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back to her community: Interview with social entrepreneur Annie
Wilkes, of Crazy Cat Ceramics
August 26, 2009
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Inside / Out with Annie Wilkes
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is Crazy Cat Ceramics?
Crazy Cat Ceramics is a pottery business that I started
in Masasa in Harare. It's run as a cooperative and we make
terracotta clay pots. We are now making ceramic water filters.
need did you see in your community that motivated you to begin manufacturing
Cholera. The outbreak of Cholera and the dire water situation
in Harare and in the country as a whole. I saw information on this
filter. I have a pottery business. So I put two and two together
and I thought, well let's try this.
did Crazy Cat Ceramics get involved with Potters for Peace?
The founder of Potters for Peace passed away in December
2008. There were a lot of articles written about him at that time.
an article from the New York Times and published it on their website,
and somebody else also sent me an article. And at the same time,
all in the same month, the French Red Cross came to my pottery business
looking for somebody to make the filters. I saw all of this as a
sign and said let's make some filters!
is a Flow Filter?
A Flow Filter is a ceramic pot that looks like a flowerpot.
It's about 30cm high, 25cm wide, and it's made of 50%
sawdust and 50% clay. It's then fired in a kiln and it becomes
very porous. The size of the pores are small enough not to allow
bacteria, cholera or protozoa to go through.
additional processes if any do you put the filters through to make
them more efficient?
The filter is made on a hydraulic press, and then fired
in the kiln. After it comes out of the kiln, it's then tested
for flow rate. It has to have a specific flow rate of 1.5 to 2.5
litres an hour. More than that means it doesn't stop bacteria,
and less than that means that it's not going be functional
enough to give water. It's designed to give water to a family
of 6. After that process its then actually dipped in colloidal silver,
which is a bacterial agent making 100% sure that it will stop all
of the bacteria, and protozoa, helminthes, bilharzia. It stops all
that kind of stuff. It sits inside a 20l plastic bucket with a lid
and a tap on the bottom. The pot is suspended in this receptacle.
You just pour the water in at the top and voilà . . . clean
water comes out the bottom!
are the major benefits of the ceramic water filters?
Stopping diarrheal diseases, especially in kids. It's
a huge problem in most countries, especially in rural communities.
The filters also help to fight cholera. The filters don't
take out pesticides, but remove all the bacterial diseases and protozoa
and that sort of stuff, and that stops dysentery.
are the major risks associated with the ceramic water filters?
Well, the filters are breakable. If you drop a filter,
it's going to break. So the idea is that you give a filter
to a community and its put it in the kitchen and it doesn't
move from its stipulated place. You just take the lid off and keep
putting the water in.
much does a Flow Filter cost?
The actual filter itself is US$6, but the whole unit with
the bucket and the tap, and the brush and the instructions and everything
groups in Zimbabwean society are you planning to target this product
Everybody really. Everybody in Zimbabwe but at the moment
where there's high-risk cholera, and that's in the high-density
suburbs mostly; and the rural communities.
economy, the people who desperately need the filter are often unable
to purchase it; do you feel that it is your responsibility to ensure
that it is available to them somehow?
Sure. Basically we're working with the NGOs in the
country. They're going to be the people who will distribute
the filters, and who will educate people about them; and follow
up on the use of them. So NGOs will purchase the filters and give
them to the communities. But we have stipulated that we'd
like people to pay something for the filter, whether it's
one dollar or two dollars, so that the communities have a sense
of ownership of their filter.
ways will you ensure that the filters are distributed? And how will
you ensure that communities pay a nominal fee for them?
We'll follow up ourselves. But even NGOs are now
realizing that just giving aid and giving things, that this approach
is not really beneficial to communities in the long run. We don't
want to work like that. We really want the sense of ownership, so
they will look after this resource and use it for its proper purpose.
For example we've actually taken the handles off the buckets,
so that the buckets don't get used for carting stuff around.
what has been the response to the Flow Filter?
The NGOs are all very excited. We had an open day to launch
it and they were all very excited. We've had big numbers mentioned
when it comes to orders, like 40 000, 18 000, and so on, so we're
just starting production and hoping to meet these orders.
you call yourself a social entrepreneur?
I'd like to think of myself like that. I've
had a good education and a wonderful life in this country and I
think its payback time now, and this is one way of trying to give
something back to the country. That's why I particularly wanted
to do this filter. To get it out to the communities who are not
as fortunate as the rest of us.
said you started a cooperative to manufacture the filter. How does
the profit sharing work?
The guys who work in the cooperative are given a percentage
of the retail price. I think we're working on 20% at the moment.
They get 20% of the item that they've made.
think that business people in Zimbabwe are doing everything they
can to facilitate social change?
I think there's more of awareness now and that businesses
are starting to. I don't think there's enough emphasis
on it. But I hope that with all the hardships we've been through
lately, that there'll be a new vibe towards working in that
believe that our current socio-economic environment fosters thinking
towards social entrepreneurship?
I think so, particularly because of our unemployment rate
as it is. People have had to go out and do things for themselves,
which makes them more aware of how a business works. And what businesses
are taking from them when they work for a business. I think individuals
are more aware of what they want when they're applying for
a job now and I hope that will make businesses more aware that the
workers know what they're expecting. And that they don't
just rail road them.
view, since you're a businesswoman, do you believe that things
will improve in this country?
Yes I do, definitely. People are more aware of how hard
it is to earn a dollar, a lot of them had to do it on their own.
And to learn to go without. I think businesses will have to take
better care of their employees and if they don't, they're
not going to get any employees.
more do you believe can be done to improve things in this country?
I think we need more training facilities. I don't
think there are enough of them. And I think a bit more input from
government as to how businesses operate in terms of labour laws
and such like. I think its been quite lacking. But definitely more
skills training, basic stuff. There are a lot of academics around,
people out of universities but the good old plumber and those sorts
of people, they're few and far between. And now you just get
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