The Do’s and Don’ts of Rural Water Supply 100 Days after MrBeast’s Big Splash

In the wake of MrBeast’s impactful 100 Wells initiative, the spotlight has turned towards the critical issue of water development in rural areas, especially within the challenging landscapes of sub-Saharan Africa. While such high-profile projects ignite conversations and inspire action, understanding the complexities of providing clean, sustainable water supplies demands a deeper dive.

Enter experts like Sean Furey and Kerstin Danert, whose experiences and insights offer invaluable lessons in navigating the multifaceted challenges of rural water supply. let’s explore the essential do’s and don’ts in the realm of water development, paving the way for more effective and lasting solutions.

with 🎙️ Kerstin Danert – Founder & Director @ Ask for Water

with 🎙️ Sean Furey – Director @ Rural Water Supply Network

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🔗 Kerstin’s website

🔗 Skat foundation’s website

🔗 Rural Water Supply Network’s website

🔗 RWSN’s YouTube Channel

🔗 My comments on MrBeast’s Video

🔗 My two cents on Water Charities

🔗 David Danberger’s TED Talk

🔗 Global Water’s Real Water

🔗 Uptime Water

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Full Video:

The Importance of Groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa

Groundwater sources, from wells to boreholes, are not just elements of the sub-Saharan landscape; they are lifelines for half of its population. Despite the global narrative of depleting water reserves, Furey and Danert highlight an optimistic counterpoint: untapped groundwater reserves in Africa present an opportunity for sustainable development. This revelation is not just about quantity but underscores the urgent need for strategic water management to unlock this potential responsibly.

Key Do’s in Rural Water Supply

Sustainability and Quality Management

The longevity and safety of water sources hinge on sustainable practices. Regular monitoring and proactive management are crucial in addressing challenges like pollution, salinity, and natural contaminants, ensuring that communities have access to safe drinking water for generations to come.

Community Involvement

The success of water projects is intricately tied to the involvement of local communities. From planning to maintenance, engaging the community ensures that projects are not only accepted but also cherished as communal assets, enhancing their sustainability.

Adapting to Local Contexts

One size does not fit all in the domain of water supply. Solutions must be tailored to meet the specific needs and conditions of each community, a practice that Furey and Danert emphasize as central to their work. Understanding local contexts is paramount in designing effective and sustainable water development projects.

Major Don’ts in Water Development Projects

Overlooking Governance and Community Engagement

The absence of robust governance structures and genuine community engagement can doom projects from the start. Projects must be integrated within local governance frameworks and designed with, not just for, the community to ensure their success and sustainability.

Ignoring Long-Term Sustainability

Short-term gains cannot come at the expense of long-term viability. Projects that fail to consider the sustainability of water sources and the capacity for ongoing maintenance risk becoming relics of good intentions rather than enduring sources of clean water.

Disregarding Local Needs in Technological Solutions

While innovation is crucial, technology must be evaluated through the lens of local needs and sustainability. High-tech solutions, though appealing, may not always be the most effective or sustainable choice for every community.

Lessons from MrBeast’s Initiative and Beyond

MrBeast’s well-drilling initiative, while a significant catalyst for change, serves as a reminder of the complexities involved in water development. These projects underscore the importance of not just drilling wells but also ensuring they are part of a broader, coordinated strategy that includes quality control, sustainability, and community engagement.

Best Practices and Strategies for Effective Water Development

Effective water development is underpinned by a blend of governance, community involvement, financial sustainability, and quality control. The integration of appropriate technologies, coupled with collaborative and informed decision-making among all stakeholders, is key to addressing the multifaceted challenges of rural water supply.


The journey to sustainable water access in rural areas is fraught with challenges but illuminated by opportunities. As we reflect on the lessons learned 100 days after MrBeast’s big splash and the insights from experts like Sean Furey and Kerstin Danert, the path forward requires a balanced approach that prioritizes sustainability, community involvement, and adaptability to local contexts. The do’s and don’ts outlined herein serve as a guide for future projects, ensuring that the wave of enthusiasm for water development leads to lasting change.

Engaging with and supporting water development initiatives is more crucial than ever. For those inspired to take action, resources like the Rural Water Supply Network offer valuable information and avenues for involvement. Together, we can contribute to a future where access to clean, sustainable water is not just a goal but a reality for rural communities worldwide.

Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi, Kirsten. Hi, Sean. Welcome to the show. Before we go into the depth of the topic. Can we briefly introduce both of you? What is Ask for Water?

Kerstin Danert: Ask for Water is my own, um, very small one woman consultancy company, limited company, providing services for facilitation, training, evaluation, consulting for primarily rural water supplies in sub Saharan Africa.

Antoine Walter: And if I’m right, you just came back from Uganda.

Kerstin Danert: Yes, I did. I did. I lived in Uganda for a long time, half my lifetime ago. I lived there for 10 years, lived and worked there for 10 years. I just, my PhD research in Uganda and just carried on, um, staying there until I came to Switzerland in 2008. And I go back as much as I can.

So I just come back after from two months, two months in Uganda, which was really lovely.

Antoine Walter: Your major exposure to those water development project would be in Uganda?

Kerstin Danert: We have now worked in another, I think about 15 countries, mostly in sub Saharan Africa. But the depth of understanding of the sector, I have more in Uganda than in the other countries that I’ve worked with.

Antoine Walter: Let’s just introduce you, Sean. So you’re here, the local, because we are in the offices. of the SCAT Foundation, where the Rural Water Supply Network is hosted or a part of it. How does all of that roll out?

Sean Furey: SCAT Foundation is a small independent Swiss NGO that focuses on knowledge management and networking and knowledge exchange in the field of development cooperation.

We host Uh, several networks, knowledge networks, of which our largest is the Rural Water Supply Network, which was, um, co founded by, by SCAT and UNICEF, um, and others back in 1992 as the Handpump Technology Network and has grown from a few hundred people, um, are with on very focused, uh, on, on hand pump technology to now over 15, 000 members They are, uh, mostly, um, uh, professionals, uh, mid career professionals like project managers, engineers, working for government, for NGOs, for development organizations, for private sector companies like drilling companies, whole mix, uh, university researchers.

The majority of our members are in sub Saharan Africa. either the African or working it in Africa, but we’re currently expanding into Asia and Pacific and into Latin America.

Antoine Walter: And what’s your role as the director?

Sean Furey: I’m kind of the, uh, circus master, I guess. So RWSN doesn’t exist as a legal entity. It really is a partnership.

So we have. An executive committee of now, um, nine organizations, including development banks, uh, UN, NGOs, uh, research. And then we have, um, another 12 or so theme leaders who are volunteers from. a wide range of countries and organizations that volunteer their time to help run the network activities, which include things like webinars, peer reviewed publications, events, training, all sorts of things.

So really trying to bring together anyone who’s working in rural water supply in predominantly low and middle income countries to find the information that they need to be able to do their jobs better, to find the people and, and help that they need. Um, or offer their help and services to others to really a real connection point.

Antoine Walter: The topic we’ll discuss today would have been of interest at. Any time, we’ve had on that channel several deep dive into SDG6 or looked differently the failure to achieve STG6 and pushing back the topic since Marley Plata 1977. It could have been a discussion at any time, but in that context, we have to explain that MrBeast, probably the largest YouTuber by now in the world, has published a video where he’s drilling 100 wells.

in Africa. That video got about 150 million people to watch it, which is an unparalleled exposure for the topic itself, but which also drew a lot of reaction. There was the Kenyan government reacting and basically in quite nasty fashion. They were activists putting out the racial aspect of it, white people helping black people and so far and so on.

I’m not going into that today because I have absolutely no legitimacy to discuss those topics. What’s interesting to me is I’ve reacted as a water professional looking at what they were doing, but I’m by no means a specialist. So I thought I have to reach out to real specialists. And after that long introduction, I’d like to start with a very, very, very, very simple question.

There are 549 million people in rural areas which don’t have access to water. at all? Does drilling wells help them?

Sean Furey: Generally, yes. For a lot of places, it’s the, the safest available, um, source of, of water. Those people that, where the figures are, it’s like they don’t have access to water. They do have access to water because otherwise they wouldn’t survive, but it’s, it’s unsafe.

It’s generally for surface water. So from, from lakes, from ponds, maybe rainwater harvesting. The groundwater is found. In many parts of the world, not everywhere, and in some areas, it’s not suitable for all sorts of reasons, whether it’s due to salinity, whether it’s due to natural levels of high arsenic or fluoride, or whether it’s due to pollution that’s that’s happened because of human activities or just salinity.

I think a big issue in a lot of areas is that the water is brackish or it has high levels of iron and manganese or some chemicals that aren’t necessarily harmful to health, but it’s just not. not great.

Kerstin Danert: Groundwater is already very, very important. Groundwater point sources, that means wells, springs, boreholes, provide about half of the population of the subcontinent with their drinking water, water for domestic use.

So groundwater is hugely important, but I think it’s important when looking at, you know, these over half a million people without access to drinking water, to look at the context and not to run away with it. This is a technology for everyone. So to really be quite context specific, and think, okay, so in this particular context, how can we bring up The access to safe water for everybody and drilling boreholes is certainly an important part of that picture.

Antoine Walter: When I say look at the context, what is the size of the context we’re discussing? Is it like a country, a region, or is it like very, very local?

Kerstin Danert: We live in the time of the nation state. So it’s very important for the government of that nation state to look at what’s relevant for the country. But, um, it needs to be smaller than that, you know, whether kind of a canton level or geminde level be in Switzerland, district level or sub county in Uganda, to really look at the needs and what’s possible in those specific areas.

I’ve just come back from Uganda, where one of the districts, Chigegwa district, has, I think it’s the second lowest coverage in the country. slightly over 30 percent of people who have access to safe source of drinking water that has to be looked at as a district and as a subcomponent. Why is it so difficult and what can be done and what are people doing already?

So you need to look at the nation, national level, but also at the very local level. And ultimately. Particularly if you’re looking at community based water sources, it’s the community that’s very, very important. How are they going to pay for it? How are they going to manage it? How are they connected to others providing support?

So it’s a whole set of levels that need to be considered.

Sean Furey: A lot of places in Africa, there are still untapped preserves of groundwater. And this goes against the general narrative that we’re hearing, and this is the, the The challenge of communicating on the on these issues, because a lot of the agencies that are working in groundwater globally are trying to make the case that groundwater is under threat, it’s being over abstracted, it’s being being polluted.

And that’s absolutely correct for most of the world, but not In a lot of sub Saharan Africa, where there is still a lot of potential, but even within that, there’s nuance in the fact that the researchers were looking, for example, at the aquifers that supply Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and finding that the groundwater levels there are declining drastically.

There’s localized pockets of over abstraction.

Antoine Walter: You rapidly skimmed over the water quality. If I look from a European eye, in Switzerland, in France, in the UK, in Germany, you would not. In most of the cases, drill a hole, take out the water and drink it. You would always have an ultrafiltration, or a UV disinfection, or at least a chlorination.

There would be some kind of treatment. If you’re super lucky because Switzerland has some pristine waters, that treatment might be very limited. If you’re a bit less lucky, that treatment can be very, very intensive. Is it realistic to say that you can, if you take one of these districts where 30 percent of the people have access to water today, that the other 70 percent could get it from groundwater without treatment, you just dig a hole and you pump?

Sean Furey: Earlier in my career, when I worked for the Environment Agency in the UK, um, in water resources regulation, I would say that the, the big issue in, with European groundwater Um, is just the level of agriculture over many, many decades and the use of so many different, different chemicals means that, yeah, it’s probably not safe to use the groundwater directly.

Because of soil pollution. Because of, because of pollution over a very long period of time. areas which don’t have that level of, uh, uh, agricultural intensity, you should always have the water quality tested. And this is part of another research project that we’re involved in funded by USAID called Real Water, which is looking at how to to support water quality testing labs in countries like Ghana, in Kenya, in Uganda, in Tanzania, so that when a borehole is drilled, the services are there to get the water quality tested to a, to a good standard.

So people can say, yes, that, that is, that is safe. Not just once off when, when the borehole is drilled, but on a routine basis. And that kind of feeds into the broader. way that water needs to be managed and, and, and regulated.

Antoine Walter: Are we touching here on what might be the limitation of the approach where you come in, bore a hole and there’s water?

It means you have to think what you just said, which is water quality needs to be monitored and then probably additional steps. But how often do you see people which come with the best intentions in the world? dig a hole, take out water, there’s water and then the quality is not monitored. Is it like standard that now it is always monitored more or less in all the new projects or is it still a battle you have to fight?

Kerstin Danert: It very much depends on the governance in a particular country. Before any organization comes into a country, they have to be allowed to come in and there should be certain standards that they have to meet. For example, if the organization is installing hand pumps, is it a standardized hand pump in the country?

Is this a hand pump? Where there are spares available, which is, you know, accepted in the country, who’s going to drill? Is that drilling company licensed? Is there a licensing system? Is there a mechanism for making sure that drillers are following certain quality standards? Is there proper supervision?

And an organization coming in, I mean, you can come in randomly, like going to the moon and drill boreholes in this community and that community, but how are they selected? How are they chosen? And where’s the follow ups? And this really comes back to in country. governance, both at the national level and at the local level.

In many contexts, an organization coming in externally from, from, from outside the country, or even a local registered NGO, non governmental organization, would have an agreement with the local government to be able to operate. in that local government authority. And there’s certain conditions around which they operate.

Because of course, if somebody externally chooses the community, what does that mean for governance? All countries want to raise access to drinking water. So the collaboration between the government and whichever entity is coming in is extremely important in terms of coordination, in terms of standards.

In terms of what needs to be tested, no organization should be working in isolation, actually. And if they are, there’s, I would say, a problem either with the organization, or there’s some issue around governance, or something’s not working.

Sean Furey: Time is such an important factor here. A SCAT foundation project that we have at the moment is in Moldova building, um, water systems in Moldova and, uh, and sanitation systems.

Yes, it’s been building hardware, but it’s also been around working with the government’s local national governments and supporting them and their institutions and following their rules. This is a country that became independent in the early 1990s as a, as a Soviet. The satellite and they’ve had to go on a real journey from this very centralized Soviet communist approach through sort of a kind of community management.

And we’re seeing this very similar stories in countries all over the world.

Antoine Walter: That government’s aspect. I’d like to understand with what you just said about centralize going to decentralize and what you say about Should, which is not must. You said NGOs and drilling organizations should coordinate with governments.

Is that wishful thinking or do you still have lone rangers out there which go out and do stuff?

Kerstin Danert: Yeah, I use the word should. I probably should have used the word. must actually. I mean, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t, in trying to work within a context, it doesn’t make sense for somebody from the outside just to come in and randomly drill a borehole.

It makes sense if it’s very clear from the start. Where are they going to drill? Why is that community selected? I mean, even if there are other issues and political pressures. These are sovereign states. This is not the moon.

Antoine Walter: I just have a devil’s advocate question on that one, which is, if I go back to my Marlowe Plata thing, which is, it’s been 50 years that we’re saying we have to solve that problem this decade.

and 50 years of solving India’s decade, you know that there’s a problem somewhere. Do local communities which don’t have access to water still trust governments to provide them water?

Kerstin Danert: Yeah, I think that’s just too much of a general question. Sorry. Talking about Africa, talking about 54 different countries, and never mind how things are within their countries.

Antoine Walter: I’m honestly not even speaking about Africa. I followed the UN Water Conference in March this year, stood up the whole night to watch all of it, and To me, that was eye opening about the inability of international organizations to, to, to cover that topic. So that’s my personal opinion. I came out of these three days devastated.

It was like that was all for nothing. The entire build up to the conference, I had a conversation with Mina Guli, how she was running all these marathons to raise the awareness about all these people and saying we have to do it by 2030. And then you see what’s happening in this international sphere and you see that’s not going to solve the problem.

So International to me is something, personally, I lost any trust, but I still believe in countries.

Kerstin Danert: Certainly in my work in many countries, mainly in sub Saharan Africa, I have met incredibly committed people working at local government level. trying their best. They may have limited resources. A district may only have money for five new water sources in a year or 10 or 20.

The needs versus the financial capacity and the human capacity, the gap is huge. So certainly from, from the many professionals. Working for government and I’ve interacted with a lot of government professionals, both at national level and local level. There’s a lot of very committed people trying very hard in difficult circumstances.

I’m not saying everyone’s an angel, but I think it’s really important not to kind of tar government with a blanket brush. That’s just not fair.

Antoine Walter: I’d like to come back to something you said in the beginning of your previous answer, which is about the pumps. Which are now listed and I remember how I looked at it and say, Oh, that looks kind of familiar.

And you said it’s the exact model. It’s the India. It’s in India mark too. Yeah, India mark. So I guess that shows how I’m a Nobel, you’re the specialist. If I understand right what you just said, that is now a problem from the past. Because when I discussed with David Lloyd Owen on the podcast, he mentioned how there’s 150, 000 abandoned pumps in Africa.

And he was referring to a study by Pump 8 and actually Pump 8 updated their figures. And they now estimate that it’s 300, 000 abandoned pumps in Africa. And one of the reasons is that if that pump was funded by US Ed, US Ed would ask for that pump to be built in America because America helps America and then America helps the world.

But that stopped in the 90s. And from what I get now from what you’re saying, That is all history. And so we should not see these broken hand pumps

Kerstin Danert: anymore. Let’s talk about the spectrum of what goes wrong and what’s right with hand pumps. You have a hand pump that is installed on a properly designed, well constructed borehole, and it’s a high quality hand pump.

Okay, that’s one. You may have a borehole that’s not been well constructed. There’s a whole lots of things that can be done badly with a borehole, which makes it difficult for that hand pump to work well. You may also have a hand pump which isn’t of the specifications it should be. Poor quality materials, parts that break, wear very quickly.

You also have hand pumps where it’s the wrong material in the wrong type of water, aggressive water, and they corrode very quickly. So all those pumps that are not, pumps and boreholes that are not installed of high quality, all of those Categories, their performance will slip quite quickly and some of them may become abandoned if the communities are not able to maintain them.

So you have a whole set of pumps and bow holes that perform poorly and may stop working over one or two years. That’s generally a quality or construction quality, technical quality issue. That’s one. Now, two, you also have the pump. It’s the bools, well constructed. The pump is, you know. adhering to specifications, but there are challenges of maintaining that pump over time.

So something fails and the community may or may not be able to fix that problem. And that depends on whether there are hand pump mechanics around who understand, who can remove it, who can diagnose the problem. It depends on. The availability of the spare parts. So, for example, I’ve done some work in northern Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan and huge issue of lack of spare parts availability.

So communities actually are very determined to keep their pumps working and trying all sorts of local. You know, tying inner tube around broken pipes, putting it back in the hole to keep their pumps working. Yeah, and then of course you have issues with finance because if something breaks, usually it’s the community’s responsibility to raise the funding.

Are they able to do that? How big is the problem that they can fix? Is there trust within the community or is there some support? from outside to help them work in a, in a good way. Or if it’s a big problem that they can’t fix. A figure of abandoned hand pumps that has so many nuances underneath it, you know, was it problem at the beginning?

Is it something that’s just been very difficult for that community to maintain for a number of reasons?

Sean Furey: How many broken hand pumps or how many broken tap stands or anything? That’s almost. Not the important thing. What’s important is are people getting a service and when that service breaks, how quickly can you get it up and running again?

So this uptime principle and that’s actually led to fostering local enterprises to run rural water services and people pay for that service. There, there still needs to be some subsidy from somewhere that’s part of the research findings is that you can’t just expect, um, uh, a rural Kenyan village to cover the entire cost of their, of their water system, just as they don’t here or in most parts of the world, but it’s like, how do you target those, those subsidies more effectively?

Because a recent World Bank, uh, um, report on subsidies and water found that it’s actually the more, the richer people, the richer households that benefit from subsidies, not, it’s not the poorer. The poorer you are, the more you pay for water. There’s a report that came out recently showing that post second world war, it was very government sort of top down approaches.

That’s in many countries didn’t work very well in the 1980s and 90s that move very much to community management, putting responsibility on the households and communities to look after and pay for their own their own systems where we’re transitioning to now is yeah, a much more patchwork approach. much more nuanced approach of what works best in different areas.

So for example, in very remote households will never be reached by a water utility. So therefore it’s about self supply. It’s about how do you support rural households to invest in their own water source that is safe. What you were talking about. In terms of your disenchantment at the international level is that something like water supply shouldn’t be an international issue.

It shouldn’t be an aid issue. It’s a, it’s a local, it’s a local service where we try and work at the global level is that where we see that there is a need in that there are so many great experiences from all over the world, both good and bad, and people learn from each other.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned. several times, both of you, the, the, the, the financial aspect of things, is that the major roadblocker or is there other stuff to sort before that?

Sean Furey: Yeah. I mean, Kerstin have a different view on this, but certainly the discussions that I have with the development banks, so these are big institutions like the World Bank, African Development Bank, and so forth. They can mobilize resources in, in the tens of millions, hundreds of millions in some cases of, of dollars for financing national programs.

The challenge is often the capacity of the governments and the institutions to use that money effectively. About 10 years ago, we were working together in Liberia. And that was, that was an eye opener. The money was there for Liberia, um, from various donors, but there, there was just, there, there weren’t the institutions, there weren’t the skilled people.

And this was at a national level, at local government level. I mean, we actually never could find out what, uh, capacity there wasn’t.

Antoine Walter: So there was fuel for the engine, but no transmission to the wheel.

Sean Furey: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I think so in that, in that, in that case.

Kerstin Danert: I would say it’s three things. One, and this is from a conversation I had with a wonderful colleague of mine in Uganda, um, a few weeks ago.

One is organization, organizing, and that’s around people and systems. Finance, I think, really is. And the other issue is corruption.

Antoine Walter: And number two being linked to number three or not at all?

Kerstin Danert: They’re all, all three are interlinked.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned how it’s expensive to be poor and actually that is the main thesis of Gary White and Matt Damon’s book, The Worth of Water, in which they outline how There’s this coping cost of not having access to basic water and sanitation, which they estimate at 300 billion per year.

So that’s the cost of the situation we’re in. On the other hand, when we look at how much it would cost to finance SDG6, it’s about 116. billion dollars per year. If you do simple whiteboard calculation, it costs the word 300 billion to be in the situation we’re in, and it would cost the word 114 to solve the, so it’s a no brainer.

Economically speaking, spend 114 and you save 300, so people have much better lives and you save money. I look at that, to me, problem solved. I can’t be the only one to do that calculation. And if it was so simple, it would be solved by now.

Sean Furey: Yeah. So about 10 years ago, I was working in integrated water management in the UK and they’re quite an innovation in the UK at the time to really look at water supply, wastewater, nature conservation, all the different aspects of water for one.

town in Kent. When you looked at overall, there were some no brainer decisions in terms of overall, this is the right thing to do in terms of like wastewater treatment or managing flood risk. The problem was, was that the people who paid were not the people that benefited. So what you’re saying in that calculation is probably broadly correct, but in terms of the winners and losers within those numbers, the incentives probably aren’t lined up because some people will be pay more and they’ll go, well, what’s in it.

For me, all that’s not in my mandate. This is another thing dealing with government and other organizations is that you have all these discussions and they’ll go, that’s not my job. Absolutely. No, that, that absolutely makes absolutely sense, but I don’t have the mandate to do that.

Antoine Walter: I had a conversation with George McGraw from DigDeep and he was calling that the wrong pocket symptom.

At the end of the day, it’s the same body, but if it comes out from the right pocket and it goes into the left pocket, then right pocket will feel like. Why is it my pocket was taken

Kerstin Danert: when you just look at the water issues alone? It’s a no brainer. However, There are also other issues which are important and which people may see is more important people living in Certainly in in African countries, I would argue rural populations don’t have a lot of political voice.

I mean, here there are lobby groups of farmers in Switzerland that have, you know, they have organized, it comes back to organization, they’ve organized themselves. But we were talking about people who live in remote areas, okay, now with telecommunications are much more connected than they were before. But people where there’s lack of electricity, for example, or road infrastructure is very poor.

And so governments both at national level and at local level have to take decisions because their resources are limited. What do they focus on? Do they focus on roads?

Sean Furey: Do they focus on schools?

Kerstin Danert: What about healthcare facilities? And then you have also many countries with huge increases in population. I mean, the Uganda population has more or less doubled in 25 years.

So there’s a challenge of keeping up with population with infrastructure. So decisions are taken about where to invest at a political level, both nationally and also internationally. What do the development banks want to fund? You know, what are the trends, climate change? Finances is a big focus at the moment.

You know, is that going to help? Is that going to distract water? But you stand here sitting with somebody looking at primary education. That is the key issue. Sit with somebody looking at that. So these are all huge demands. So the decision of what to fund is a political decision at the end of the day.

And a link to that, there’s also inflationary things that need to be considered, you know, from an economic perspective. If you invest an awful lot in a particular area that has an inflationary And that’s why these targets and this 2030 target is hugely important to mobilise action, but in practice, it’s going to take much longer.

It’s complex and highly politicised.

Sean Furey: Yeah, but what’s great about SDGs as a framework, it is that it’s a framework challenge then becomes around, yeah, the prioritisation. And in rural water, you can see it in two kind of different ways. One is that. As a public service, it’s a utility bill that you pay. And so therefore it’s a burden on the household every day, every month or whatever, they’ve got to find cash in their pocket to, to pay for, for, for drinking water.

Or you look at water from a flip that and say water is actually an income generator. If a household or group of households has a secure water supply, they can use. For, for growing, growing food, for growing fodder crops, for livestock watering, for artisanal economic activities, it becomes less of a burden on the state that’s, that’s got to be paid and more of an income generator.

The trouble is, is that then, then you’re kind of getting out of the nice vertical integration of like the water supply as a, as a utility. And you’re getting more into multifunctional stuff. And multifunctional stuff delivers multiple benefits, but is much less Easy to measure in terms of like, if we put in this money here, we will deliver that impact.

There doesn’t always create the right incentives.

Antoine Walter: I have one comment and two questions on that. The first comment is you mentioned the increase in population. I have to be fair to what I said about my disenchantment on international organizations. If you look at the Millennium Development Goals, they brought access to water.

I think it was MDG 7 to 1. 8 billion people. But the world’s population between 2000 and 2015 increased by 1. 8 billion as well. So they ended up. At a zero net zero in terms of number of people who still don’t have access to water, but in absolute terms, 1. 8 billion people got access to water. So not implying that they do nothing.

It’s just that, yeah, you have to cope with the demographics. You mentioned SDG as a framework. When I sat down with John Robinson from Mazarin Ventures, who’s looking at it from different perspective, but what he’s saying is that he’s not investing in any business, which would look at SDG 6, because that’s not the right way to look at water.

He’s investing in business, which look at SDG, I’m going to have the numbers wrong, but two, three, like. End poverty, uh, no hunger, better health access. Because it says if you want to end poverty, then people need to have water as a creator of wealth. Exactly what you said. If you want people to and hunger, then you will need to grow crops and growing crops requires water.

So that’s going to solve the access for water by itself. So are we wrong by focusing on water? And should we just focus on all the other ones and think that water is the byproduct?

Kerstin Danert: The SDGs are a global political commitment. Political.

Antoine Walter: Sounds like a keyword. I’m getting that.

Kerstin Danert: Yeah, it’s a global political commitment by all the countries who’ve signed up to the SDGs.

There’s also human rights. It’s the human rights to water and sanitation is a legal obligation. And within the, the, the human rights, let’s, let’s focus on water within the human rights to, to, to water, there are, you know, a set of kind of underlying attributes in terms of safety, in terms of accessibility, et cetera, to kind of just talk about water for business.

I wonder if it can undermine the human right to safe drinking water. Not everybody is a business person. And within a community, there will be people who are, have disability issues, who are particularly poor. You may, you know, you have all people, you have all sorts of groups within a society. And by just focusing on water for business, for those who are capable of business, is that really going to trickle down?

to water for everyone. Access to safe water is a human right and a legal obligation. So let’s really make sure that when we’re looking at water, we’re not just thinking of one aspect, but we’re thinking of both. We’re thinking of the business aspect, but we’re also thinking of every single person in that community having access.

And I struggle to believe that only focusing on water as a business opportunity can deliver that. I

Antoine Walter: question that. On the human right topic, if I’m right, the exact phrasing is There’s a rise to affordable water and the word affordable implies that that water doesn’t come for free. So it’s an economical good.

I get your point that not everybody is a business person, but if you don’t take into account this, this cost of water and this value of water, then you’re doomed to never be able to finance that. Water pays water scheme.

Kerstin Danert: But does it all have to be financed within water? So something else could be paying for water.

I mean, it does here. It does in Europe. Water doesn’t just finance itself. Most of the water utilities are subsidized, whether it’s major maintenance in the West.

Antoine Walter: I’m French. In France, we have this rule of water pays for water. I’m a water engineer trained to that dogma. So water pays for water and it has to.

And it creates debate because people believe with arguments that the first 50 litres shall be free.

Kerstin Danert: And how many years, and how many years of infrastructure were paid for before that came into being? You know, that’s another question.

Antoine Walter: The problem, that’s an interesting subject.

Kerstin Danert: We’re like, we’re off script now, which is good.

Antoine Walter: The problem is, is rather on the horizon because that was the rule forever. But the result of that is that now we are renewing the infrastructure at a 0. 5 percent renewal rate every year. So we assume infrastructure will last 200 years. which it will not. So at some point you’ll have a problem. To which the counterargument is to say just raise the price of water and you cover that.

But that’s Europe for Europe. But honestly, and the reason why I was sitting down with George Magpro from DigDeep is that he’s looking at people who don’t have access to water in the United States. And it’s two million people in the wealthiest country in the world. When we think of 2. 2 billion people without access to water.

That’s abstract because it’s a huge number and huge numbers. We don’t grasp those huge numbers That’s a full sidetrack. I don’t want to take To that one i’m coming back to what you mentioned about what I would maybe simplifying grassroots level in going at that granular level where governments or large organizations will have their struggles to trickle down up to that level.

That’s where I find the approach from water. org super interesting with their water credit, because they have this, uh, no questions asked water loans. So they’re loaning money to the poorest people on earth. Without any background check, just because they’re financing these access to water. And they get a payback rate on their loans of 99%.

Without any background check and with people which are really the poorest people on earth. They estimate that by now they’ve helped 50 million people to gain access to water. Which would make me think, but that’s really just my gut feeling, they’re probably the single organization which have access to most people to water as we speak.

Is there a limit to that approach? If you give more money to more micro banking organization, which will give more micro credits in the Mohammed Yunus Nobel Prize approach. Would that solve it?

Sean Furey: I’ve known and spoken to water. org for over, over many years. My understanding is that they’re mainly working in urban, peri urban areas and with institutions that work in those areas.

So that taps into a broader. Issue of like when you’re getting into rural access to financial services, because I believe water org don’t lend directly. They, they, they lend to organizations that lend, they, yeah, they support lenders. Urban areas are much more in the cash economy. I would be interested to see if and how that could be adapted to rural, just because a lot of incomes are seasonal or barter.

They’re not necessarily in the cash economy. So how that would work with microfinance. But to be honest, I don’t know enough of the detail of this area. It is an interesting approach because that’s a harder sell. I guess it helps when you have a Hollywood actor doing the selling.

Antoine Walter: It’s one of the points actually in the TED talk of David Danberger, which you shared to me, there’s a lot of things inside that TED talk, but one of them is he’s showing how in development water, the powers with the donor.

And the donor wants to see that exact picture you were referring to, which he calls in his TED talk, that picture is a lie of someone standing next to the pump, having water. And if donors want to fund that, and you don’t have Matt Damon to convince them to fund something else, then maybe that MrBeast video is a benediction because now 150 million people got a bit of interest into the topic.

So now we could double down on that and say, now that we have your attention. Here’s what we should be funding and it might be partially drilling wealth, but it might be the quality we discussed. It might be the organization. It might be bringing the structure and all the other aspects. How do you bring that message across?

Kerstin Danert: I wish I knew the answer. If I knew the answer, I would have, I would have done it. It’s just trying to help people. understand that it’s not a simple tick box answer and just helping people, I think, to appreciate that water is, the provision of domestic water and drinking water is much more than drilling that borehole.

There’s a whole set of things that happen before that and there are a whole set of things that happen after that. So it’s helping people to see that This, what they’re seeing in this, this video, is one event of something which is actually much longer and much deeper. So it’s like a point in a box.

Antoine Walter: But is money clever enough to understand that?

Kerstin Danert: In the donor world, there’s much more nuance of understanding, definitely. If you look at what different donors, NGOs are funding, there are organizations who are just worrying about the post construction, they’re just thinking, okay, so who can keep supporting those communities? How do we make sure that mechanics can fix the pump?

How do we make sure that communities are contributing enough? How do we get some subsidies in? There are organizations, donors, focusing on that. There are also others thinking about the regulatory context. There are others thinking about groundwater resources, monitoring and management and understanding the resource.

So, you know, how much can we drill? How clean is the water? It’s very nuanced. Not everybody is, thank goodness, not everybody is focusing on that bit.

Sean Furey: When we talk about donors, we need to acknowledge that there’s a broad range here from small family Uh, foundations all the way up to the big multilaterals that were mentioned earlier with into the hundreds of millions.

One of the things that we’ve seen is the importance of research, good quality research to inform programming. So we are seeing that, that there is a shift in, in how aid donors are moving. Likewise, with this USAID program, they were asking these questions of how can we as the United States, um, change how we do aid.

to so that it’s not about just broken hardware in the bush, but it is about really supporting targeted interventions that just change incentives. And a lot of this comes down to having skilled individuals. So just like education, training skills throughout, we just need this. Pipeline of talent. That’s why we’ve got this really successful mentoring scheme of connecting young, young people that are really passionate about water and really want to do something and sort of matchmaking to a six month, a nine months journey together and learn.

Where do they want to go? Where do they see themselves fitting? Or maybe they might conclude, actually, this was really great, but I’m going to do something else. I don’t see my role in where I thought it was.

Antoine Walter: I’m delighted to take your word on finance and money getting more clever. I just have a. Devs Advocate question, which you can wash off if it’s, if you believe that thing is sorted and it’s a story of the past.

It’s just an example from two of my former guests on this podcast, which have very diverging opinions. One is from Source Global. So Source Global is a company which is doing atmospheric water generation with, uh, hydro panels, which are solar panels. So it’s fully off grid. You can install it wherever you want.

That’s one part of the story. The second part of the story is Christopher Gasson. He’s the CEO of Global Water Intelligence. And one of his most famous editorials is that he did an editorial on Source Global saying it’s the most egregious waste of money. Because actually Source Global has been two years in a row the most funded water company in the world.

To be the most funded once is incredible, to be twice in two years in a row, and they are backed by Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Bill Gates. What they offer as a value proposition is that you’re in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the bushes in Australia, in the middle of Native American reserves, or in the middle of Sub Saharan Africa.

We install a panel and you get water. A bit of water. It’s the most expensive water in the world. But it’s something which people can invest in. I don’t want to take sides on source or global utilitarianism, so let me cover it with a second question. There is a program on French TV, which is the French adaptation of Shark Tank, where investors can invest into entrepreneurs.

Last year, there was a special episode where they brought in all the sharks because the guy presenting was presenting a plastic sphere. where you would put whatever water inside that sphere, water would evaporate, distillate, trickle down, and you would get drinking water. And they sold that as a way to cover all the water needs in Sub Saharan Africa.

And they sold it as solve all the water problems. When in fact, you’re solving maybe one or two liters a day, and it’s just a distillation of water. There’s nothing outlandish. They were asking for 500, 000. They got a million. So they raised a million on that TV show. Because that saves water. So my point is, maybe there is clever money, but there’s still a lot of appeal to not talking of source, talking of the second one of snake oil.

Sean Furey: Ah, we could talk about wash technologies till the cows come home, couldn’t we? I think that’s kind of where we both started out. So just SCAT, the acronym originally, so SCAT was founded in 1978 as the Swiss Centre for Appropriate Technology. So this was. Uh, part of the small is beautiful movement. It was really focused on rather than just like importing tractors, modern tractors into Africa and then breaking down, you know, can, can something be co created with it in the countries that fits the context?

Technology is, is incredibly appealing, but the more you get into it, the more you kind of drift away from the technology itself and realize it’s everything we’ve been talking about in terms of. Governance in terms of incentives, just supply chains, the quality control. It’s that classic thing of pilots never fail and never scale.

You know, there are so many great ideas that pilot well, and then just. Oh, you know, that valley of death also sweeps up some, some, some bad ideas. Before I hand over to Kirsten though, just on the, the air one, because I did my undergraduate and my master’s thesis on fog water harvesting based on the work done in the Atacama desert.

With the nets? With the nets, yeah, because in 1996 I went to Namibia. As a young science leader and I wanted to study the climate of the Namib desert to see if it was fog walled harvesting technology could be applied in the Namib desert.

Kerstin Danert: My PhD looked at innovation diffusion and I’m really interested in technology and it’s exciting to see new innovations.

It’s also exciting to see innovations that are Non technological, for example, the UpGrow consortium, which is trying to find different ways of making sure that systems are maintained. So I’m really interested in innovation. But I think it’s always important to think, you know, who is benefiting? Is this going to benefit few people here and there?

Is this really? got to have a widespread impact. How much money is coming in? And where is that money going? Who is being paid for? It’s perhaps doing good for a few people, but what about everybody else? And there’s human rights, everybody has to safe drinking water. So those are some of the questions I have.

So if an organization comes up with a technical solution and is fundraising for it, is it putting its account in the public domain? Are we seeing? Who is benefiting financially from that? And that applies not just to the private sector, but also to the chanarati sector, the NGO sector. It may be a corruption issue, but it also may be, who’s benefiting most from this?

So there’s a lot of noise can be made about innovations, but who’s actually, who is the real beneficiaries? And is that bringing up? Everybody’s access to safe water.

Antoine Walter: I could be spending the day discussing that matter with you. I will come to the last section because I need to be cautious of your time of that deep dive where I have two remaining questions.

The first is super simple question, super difficult answer for you, I guess. What are three do’s and three don’ts of a water development project?

Kerstin Danert: How does it fit within the local? context, and there’s a whole set of aspects about planning, it’s about the environment, it’s about the users, it’s about the local governance, it’s about other agencies.

So the fit, and are people really thinking about the fit, or are they drilling a porthole on the moon? Two is the quality, the quality of the implementation, and that means the quality of the preparation for before that source is constructed, the quality of the drilling, let’s say, to uphold the quality of the infrastructure, really ensuring that quality is, is considered.

And the third aspect is the longevity, and that relates to a whole set of issues, including monitoring the resources over time, looking at spare parts, looking at how it’s managed, looking at how it needs to, when it needs to be replaced. So that would be my quick, the fit, the quality and the longevity.

Antoine Walter: So that’s the do’s.

And what about the don’ts?

Sean Furey: Go to Sean first for the do’s. Do’s. Investing in people. Um, because I think people are as much of the legacy of a good program, good intervention as the, as the physical hardware itself. And then linked to that, I think is trust. It’s, it’s a word that’s not mentioned very much, but it’s just like building trust is absolutely critical to everything.

Social capital comes back to this people thing. So this, we’re getting well beyond water because any kind of development. is, is around cohesion, talented people, incentivized to do, to do the right thing.

Antoine Walter: Your three do’s would be the people, the structure to support the people, and the trust. Yeah. What about the don’ts?

Kerstin Danert: I mean, I would say don’t work in isolation. Don’t sprinkle pepper around, focus. And don’t think that you know everything. So that they all have like do’s, you know, work, don’t work in isolation. Work with others. Don’t be a pervert. You know, focus and spend time. Don’t think you know everything, but listen, really engage.

Sean Furey: Probably don’t think you’re the first person to come up with that idea, whatever your idea is. Do some, really do the research. That’s the flip side of that. Um.

Antoine Walter: Don’t stretch it. It’s okay. I think we have lots of do’s and don’ts, far more than what I would have dreamed of. So, so thanks. Thanks for that. I have a closing question.

What’s your now subjective feeling about it? Is it good news? And the biggest YouTuber on the planet does a video about that, gets the same traction he usually gets with his stuff where people have to avoid breaking a laser and, and can earn 1, 000, 000 because that’s the usual content on his channel. So he gets similar numbers with the water topic.

So is that a pure positive or is the limited narrative in a 13 minute video? So I’m giving him the credit that he probably teamed up with the people who made him do all the steps to just explain both of you, uh, during the past hour. But the fact that you just highlighted the part where you drilled a well, water explosion, people standing next to it, is not carrying on the right message.

What dominates in you right now?

Sean Furey: I would say that overall, it’s a good thing that it’s reaching a large number of people, probably a younger generation that are not maybe aware of clean water is even a thing. From that point, I think it’s. Uh, it’s good and that hopefully it will trigger some people, a good number of people to find out more and then explore and hopefully not be turned off.

The style of communication is, is important because if cynicism. Creeps in if you’ve Googled a bit superficially and this all seems very fake then Cynicism sets in and we’re going backwards. I think you’re always going to get those sort of people but I think hopefully there will be enough people that see it get inspired to proper research and find these different organizations that have been a longer track record and go Ah, okay.

This is something I’d like to get more involved in.

Antoine Walter: Just before letting you answer your question, just to react on what you just said, I can testify of that. My commentary video to his own video was watched over the past three weeks where it was published for over 500 hours. I have videos which have made more views, inabsolute views, so I can’t predict the future.

I don’t know how that one will behave, but none of them captivated. the people for that long per view, which means people watch the MrBeast video and then they have not all of them, not 147 million of them think that way, but they watch it and think, Oh, there must be more to it. Let me dig deeper. And so the next step might be my video or others, which, which came out.

And hopefully the next step, once they scratch the surface with that, will be our conversation today, which is now that we understand there’s more to it, what are the people which are actively working that field for, for, for, for all this time, what are they doing and what are the do’s and the don’ts. And so I would hope that it’s like a funnel.

And even if we lose people at all the stages of the funnel, we now have 150 millions, which are on the top of that funnel, that will trickle down more people down that funnel. That was my, Very personal opinion on that, I’ll let you give your views.

Kerstin Danert: I mean, he’s clearly done something, otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.

So he’s, he’s done something. I don’t want to judge yet. It’s for me, it’s too early. Just a bit like when you drill that borehole. It’s too early to know whether it’s going to last because that takes time. He’s done, he’s clearly had an impact. He’s drilled a borehole, for want of a better word. So it’s kind of let’s see what others do, but also what he may or may not want to do.

You know, I mean, if he’s so influential, is he prepared to think about the nuances and bring that to an audience? Or is this now? the role of the rest of us to do. So, um, for me, the jury’s still out.

Antoine Walter: That’s an awesome conclusion for that deep dive. Thanks a lot for that.

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Rapid fire questions:

Antoine Walter: The first one, I think you partially answered already, is what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on and why? Is that that project you mentioned where The Liberia one. Yeah, you have jokers any time.

Kerstin Danert: I’m going to talk about the Liberia work because I learned an awful lot doing that.

It really brought home to me the importance and power of individual capacity. and of confidence. So when I talk to people about what I do, which is quite hard to explain because it’s so diverse. It’s one area, but I do lots of different things. I actually bring that example quite a lot, you know, just trying to show with a project where we were developing a report with, I think it was 10 different departments and in different ministries working together, um, just what you can do.

By raising skills and, yeah, raising confidence and supporting the interaction. So that’s definitely one of my top projects.

Sean Furey: For me, it’s right now, it’s knowledge brokering. It’s the role that we play as a network to take the latest of cutting edge, academic and implementation research for the Real Water program, the REACH program.

and connecting that to the actors that need and are wanting evidence so that they can, their interventions are more evidence based.

Antoine Walter: Can you name one thing that you’ve learned the hard way?

Kerstin Danert: When I started my PhD research in Uganda, I learned the hard way about making sure that people don’t lose face in public.

You know, how criticizing people. In front of others, I really learned a lot about that, and that was, that was hard.

Sean Furey: I think I learned, uh, that I shouldn’t be a field engineer building rules. And that was in Guatemala in, in the late 90s. Feeling like a, like a third wheel because I was with these fantastic people that were just like digging trenches, like nobody’s business, putting pipes in.

The local chief engineer would sort of ask me for stuff, uh, and I’d be like, I don’t know, I’ve just done a few kind of hydrological, hydraulic calculations. It was a great experience, but I was the beneficiary of that project, not them.

Antoine Walter: Is there something you’re doing today in your job that you will not be doing in 10 years?

Sean Furey: Right now it’s interesting. I know it’s, it’s a cliche right now, but AI, you know, the AI is really interesting. A lot of these fads like Drones and blockchain and all this kind of stuff, you just go, yeah, yeah, whatever, 3D printing that we’re all going to change the world and haven’t really, but I think what we’re seeing with a lot of these AI tools are some real opportunities to change how we do what I’ve been talking about in terms of knowledge brokering, maybe in terms of online training, because the scale of what we’re trying to do in real world supply, we’re talking about a service for half the world’s population.

In RWSN, the RWSN secretariat is, is four of us and three of them are working part time. We’re tiny. AI isn’t an enabler, gives us superpowers in terms of the ability. We’re already using it with tools like DeepL or whatever for, for translation. Fortunately, I’m in a multilingual team that are able to check the quality, but it just allows us.

to do things in other languages, uh, so much more, more quickly, um, and efficiently, uh, but we’re exploring with partners how to develop quality control tools in this so that people can get good quality advice because if we don’t, people will be going to chat GPT and these other tools and asking them, how do I design a reward system?

And they’ll be getting shonky answers. So it’s almost a responsibility for us. To work with partners to develop a good quality tool that’s drawing on a good quality, a set of reviewed information so that it is providing reliable information. But if we’re, if we’re able to do that, then instead of having 15, 000 members, we should have 150, 000 more, you know, subscribers, users of our, of our kind of platform, because that’s the minimum scale that we, we need to.

to do, but there just isn’t the, the funding to do that. And that’s not going to change any time soon. So super interesting.

Kerstin Danert: So mine is really pragmatic. Um, I’ve been leading and co leading the theme within the rural water supply network called the sustainable groundwater development theme. I’ve been doing that for 18 years.

I started doing it when I still lived in Uganda and I’m stepping down at the end of this year, 2024. So I will not be doing that. for another 10, never mind 18 years. So that’s my very pragmatic response to that question.

Antoine Walter: I have one which is totally not in my usual list, which I’m serving to anyone, but I’m just drawing on that exact question.

None of you told me I’m out of a job in 10 years, but if the entire world gets access to water and wastewater by 2030, which is in less than 10 years, you should be out of a job in 10 years.

Sean Furey: No, because Right now, RWSN and rural water supply in low and middle income countries is defined within the aid world.

What I’d like to see is that we’re no longer in the aid world. We’re a professional association of rural water professionals around the world. And that will always be there because as long as there is a service there, And there are people needing water. There needs to be professionals to support that service.

No, I don’t see ourselves putting ourselves out of the job. I see ourselves changing the job.

Antoine Walter: I love that perspective. So I’m happy that you came up with a clever answer to my silly question.

Kerstin Danert: I also think I’ll still have a job. Partly because quite a big proportion of what I do is kind of research related and even if people have access to water, I think there will always be need to look at certain elements of improving services, of looking again at some of those who may have been, who remain left behind.

So I think there’ll still be plenty to learn in not only 10 years, but 30, 40, 50 years. I don’t think I’ll be that old.

Antoine Walter: Two rapid fire questions remaining. The first one is. What do you want people watching or listening to this? What do you want them to do right now?

Sean Furey: Uh, join the Royal Water Supply Network.

Antoine Walter: Which they can do on the Scout Foundation’s website?

Sean Furey: On the RWSN website, which is rural watersupply. net.

Antoine Walter: So the link is in the description. Check it out.

Kerstin Danert: If they’re interested in the topic, just to keep finding out a bit more about it and to talk to others about it. Yeah. Start thinking, discussing, arguing about this issue.

And let’s have that as one of the topics we talk about alongside climate change alongside us.

Antoine Walter: And if they are alone, which was one of your don’ts, don’t do it alone, where do you advise them to go and find those peers to talk with?

Kerstin Danert: Talk to your friends, talk to your neighbor. I mean, if you’re not in the water sector but are interested in this topic, talk to other people about it.

The Rural Water Network is a Great place to find lots of documentation. Google, talk, think, discuss. But, if you’re on your own, go knock on a neighbour’s door and ask them for a cup of tea.

Antoine Walter: Or, of course, subscribe to that channel. That was my plug. I was asking for the honest answer, and then I can have my dishonest answer, which is subscribe to the channel.

Kerstin Danert: That’s a funny one, actually.

Antoine Walter: It was. A blast having that conversation with the two of you.

Kerstin Danert: That was like me Jack, it was like really intense.

Sean Furey: That was it, that’s rough.

Antoine Walter: If people want to follow up with you, where is the best place for me to redirect them? You mentioned the RWSN website. Is there another one?

Sean Furey: Yes, the Skat dfoundation one you mentioned in the links above

Antoine Walter: So to, to follow up with my two guests, you can just check the show notes. Everything is in there. Thanks a lot. And I hope to talk with you in the future.

Sean Furey: Great. Thank you.

Kerstin Danert: Great. Thanks a lot.

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