2020 Top Ten Innovator Anna Luisa Beserra Santos

Anna Santos has always known she wanted to be a scientist. Growing up in Salvador, Brazil, a city of nearly three million people known for its Afro-Brazilian culture and tropical coastline, Anna dreamed of solving problems and making a difference. It was this dream, coupled with her dedication to the environment, that led her to pursue a degree in biotechnology.

While a 15-year-old student in high school, Anna developed a product known as Aqualuz for an award competition in Brazil. Little did she know that this project would be the beginning of her long and sustained journey with entrepreneurship! After starting at university and seeing Aqualuz and its revolutionary potential, one of Anna’s professors encouraged to found a start-up to bring her technology to market. With her mentor’s help, and the support of her university’s incubator, Anna dove headfirst into the world of social entrepreneurship and launched what would later be known as Safe Drinking Water for All (SDW).

Today, SDW promotes access to water and sanitation for rural populations in Brazil through the installation of sustainable and innovative technologies in local communities. These include Aqualuz, Anna’s initial inspiration; Aquapluvi, technology for sustainable handwashing in urban centres; Sanuseco, toilet facilities that treat waste without the use of water; and Sanuplant, for residential grey water treatment. In addition to these products, SDW’s service offering includes training, environmental education, and ongoing support for local stakeholders. This integrated approach to environmental education helps ensure the uptake of the technologies and empowers populations to perform maintenance as needs arise. Hundreds of rural residents have already benefited from these technologies, and growth is set to continue as SDW seeks to expand internationally.

Although SDW is currently thriving, Anna’s experience as an entrepreneur hasn’t always been smooth sailing. She has faced many difficulties sustaining and growing her business. For example, SDW struggled to break into the corporate and governmental social responsibility sector, due to high barriers to entry. Further, as a young woman without significant professional experience, she struggled to be taken seriously. Anna credits the formation of SDW’s strong and united executive team as one of the keys to SDW’s success. And, participating in Shell LiveWIRE’s Brazilian counterpart, Iniciativa Jovem, has helped her company to gain recognition and receive valuable training and mentorship. In particular, Iniciativa Jovem helped SDW to strengthen their business model and provide more value to customers while also supporting the company with their successful application to the 2020 Top Ten Innovators Awards.

Now serving as the full-time CEO of Safe Drinking Water for All, Anna hopes the company will inspire other budding entrepreneurs to follow a similar career path. She knows that SDW’s unique technologies make a clear and significant difference in the lives of the people who use them, and she is committed to channelling her passion to further her company’s mission. A final word of advice she wishes to share with aspiring entrepreneurs would be that the main characteristic of a good entrepreneur is resilience. To Anna, this means “knowing how to learn from your mistakes, filtering good advice, being humble and not losing sight of the reason that inspired you to create your business.”