Ganesh Muren, a young social entrepreneur, speaks to Balqis Lim about his quest to make clean water and electricity accessible to everyone
“ONLY God can repay you.” These words still linger in Ganesh Muren’s mind — even after two years.
These words of gratitude were uttered by the village head of Kampung Semul in Pos Betau, Pahang, who thanked him and his team for installing a solar-powered water purification system in their village.
It was quite a feat for 28-year-old Ganesh who founded Saora Industries in 2012, a social enterprise that looks into improving and uplifting lives through green technology.
Its main focus is providing access to safe drinking water for those living in rural areas, as well as underprivileged communities everywhere.
It all started when Ganesh went on a backpacking trip to India. He saw people in slum areas drinking water, passing motion and even washing their clothes all at the same place.
When Ganesh, a former mechanical engineering student from INTI International University (INTI) returned to Malaysia, he did some research to find out just how bad the problem is in Malaysia.
He visited a town not far from his university and to his surprise, found similar situations right in his own backyard.
The Orang Asli, especially, were drinking untreated water in their villages. This can lead to water-borne diseases, some of which if left untreated, can be fatal.
Recognising the severity of the problem, Ganesh made the decision to tackle it head-on.
“I started work on a solar-powered system that would be able to purify water and also provide electricity to the underprivileged communities.
“The first prototype took me about five months to complete. The device draws water from nearby sources such as a river or stream and purifies it through several filters, as well as ultraviolet light treatment, so that it becomes safe for consumption,” he revealed.
Ganesh’s portable system is designed to be simple and affordable to operate and is even equipped with safety features. Maintenance can easily be done by the users themselves.
Besides being used to purify water, solar energy can also be used to generate electricity for the villagers’ homes, allowing opportunities for greater things such as learning.
Fast-forward to the present day and Saora Industries now owns close to six solar system patents which have been commercialised through 56 projects, which serve 40,000 families across Southeast Asia.
CUSTOMISATION OF SYSTEM
Saora’s outreach strategy involves more than just the installation of the device.
“There are a lot of variables and solutions that need to be taken into consideration before installing our solar-powered water purification system.
“Usually, my team and I will spend some time getting to know the villagers and their needs. Rather than build one common system for every village, we want to design the system according to each village’s needs.
“Transfer of knowledge is important. Apart from learning how to operate it properly, we also teach the villagers the technical aspects of the system in case it needs repairs,” he divulged.
With the technical knowledge that the villagers acquire, they can also manage other things such as instal air conditioners or repair their motorboats.
“Our goal is to uplift and empower them,” he added.
Ganesh’s invention has won him several awards, including the 2016 Laureate Here for Good Award with a cash prize of US$10,000 (RM42,000) which he reinvested in the business he founded.
Besides getting funding and support from the private sector, Ganesh also attended several bootcamps and entrepreneurship programmes to enhance his business skills.
He participated in an incubation programme that was organised by the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) which has enabled entrepreneurs like him to break into the market.
“MaGIC provides a crucial platform for local startups and entrepreneurs to increase visibility and connect with key industry players,” he said.
To realise his innovation beyond conventional boundaries, Ganesh said that Saora Industries has worked with multiple partners from corporations and foundations to non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
“We started as an NGO too but now we are looking at how to be sustainable through commercial and humanitarian projects.”
According to Ganesh, a great team, coupled with strong ties with industry champions, drives the agenda.
In his recent collaboration with a member of the Perak royal family, Raja Nor Azwina Raja Jaafar, he revealed that they are looking at how rural communities in Perak can benefit from such a system.
Raja Nor Azwina is the director of Corak Zaman, a private sector partner of the Perak State government to coordinate conservation, management and development of water, land and related resources across the entire Perak River Basin.
Ganesh explained that they both share a similar passion about water, as Raja Nor Azwina also travels a lot.
“I remember going to the village I went to back in 2004. The river was clean then but now the water has become dirty and unhygienic,” said Raja Nor Azwina.
“As someone who is very passionate about conservation, we’re always against big businesses that harm the environment.”
In December last year, Ganesh was appointed by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik to be part of the National Higher Education Entrepreneurship Council (MKPTN) to coordinate and regulate entrepreneurship development and education for institutions of higher learning.
He is the youngest among the 15 members of the council which include CIMB Group Chief Executive Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz, AirAsia Group Bhd Chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, and Nelson’s Franchise Managing Director, Datuk Seri Nelson Kwok.
In terms of innovation, Ganesh shared that the company is working on a new technology with different partners from Singapore, with their research and development team working concurrently in India.
“We are planning to integrate smart technology into our water system that will be introduced soon. The system will be smart enough to prompt us of any possible faults that need to be addressed before they actually happen.
For Ganesh, his enterpreneurial journey has been a rewarding one for he has improved livelihoods and touched many communities, especially the underprivileged and remote settlements.
“If before I wanted to make a billion dollars, today I want to save a billion lives,” he says.