achieve more.”


Visit to local farmer in Djombe, Tanzania. Component of micro credit program with loans for the purchase of a well (hand drill) and rope pump (manufactured locally).

Author: MARIE-STELLA-MARIS - March 29 2013, 9:23