Phillip Wilson authored an interesting article about how his family’s foundation, Familia de las Americas, had distributed free water filters to families in rural Guatemala. The goal of the foundation is to provide clean, safe water to combat the lack of accessible safe water which is a leading cause of illness, especially in children.

Wilson became frustrated by the limited number of families reached with the foundation’s dependence on donations. And most importantly, many recipients of the free devices neglected to use them. So, he did what any successful leader must do – he went into the field to interview real families that were living with unsafe water.

What he found may surprise you. He found that some of the free water filters were being used as flower pots or garbage cans. Since they were free, the filters did not have much perceived value. His organization saw these families as objects of charity, rather than as real people who could solve their own problems if they had the information to do so.

The existing solution to purifying water was to boil it. He calculated that by converting to a social business model from an NGO and if he could sell his filter at a lower cost than the wood that families were currently buying to boil water, there would be widespread adoption.

The resulting sales boost confirmed his thinking. However, he found that a good-looking, colorful container proved to be even more compelling to customers than simply lower cost. Read Wilson's article here.

With good intentions, the strict charity-based model sought to provide the underserved with a solution, albeit faulty. As a result, this provides an example of why charity-based models alone are insufficient to sustainably solving many tough challenges at the base of the pyramid.