All of us at SkyJuice were delighted to hear that SkyJuice Strategic Advisor and our good friend, David Langworthy OAM, had been acknowledged in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. For those who know David, it was well deserved. He has made an enormous contribution to the issues of safe drinking water and shelter and his efforts continue to foster many excellent initiatives and programmes.
We have shared David’s recent “one on one” conversation with SkyJuice’s Anna Itkonen here. We are sure his vision and passion will resonate with many of you.
Again, congratulations David!
Q. David, Rotary has been a positive and active part of your life. How did this all start?
I have always believed that when our earthly journey has ended, we should leave the world a better place. As a young man and a father, I was always involved in some way with my children’s schooling, doing my little bit. I was involved as a volunteer in the early days of the Credit Union movement and it was when I was 42, that I was invited to join Rotary.
I was hesitant at first, thinking it would be like another small committee where a lot of work was being done by a handful of people and I really was too busy for that with everything else I was doing.
The only thing I knew about Rotary was the Four Way Test,
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
A copy had been given to me when I was very young by a Rotarian, and I knew that I shared similar values, so this was a confirmation for me.
Q. What was your involvement in the early days?
I finally agreed to come along to a meeting and agreed to help the club with a manning a spinning wheel at the Dandenong Agricultural Show on a roster for two hours. I fully believed I would be there for the full day. All good, I thought.
I fronted up, they gave me the job of spruiker and put me to work and I was enjoying myself. till I got a tap on my shoulder and was told, thank you for the great work, my shift was over and I could go home, I must admit I was impressed, another couple of weeks passed and again same deal.
I then accepted the invitation to join Rotary. People were doing good things and the workload was shared. I joined Rotary in 1992 and the rest is history, as they say.
Q. When did you get your vision for big thinking and the greater good?
In 1993, I worked as a volunteer at the Rotary International Convention in Melbourne. It was at that convention that I started to understand what Rotary was truly all about. I attended my first Rotary International Convention in Singapore in 1999. I participated and met and spent time with Rotarians from around the world and saw what could be done.
As an individual, you can do lots of little things, as a Rotarian and a member of a Rotary Club you can do more. I understood that if you could harness the power of 1.2 million Rotarians and 30,000 Rotary Clubs, you can change the world. From that point on, I was looking for that opportunity, that project, the project that I could get involved with that could change the world. It is a unique and focused organisation.
Q. Many people know of you and your colleagues from the very successful emergency shelter projects. How did that all start?
In 2003, I founded a club project in Australia that I felt could make the world a better place. It was ShelterBox. The project was initially started by a Rotary Club in Cornwall in the UK and it was simply a box that was filled with items to be given to people affected by manmade and natural disasters. It cost $1000 and would give a family what they needed to rebuild their lives.
ShelterBox had been established in the UK for 2 years and had a Rotary Club in the USA involved. Now, my club got involved. Initially, we launched ShelterBox Australia in August 1993 promoting the project to Australian Rotary Clubs. Very quickly, we became a significant financial contributor to ShelterBox UK.
In December 2004, the Asian Tsunami struck and Shelter Box Australia raised several million dollars. Due to the success of the project, we then decided that we should incorporate as a “Not for Profit” and seek DGR status with the Australian Government. This process took some time, we employed staff and entered into an agreement with ShelterBox UK. By then, they had incorporated to become a registered charity in the UK. By the end of 2007, we had incorporated and achieved DGR status in Australia. (In 2007 DGR Status was more difficult to achieve than today.)
We had a largely qualified board and we were in a good place. We had raised more than $10 million since 2003 and felt we were making a positive contribution to a better world. For governance and ethical reasons, in 2007 our team decided to part ways with the ShelterBox. We introduced novel assistance in field assistance and sent out ShelterBox Response Teams (volunteers) to deliver the aid. Many capable Australians had been trained and were being deployed and that added to meaningful outcomes and positive impact in affected countries.
Q. So is this when Disaster Aid emerged from the shadows?
Yes. It was early in 2009. The Rotary Club and Board were unanimous in the decision and put to the members, that we were very good at what we did and suggested that we rename the company Disaster Aid Australia. We retained our DGR status and continued what we were doing. We had learnt a lot over the past 6 years and were good at what we did. The only issue was, that we needed money to make it happen. I was incredibly humbled and proud that night when the members of the Rotary Club donated $175,000 to launch the newly named Disaster Aid Australia.
We took the old proven model and replicated it for our Disaster Aid ongoing activities. We had empowered members and amazing volunteers which allowed us to continue what we had been doing with great success and tangible outcomes.
Q. When did you cross paths with SkyJuice?
Whilst all this was going on in 2009, I got a call at work and when I recall that day, it was quite funny at the time. My PA rings and tells me there is a Rhett Butler on the phone wanting to speak to me. I say, “sure, who is it” and Luisa says, “Rhett Butler”. I asked her to put it through thinking it is one of my staff mucking around but sure enough, it was Rhett Butler. Thankfully, I accepted that invitation.
Rhett told me who he was and that he was going to be in Melbourne for World Water Day and suggested we would catch up. I agreed and met Rhett at Docklands on a Sunday. Rhett showed me the SkyHydrant and said we should use them when we respond to disasters. I listened to Rhett, took the information away and did not do anything with it at that time. I was distracted with other issues but he had sown a powerful dormant seed in my mind.
Q. Can you tell me more about DAA and what the organisation has achieved?
It all hit home when I visited the Philippines again in 2013 to review the outcomes of the aid we were delivering. I needed to assess how it was being used and was it really what was needed. That trip was a real learning experience for me and for Disaster Aid. I travelled around the Philippines with Balay Mindanaw. a Philippine non-governmental organisation Disaster Aid had partnered with, and met with local Government but more particularly with those who were directly impacted and had received the aid.
In these meetings, I then asked the question “what do you need”. The answer was simple; “help to rebuild our homes”. This was a game-changer for DAA and in the month following those meetings, Disaster Aid rebuilt more than 1000 homes. I was extremely proud of our team and organisation. We outperformed many Government NGO’s with timely, effective and pragmatic assistance. I knew from that point onwards, DAA had come of age. We soon established Disaster Aid International (DAI) with affiliates in Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America.
This change did many things; we met the needs of those affected and more importantly, we sourced what was needed locally. This stimulated the local economy and those affected did the heavy lifting. This created employment.
This happened in 2013. The UN saw what we had done and recommended that all NGOs operating in this space adopt our DAA model. Many since then have adopted similar models, but none as simple as the DAA model. We could stand proud of our efforts.
Whilst all this was happening and I was travelling around the Philippines, the one thing that really stuck out was that it was difficult for anyone to get access to safe water. This was a huge ongoing issue well beyond the cyclone response.
Q. It sounds like the Philippines experience was a real catalyst in your thinking.
Yes, I become acutely aware of the inequity of access and provision of safe drinking water here and also on a wider scale. My discussions with Balay Mindanaw, local government, and Rotary Clubs all confirmed that Safe Water was an issue for all Filipinos.
The light bulb was now flicked into the “on” position and I recalled my meeting with Rhett. In further discussion with Balay Mindanaw, I recalled the old Brazilian saying; “When you a dream, it is only a dream. When you share that dream, it is the beginning of reality”. I told Balay Mindanaw of my meeting with Rhett, his mission, and of the SkyHydrant and I asked whether Balay Mindanaw would consider working with DAA to bring Safe Water to every Child in the Philippines. Balay Mindanaw responded in the positive and that led to the DAA focus and the “Safe Water for Every Child” concept. The Philippines would be a major focus for DAA and our organisation was up for the challenge.
Q. Is it possible to get real outcomes for water or are we too optimistic?
The simple reality is that we can bring Safe Water to Every Child. We have the technology and we have the answer, and I honestly believe that at some stage we will shame the governments of the world into doing what we are doing.
The impact on lives is incredible. I recently visited a SkyHydrant installation in a Muslim area in the Philippines where two years ago, you couldn’t visit. Today, simply because the community has safe water, you can visit the area and kids don’t get sick anymore. They go to school every day, and the communities are happy. We have given them a hand-up, not a handout. This is repeated all over the region.
This is what genuine partnership and solid trusting relationships can bring. Who knows, we may have saved the life of a future Filipinos President. The impacts are immeasurable.
Q. The lessons learnt along the way, are they transferable?
Most certainly, In Bhutan during 2020, we have installed SkyHydrants in 120 schools. Through the DAA “Bhutan 2020” project, we are bringing safe water to 80% of the children in Bhutan and their communities. The program has enjoyed the support of the Bhutanese government and is the model we need other governments to follow.
In the Philippines, we have completed over 100 SkyHydrant installations and gotten the attention of the local and regional governments.
DAA and Rotary have been instrumental in many other installations in India, Indonesia, Brazil and Colombia to mention a few. We have funded and supported 50 schools in Colombia, through Rotary Global grants for example and an additional 20 schools in India
Q. Where to from here David?
There is a lot more work to do and we are far from finished. The Rotary International Convention is being held in Melbourne in 2023. It will be a major convention with 18,000 plus delegates attending. Many people from our region will be attending and it will be a real opportunity to showcase the SkyJuice Foundation, DAA and Balay Mindanaw. We can demonstrate the work we have done in the Philippines and I see an opportunity to present a real challenge to Rotary to change the world.
My dream is to get a minimum of 200 Rotary Clubs globally to sponsor a SkyHydrant installation on Mindanao in the Philippines. The work has begun, we do this and we definitely will get the attention of the Government and the Rotary Foundation which, for some obscure reason, has decided not to do Global Grants for SkyHydrant installations. We will shame them into doing Global Grants again. I have never been more determined to bring others along on the journey.
Q. As our partners and friends know, you are a Strategic Advisor at SkyJuice Foundation. Can you tell me more about your role as a Strategic Advisor?
A strategic advisor role at the SkyJuice Foundation is really to challenge the Foundation, drive innovation in finding strategic partners, foster partnerships globally and build relationships with all people and organisations to fulfil the dream of “Safe Water for Every Child”. Pretty simple actually.
Q. Is there a previous humanitarian project or an outcome that stands out for you still today?
Not really, they all count. I feel I have found my place in life and I believe that the world will be a better place when I move on. I am only 75 and the journey is not finished yet.