The numbers are frightening. According to the World Health Organization, more than 2.3 billion people have no access to sanitation worldwide. More than 800 million people go without a safe supply of drinking water. This has motivated the non-profit organization Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli e. V. (VcA) to set itself the goal of drawing attention here in Germany to the global WASH themes (Water, Sanitation und Hygiene), while also collecting donations for the projects of its partners, such as Welthungerhilfe, in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal and Rwanda. Along with its more than 10,000 volunteer supporters, the non-profit organization pursues the motto: All for water! Water for all! Hamburg News spoke to Michael Fritz, a founding member, about the VcA outlook on life, core competencies and social business models.
More than 10,000 volunteer supporters over 50 German cities
“Basically, we’re a family business, rather than just another voluntary organization. The founders have known each other for more than 20 years,” said Michael Fritz. The idea was born in 2005, when Benjamin Adrion, a former midfielder for Hamburg’s St. Pauli Football Club and a VcA initiator, went to Cuba with the club as the first Western professional team to set up a training camp. When Adrion returned to the northern port, he had the following idea in mind: to collect EUR 50,000 for water projects in Cuba. The donations target was in fact achieved with small-scale drives and dedicated fans, and the money was handed over to Welthungerhilfe, the sole German NGO active on Cuba: This signalled the launch of Viva con Agua – and of the collaboration with Welthungerhilfe on the Caribbean island. Today, there are more than 10,000 volunteer supporters in over 50 cities and towns across Germany working towards clean drinking water and basic sanitation in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal and Rwanda. In addition, there are international networks in Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and since 2015 in Uganda.
All-profit organization meets decentralized network of local crews
VcA is far more than a charitable initiative on water. With its multifaceted and creative campaigns, the organization is simultaneously a way of being and feeling. Having fun while doing lies at its core, with Viva con Agua characterizing itself as “the world’s first all-profit organization”. Michael Fritz, 34, makes clear: “Everyone joining in at Viva con Agua should benefit from it. On the one hand, of course the people in our project regions who gain access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities fit for human use. And on the other, those in Germany and in our international networks who have committed themselves, who should have fun doing it, who should gain the opportunity to learn something new and be able to express their skills.” The site of VcA’s headquarters has a special role in this. “Viva con Agua is inconceivable without St. Pauli. Only in this part of the city and at this club have I experienced this unique combination of culture, music, art, sport, politics and social commitment,” says Fritz, who is himself a St. Pauli resident.
Universal languages and strong partners
Welthungerhilfe has always been an important partner in all this commitment. The German VcA network supports the NGO’s water and sanitation projects in the project countries and involves civil society, the youth in particular, in social commitment. How the donations are allocated and how the projects should look is decided in collaboration with Welthungerhilfe. In this regard, it essential for Viva con Agua to consider what its core competency is. Experts from Welthungerhilfe, who were born in the country concerned and trained there, contsruct wells and erect sanitary facilities. Fritz, the co-founder: “We make use of universal languages in the countries, such as art, music and sport to raise awareness for WASH themes. In addition, there are lots of workshops dealing with the themes. Raising awareness is a kind of cultural process that takes up quite a lot of time.”
Three social business models
Along with the Viva con Agua foundation, the non-profit organization offers three different social business models to spread the vision:
Viva con Agua mineral water (Viva con Agua Wasser GmbH)
Whether loud (sparkling), soft (medium) or silent (still): The Hamburg restaurant scene and retail trade in the port city is scarcely conceivable without VcA mineral water, which is now being marketed across Germany. More than 18 million bottles were sold in 2017 alone. The liquid flyers drawing attention to Viva con Agua’s cause are supported by major partners, with the result that the bottles are to be found, for example, at the city hall and at Hamburg Airport. A 60 per cent share of the profits from the sales goes to the organization’s social water and sanitation projects and to the VcA foundation’s international work. More information can be found on: www.vivaconagua.org/mineralwasser
Millerntor Gallery (Viva con Agua Arts – non-profit company)
For five days every year, the Millerntor stadium in St. Pauli is home to a huge festival, when Viva con Agua’s place of inception becomes a venue for creativity using the universal languages of art, music and culture. The profits from the sale of the artworks are paid 30 per cent to the artist and 70 per cent to Viva con Agua e. V. – or go 100 per cent into VcA’s charitable work. The decision is left to the artists. Check out: www.millerntorgallery.org
Goldeimer compost toilets and toilet paper (Goldeimer – non-profit company)
The Goldeimer non-profit company has since 2013 made mobile compost toilets that have proved their worth mainly at festivals and other major events, such as the German church congress. The world’s first “social toilet paper” has been part of the social business model since spring 2016. This recycled paper in a maritime look by the Hamburg artist Rebelzer aims to draw attention to the fact that 2.3 billion people around the world still have no access to sanitary facilities. Twenty cents from each pack sold currently go to building public toilets in Ethiopia. See: www.goldeimer.de Michael Fritz looks ahead to 2018 in the relaxed attitude typical of St. Pauli: “We aim to press on in good spirits and smoothly day by day, step by step. We will continue to focus on the potential and always try to stay in the flow.”