WT Interview with Manon Renfer, Antenna Foundation, “WataLux”, Switzerland
Nov 2, 2021
WT: I have Manon Renfer from Antenna Foundation on the phone with me, thanks for doing this, Manon. Can you tell me a little bit about the Antenna Foundation, how the model works, a little bit of history and what you are up to these days?
Renfer: Thank you for having me. I oversee communications for WataLux, which is an Antenna Foundation spin-off.
The Antenna Foundation was created 30 years ago, by Denis von der Weid, a Swiss lawyer and human rights activist. He decided to create this foundation to find solutions and advanced technology solutions for the most disadvantaged people on the planet because he found that most of the research was for the minority of people who already had so much, and the most disadvantaged people didn’t have much research dedicated to eradicating poverty.
So, the Antenna Foundation is based in Geneva, Switzerland. It has several different research topics: energy, medicine, to determine scientifically if traditional medicines are useful or not, to have scientific proof of them. There is also a unit working with schools, how to make these solutions available to the children and educate them. There is also our agroecology. The last one, which is a spin-off around the Wata product, is a small electro-chlorinator, that creates chlorine from a brine of salt and water.
WT: If I am in an extremely bad situation where the groundwater is polluted, this device that Antenna Foundation has financially backed –using only some salt and some power creates chlorine. I’m wondering, how this came to be? Usually, people use some type of filtration system, like LifeStraw or something similar, and this seems quite different because it is chlorine-based. Where did this idea come from? How come you didn’t go down the filtration road?
Renfer: Chlorine is one of the most used means to disinfect water. It's not useful if the water is polluted, you need to filter it first, but to take away all the germs and bacteria and viruses, chlorine is one of the better ways to treat water quite quickly, about thirty minutes. One of the biggest advantages of chlorine is water is safe for a little while, because there is still active chlorine in the water. At the tap where you take the water, it is safe, it has chlorine in it, and when you take it in a jerry can that is not super clean, your water will still be safe to drink, it is safe to drink from the source because active chlorine remains.
We are investigating filtration now. Wata was based on chlorine, because of this super easy way to produce it, and because it is super robust and easy to install in remote areas.
WT: Does your organization give this technology to people that are economically challenged? Can you tell me how that works, how do I get one if I am in this situation?
Renfer: Usually we work with development corporations in each country. International organizations that purchase the Wata, it’s a social business, but it's still a company. The Wata systems are not meant to be used for people in their homes, it’s supposed to be put in place in a small supply network of water that is connected to the main water supply chain.
WT: So, this is for people that aren’t connected to a water system currently, they would ask the aid agency in their area for this device. Could they get one, is there enough of them out there, how is it going so far?
Renfer: It’s pretty good so far. The way we work is usually in three different areas. It can be in emergency when people have been displaced, and the NGO’s/emergency organizations want to avoid cholera outbreaks, they put in tiny water supply networks for the refugee camps.
Another application is the small-scale water supply networks in remote areas, we usually work in Africa mostly. The third main application or market, let’s say, is hospitals or health care centres. Where we work in rural Africa, it is quite hard to get some disinfectant supplies. The Wata system produces the disinfectant on-site, with only salt needed once it is installed, which is the main advantage of this technology.
WT: Power seems scarce in a lot of these situations. Are there ways for people to get power if there isn’t any?
Renfer: There are two different versions, five different sizes, considering the need you have, and also ways to provide some solar installation for power in remote areas.
WT: Can you tell me about the Safe Water Phase Two program, it's called “A viable future for safe water businesses”?
Renfer: Safe Water was a big project from the Swiss corporation, it works in Asia mostly. I was not around at the time it was put in place, but I can tell you that one of the goals was to see if there were ways to create social business out of technologies that create safe water. There was one in Cambodia, there is still one in India that provides safe water to communities. The way it's done with Wata, is the water is disinfected on site, then there it is delivered to people, it's for the lowest fringe of the population.
WT: I was fascinated with the idea that the Antenna Foundation does micro-banking. Can you explain how and where Antenna Foundation does micro-banking?
Renfer: Micro banking was especially in India. I am not super familiar with it, I know it was made for women, to empower women. They must have training and come up with a plan of what they will do with the micro-credit, and then I think there is some kind of community way to deal with the credit, I can get you more information on this.
WT: Does Antenna take public donations? If a Canadian is looking at this interview with you, can they go to your website and donate for the Wata system or micro banking?
Renfer: Sure, sure. We usually for donors for specific projects. There are also more general donations, other donations can be taken for our general work. The only thing is, Antenna Foundation does not provide grants, we usually fund our project and the set up. There are different kinds of foundations, many of them allow grants, it that's not the case with us.
WT: Ok, we will stop the interview there, thank you Manon.