Gender Spotlight - A series where we shed light on a new industry every month and ask an individual about what gender means in their industry.
For today's industry - NGOs (Non Government Organizations) - we talked to Nuwella Appear, founder of Ó Water. Nuwella is deeply dedicated to providing communities with plastic and pollution free drinking water and has put this topic at the centre of Ó Water's agenda. We were curious to talk with Nuwella about gender and the NGO scene. Why? Because we realized that people who are placed in working environments that have a strong focus on social topics don't automatically "do better" with regard to gender. Although we'd like to think that working on one social topic might sharpen one's perspective on all the others, often that's not the case. Moreover, as a lot of the gender inequalities are based in structures, we wanted to better understand how things are looking in the NGO sector.
Nuwella: who are you and what do you do in a nutshell?
"I am a woman from Africa who has lived most of my life in the West. I am a mother of twin boys who are 7years of age. I am passionate about natural beauty, gaining wisdom and living in truth.
In a nutshell, I focus on learning all I can about how to improve the quality of life on earth and since water is the source of life, I am dedicated to improving the quality of our drinking water. Nurturing a Healthy relationship with all our waters, those seen and those unseen is at the core of my purpose.
I founded Ó Water in 2019 with the primary goal of providing easy access to Plastic + Pollution free drinking water. We further aim to increase our impact globally by educating the younger generation about healthy water habits by creating community and virtual Water Sanctuary’s."
Your project is situated in „the NGO scene“. What role does gender play in the ecosystem you navigate in?
"I feel that as a woman and as a mother my ancestral dedication to sustainability is underestimated, overlooked and taken for granted. Western Science and Economics are the Patriarchal and masculine approach that perhaps blindly or unintentionally overshadow and oppress the integrated caretaking and creative community relationship building skills a project like Ó brings to life. What we need is more attention, more respect, resources and support invested on learning from the mysterious, the “other”, the subtle science and wild economics of nature."
That is such an important point, thank you. Could you elaborate a little bit further how the current practice of projects such as ÓWater pose an alternative to the “masculine approach” that has been treated as the standard one in the West.
"When we look at everything that we sell and treat as a commodity, we cannot escape the truth that we are nothing without our reliance on nature. We NEED water to live. The system of business we currently practice and call “normal” is founded on taking, rather than replenishing or respecting the source. This “masculine-approach” reflects the immature male ego (found in both men and women) that is impressed with gadgets that come and go in the blink of an eye.
This creates a culture that forgets to be humble when approaching the infinitely complex genius of all that has sustained all life on earth even before we arrived.
Ó Water approaches all our water with the curiosity and wonder of a child, eager to discover, and simultaneously with the respect and seriousness of an elder, eager to protect the vital and transfer wisdom. Ó Water, what we do to our water, we do to ourselves."
Many NGOs are not only non-government but also non- profit. How does this play into the impact they can have with regard to gender equity?
"Supporting projects financially is essential because nurturing and keeping a good team that works well to reach worthy goals is worth it. There must be a sense of stability and security for each member - The underpaid, unpaid and invisible labour of many women, healers, teacher, caretakers in our society is toxic and a result of our backwards and unhealthy over-emphasis of increasing profits as the
primary meaning of success. Success and Profit need to be expanded as definitions to include an entire community, all age groups, genders, races - at a local level. I do not consider a company successful if their products or services cause harm. Companies like Nestle for example have large negative impacts and enormous profits. Women’s work has historically been non-profit as we are the backbone of every family and society. We need to recreate the foundation of family and society to respect and honour the work of women highly and put our investment into technology in its place as a support not a replacement."
You are the co-founder of Ó Water. How did your identity shape your founder journey?
"As a Kenyan born woman, the sacredness of water and the majestic beauty of nature is my day one. I grew up surrounded by mostly matriarchal families where women are empowered as entrepreneurs as well as mothers and are celebrated as the back bone of the community. Women work to support women and to uplift children collectively. Women do not follow men, they guide men and inspire them instead.
This has given me great inspiration and is a continuing source of strength and patience. There are frustrating moments where the ignorance of the “privileged and yet so competitive virtue signalling western program” can be so discouraging, however, strong women are everywhere and we are wise and unstoppable. Knowing this and seeing evidence every day of true progress makes me proud to be the ancestor of colonial Kenya - I know deep down my great grandparents are watching proud that I am working for good every day!"
...And what would you have needed to flourish even more/ quicker in this journey?
"Quite simply more support, especially financially. When we consider how much money is invested in marketing bottled water - is it a surprise we all have micro plastics in our blood and that water scarcity issues are increasing rapidly? The money needs to be invested correctly and our attention needs to be focused on natural solutions that bring benefit to children, not companies profits first! If an investor out there aligns with this belief, the time is now, here I am, let’s connect!"
I am sure they will - or it's their loss. In your experience, what is currently going wrong with regards to this process? Or, in other words: what obstacles came your way that you would have wanted to foresee or would want others to foresee, perhaps particularly along the lines of gender, race, age, family status, class and other identity dimensions?
"1. Being a happy and healthy mother requires a great deal of energy, time and attention. I hope every parents prioritises their health and happiness because we only teach our children by how we live, not what we say. It is important to allow yourself the time to be a conscious parent, especially the first 5 years, the more you can give to this, the better the blessings for all you do. Create a community to help you raise your children and you - it takes a village - this is not a joke! Western culture assumes money is all it takes to raise children, look how that is working out - Look up to dedicated parents rather than looking up to top earners.
2. Being divorced - although happily, has many bureaucratic disadvantages especially as an expat. Things such as accessing funds and support are often more challenging and often confusing. The system does not take into consideration that many single mothers are intelligent and capable entrepreneurs who want to contribute their skills to society AND be mothers - there needs to be more funding especially for this group in society. Nearly every time I hit a wall and needed financial support, the system would suggest I go on government support. I never have felt that this is a solution for me and when I see all the unhappy and low energy mothers around me I think to myself “Our dreams must be lived while we are alive”.
3. Being an Expat there are many social benefits that are not clearly explained and therefore lots of time wasted and lots of bills and penalties due to not navigating the ridiculous dinosaur bureaucratic system. Find your support as soon as possible. We need to be creating new paths rather than reinforcing these outdated models that waste so much time and resources - how many letters do we still get per post from all these institutions ? Are they replanting forests?
They better be!"
Thank you so much Nuwella. The interview was conducted by Rea. Please check out Nuwella's work and support Ó Water here.