Engineer Bhagwati “B.P.” Agrawal, who long wanted to mitigate the water shortage in his native India by using the expertise he developed in the United States, was recently awarded the $100,000 Purpose Prize for creating a system for collecting one of the region’s precious few sources of safe drinking water – rain.
Through the Fairfax-based nonprofit, Sustainable Innovations Inc., he founded in 2003, Aakash Ganga, or River from Sky, has created a network of roofs, gutters, pipes and underground tanks in six villages that are home to 10,000 people.
The system stores the short-lived rains that come during the monsoon season from July to September, potentially enough water for a year.
Now in its seventh year, The Purpose Prize is America’s only large-scale investment in social entrepreneurs and other creative problem solvers in the second half of life. The prize program, which recognizes people 60 and older, is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies.
The prize is awarded by Encore.org (formerly Civic Ventures), a nonprofit that promotes encore careers, work that is both personally meaningful and serves the greater good.
As Agrawal expands Aakash Ganga to dozens of other villages, he is focusing on unleashing the potential of the children and women who no longer spend hours fetching water. His nonprofit is training them as health care workers who can diagnose and treat common illnesses in their villages.
“India’s chronic water scarcity keeps girls out of school and women out of the workforce. It denies people good health,” the 68-year-old Agrawal stated in a press release. “The Purpose Prize will help us improve the quality of life in the region where I was born, and I am grateful.”
Agrawal is the recipient of numerous awards, including the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Technology Sustainability award; Energy Globe World award for social innovation; and World Bank Development Marketplace awards (twice) for rainwater harvesting and for delivery of health care.
Most recently he won a grant from the Government of India to demonstrate holistic sustainability of social enterprises. He also founded Arogya, or kiosk-based clinics for the masses, to deliver health care to rural villages and urban slums.
Agrawal serves as an advisor to the Smithsonian Institution for innovations.
Prior to his nonprofit initiatives, he worked for big names like Hughes, ITT, GTE, General Dynamics, and Vecna Technologies bringing patented technologies to market. He founded Information Gateways for computer telephony integration. During his corporate stint, he patented several inventions in telecommunications and very-large-scale integration chips.
The Indian American entrepreneur graduated from the University of South Florida with a Ph.D. degree in engineering science and is an alumnus of the MIT Sloan School’s Executive Management program.
Agrawal will join four other 2012 Purpose Prize winners at an awards ceremony in February in San Francisco, Calif.
For more information on Sustainable Innovations Inc., visit www.si-usa.org.