Founder of MyH2O talks about “connecting solutions” to map water quality in China.
As a Tata Fellow from 2013-2015, Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren worked on a project treating wastewater in Indian paper mills while earning her Master’s degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering at MIT. Now she’s turning her attention to her native country of China. Charlene has founded an NGO, MyH2O, that is trying to extend access to clean water in China by creating and training a youth-led water testing network. For this work she’s been named a 2016 Echoing Green Global Fellow. A “solution connector,” Charlene tells us more about her venture and life after the Tata Center.
Tell us about what you’ve been doing since you left the Tata Center.
Since I left the Tata Center, I’ve begun a Master’s degree in the Technology and Policy Program, and initiated a research project on dry sampling technology to test for water quality. We look at how these practices affect overall performance of water quality from more of a policy perspective.
This project was exciting because it is very related to my personal project: MyH2O. MyH2O started in mid 2014, while I was a first year Tata Fellow. Being in the Tata Center gave me the direction I needed to work on water projects in developing countries and then eventually do something for China, my home country. The idea came from a D-Lab class on Innovation in the Water and Sanitation sector. We started looking into water pollution in China, which is just as critical even though it’s not as visible as air pollution.
That’s where the concept of MyH2O started to develop. Now I feel that my academic work and personal work are aligned.
What is MyH2O and what do you hope to change about China’s rural water supply?
MyH2O is a Water Mapping Network that aims to solve the issue of polluted drinking water in China. We train people, mainly students and potentially local community members, to test water quality in different regions and use mapping tools to make the data available. This service allows people as well as solution providers like clean water foundations and companies to access water information, eventually connecting regions with water safety concerns to clean water solutions. Our main goal is to promote water risk awareness, increase information transparency, and motivate community solutions through independent reports of water quality.
Every season we recruit students and locals from communities to go out and test for water quality in the local and regional areas. We train them to map the issues of that specific region and the demands that arise.
What kind of impact have you made so far?
So far we have done three seasons of recruitment and we have over 30 teams in our network. We have successfully covered over 2000 water sources in 300-400 villages across China.
Our biggest impact is probably the students we’ve trained. Giving students a meaningful channel to explore their passion for science is deeply helpful to them. The training usually has a strong connection to their majors that is not only theoretical but also practical. We are on our way to making a bigger impact with the communities and their quality of water. Our solutions providers are ready to provide clean water connections based on the results from this summer cycle of testing, and we are expecting case studies of successfully solution implementation down the road.
We see ourselves as solution connectors, because the maps that we have created are not only helping local regions to identify water quality, but it’s also providing a way for businesses that treat water quality issues to target their products, and for clean water foundations to know where to target their money and efforts.