Hamza Farrukh: Portrait of a GroundBreaker

Sep 12, 2018 · 7 min read

GroundBreakers is thrilled to feature Hamza Farrukh, the Founder of Bondh-E-Shams, on this week’s Portrait of a GroundBreaker Series.

Hamza Farrukh is the Founder of Bondh-E-Shams, a nonprofit implementing efficient, cost-effective, and maintenance-free access to water for rural, off-grid Pakistani communities. Bondh-E-Sham’s innovative solution uses solar energy to power water pumps that last for decades and is especially empowering for women and girls. Hamza is passionate about providing access to clean and safe water worldwide and is ramping up work with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with plans to expand to countries in Africa and the Middle East. On this week’s feature of GroundBreakers’ Portraits of a GroundBreaker Series, our discussion with Hamza ranged from the unwavering support of his parents to the importance of water in strengthening women’s rights. Read on to learn more about this GroundBreaker’s inspiring work and be sure to check out Bondh-E-Shams!

What motivated you to start Bondh-E-Shams/The Solar Water Project?

It’s a very personal story. I was born and raised in Pakistan to a middle class family. I left for the U.S. to go to Williams College in Massachusetts for their liberal arts curriculum and ended up majoring in economics and political science.

When I was thinking of coming abroad for school, I saw the future as a fork in the road. The first option was to become a doctor in Pakistan, as my Dad is a doctor and my brother is a doctor. The other option was to take a gamble and pursue a liberal arts education. As I started progressing through my liberal arts coursework in public policy and economics, I decided to follow the instinct to go back to my country and start giving back to the communities that were native to me.

My grandmother passed away when I was 9 years old. For the funeral, we went to my ancestral village where my father and I went to visit every so often. I contracted typhoid during that visit. I was very sick and don’t remember all the details from that time, but what I do remember is that I wasn’t the only one.

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I was too young to fully realize how I could help address the roots of the problem. I remember the hospital being full of people who were sick because they lacked access to clean water. The village had been struggling because of lack of access to clean water for almost two decades at that time.

In my third year of university I was doing a study abroad program at Oxford and became involved in the Davis Projects for Peace program. Every year they give $10,000 to 100 students from the U.S. to help address a conflict somewhere in the world. I focused on addressing the core essence of the problems of conflict in my pitch for the award as water is a basic need. With the award I went back to my ancestral village and installed the first solar water pump as a pilot in using renewable energy in a cost efficient and sustainable way.

The work that we do is very efficient and lasts for over 20 years. We use solar energy and then the water is filtered biologically and we are working on chemical filtration as well. The purpose is to filter clean water for off-grid communities that lack access to the electricity grid in addition to lacking access to clean water.

There aren’t enough people doing social entrepreneurship and I highly encourage people to enter this space. Be impact minded, focused on the long term, and believe in your ability to affect change.

What advice would you give to young people who want to become social entrepreneurs?

My advice is to enter this space with a very clear head and stay focused. This work is about making impact. I’ve come across a few people who are interested in social entrepreneurship because of the potential awards and the limelight but that’s not what this work is about. You need to identify a problem that needs to be solved and be willing to dedicate your time and your full energy because it does take all of you. It takes commitment every single day because you’re putting yourself out there and working to solve a social problem.

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This work is emotionally taxing as well because the nature of the work can be heavy. You should believe in your long term ability to solve for a problem and care about the impact more than anything else. This means that when you have the opportunity to be featured or do an interview, you use that platform to do even more of what you’re doing and increase impact.

You also don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are oftentimes multiple projects ongoing for a single problem and so try to figure out if you can build synergies or partnerships for the long term. Your ability to do good work multiplies if you are able to leverage the right people with the right mindset. For us, we have leveraged expertise from different sectors in our team effort.

There aren’t enough people doing social entrepreneurship and I highly encourage people to enter this space. Be impact minded, focused on the long term, and believe in your ability to affect change.

How is this work especially empowering for women?

It is important to note here that the majority of water collection is done by women and girls. If the water pump or well is three hours away from a village, either the kids or the women in the house will travel to collect water because the man is busy. He could be working the fields or going to the city to find work.

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We knew going into communities that the gender norms would be very different from what we’ve experienced in the West. We did not want to be top down and dictate to communities that they have to treat their women and girls better. We had to take the bird’s eye view of the problems to understand the wider structural issues. It’s important to appreciate local dynamics and we’re learning as we’re going.

Our mission is to empower women in these communities without dictating norms. By solving to address clean water, we are able at times to save women and girls three hours of the day that they would have spent collecting water. Girls can then start going to school and women who have more time can start aiding the household in terms of earning more income. Our next step is to figure out how to provide more vocational opportunities to women in these villages. We’re working to set up solar powered sewing machines for every community where we work. Those unlocked hours for women can be directly converted into products that we can raise money for within our network.

I contracted typhoid during that visit…I was too young to fully realize how I could help address the roots of the problem of why I had fallen so sick. I remember the hospital being full of people who were sick because they lacked access to clean water.

Who are some of the people who inspire you in your work? Some of your mentors?

Imran Khan, who recently became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, is someone who has inspired me and not necessarily in a very conventional way. He was living outside of Pakistan and wanted to give back so he set up the first free cancer hospital in Pakistan. He became someone I could relate to as he went outside the country and came back to do social work and ended up getting involved in politics.

Abdul Sattar Edhi has also been influential for me. He used to run a massive network of ambulances in Pakistan and provided free healthcare to thousands of people and ran the world’s largest orphanage network. He is a Pakistani hero.

I’ve also learned a lot from the leadership of President Obama. It’s interesting coming from Pakistan because I don’t agree with a lot of his policies related to drone warfare but he carried himself with a lot of grace. It’s hard to come across world leaders like him in this day and age.

My mentors have often been those who are around me including several of my closest friends and several of those folks have ended up joining the team of The Solar Water Project. The Solar Water Project has very much been a team effort. The project started organically with just myself and then expanding to two of my closest friends in Pakistan and then to more friends. Now we are at over 100 volunteers with the core team being close friends either from university of high school.

My Mom and Dad have always been big supports as well. When you’re at your lowest you turn to those you’re closest to and the comfort from my parents is very special.

Thanks for reading and for more amazing stories of GroundBreakers like Hamza, be sure to keep up with GroundBreakers on social media by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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