In celebration of Just a Drop’s 20th anniversary, we spoke to four inspirational people who are doing their bit to change the world we live in for the better.

Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder of Just a Drop; Ben Morison, Founder of the Flipflopi Project; Paras Loomba, Founder of Global Himalayan Expedition; and Holly Budge, Founder of How Many Elephants, shared their experience of turning inspirational ideas into sustainable initiatives which are transforming lives.

(L-r) Ben Morison, Fiona Jeffery OBE, Paras Loomba and Holly Budge

Ben Morison founded The Flipflopi Project as a direct response to the alarming degradation of the African coastline by plastics, and flip flops in particular. The FlipFlopi Project’s mission is to increase awareness of the scale of the ocean plastics problem.

‘In June 2016 we decided to try and build a boat entirely from plastic collected on beaches and roadsides in Kenya to show the potential of ‘already-used’ plastic. And two years later, using over ten tonnes of plastic waste and thousands of repurposed flipflops – we succeeded. Built on the island of Lamu using traditional dhow builders and techniques, it is the world’s very first 100% recycled plastic dhow.

But of course it has never really been about the boat... we simply want to demonstrate that single use plastic doesn’t make sense.  We hope people around the world are inspired to find their own ways to repurpose ‘already-used’ plastic.

We focused on ensuring a sustainable impact by a commitment to build the boat using only resources local to Kenya – which took three times as long and costs three times as much! We failed three times before succeeding. But what purpose would there have been to building a boat using external resources, if we are trying to set an example to people in our local environment on the east coast of Africa. These ideas wouldn’t have scale.

We achieved scale by being disciplined and keeping things local, not going for the easy option. If we were to set an example about recycling and re-purposing plastic than that was an important aspect for us.

Creating sustainable change is about idea leadership, being truthful to your idea, not getting it confused with personality – it is the idea that is scalable and will live in others. In my case it has been very important to let the idea lead this project

The next step in our journey is to sail our boat to Zanzibar sharing our message along the east African coast, talking to law makers, companies and communities about what can be done to reduce plastic use and to stop plastic ending up in the environment.’

Paras Loomba combined his engineering expertise, social consciousness and passion to found Global Himalayan Expedition, a social impact tourism enterprise that takes travellers from all over the globe to the remote villages of the Himalayas, to provide marginalised communities with access to energy using solar grids.

'So far, the Global Himalayan Expedition has electrified 25 off-grid remote Himalayan villages impacting the lives of almost 5000 people directly.

I realised we could make our initiative more sustainable by creating homestays and putting them on and Airbnb. These villages are not even on Google maps – the initiative had to have a market linkage - so by putting them on online platforms it made the whole model more sustainable. It makes the community more prosperous and so communities stay where they are and migration stops – so the local cultural-heritage is preserved too.

Back then if I had known the Himalayas were so high I may have found other areas to operate in! Lack of oxygen is very tough actually. One thing as a team over the years we have found is that whenever you operate an intervention in a community, you need to teach them the skills. The first three years the maintenance of the projects was outsourced to technicians outside the areas. The last three years we have made sure the community are taught how to maintain and repair the solutions, so now people in the villages can sort them right at home.

The idea of creating localisation is the answer to sustainability

If we'd known what we would do now, we would have trained the communities that much earlier, the impact would have been much greater, but you learn as an entrepreneur… the idea of creating localisation is the answer to sustainability. This will be the model we use as we set up expeditions in other parts of the world.'

How Many Elephants founder, Holly Budge, is an adventurer and passionate conservationist. She was quite literally on top of the world when she summited Mount Everest to raise awareness and funds for wildlife conservation.  She founded ‘How Many Elephants’ whilst studying for a masters in Sustainable Design to raise awareness of the plight of elephants in Africa and funds for anti-poaching projects.

'Few people know that 96 African elephants are poached each day for their ivory. At this rate elephants will be extinct in the wild in the next decade. I used my design skills to bridge the gap between scientific data and human connection - design has shown to be a powerful methodology in the public and private sector yet it has not been widely utilised in the field of wildlife conservation. Part of the originality of this campaign is in my approach to avoid gruesome and shocking imagery to portray the facts. It is not about scaring people, it’s about sharing the sheer scale of the poaching crisis. To actually see and connect with this data visually is very impactful.

My motto is think big, dream big – don’t listen to the naysayers! I’ve tried to keep that mindset over the years

You have to be passionate about your ideas and projects and just keep at it – I don’t work normal hours and I’m comfortable with that, I’ve always worked for myself and you get used to that. It doesn’t feel like work as I'm so passionate about what I'm doing and I enjoy it!'

Fiona Jeffery OBE founded Just a Drop in 1998 shortly after becoming a mum. She learnt that at the time, a child died every 17 seconds because of dirty water - yet just £1 could provide a child with safe water for 10 years. At the time, Fiona was Chairman of the travel industry's global event World Travel Market, and by setting up Just a Drop hoped to encourage travel and tourism businesses to give back to the communities they operated in across the world.

'I would say sustainability sits in Just a Drop's DNA more than even water, sanitation and hygiene education. We won’t tackle anything unless we feel we can make it sustainable in the long term, because we don’t want to waste our hard-raised funds. So we select our projects carefully. We do a huge amount of due diligence and we have the engineering and hydrogeologist expertise to identify the best engineering solutions to meet the topographical environments in which we are working.

We also work with local partners to ensure we have the right commitment at a local community level, so much of our effort goes into local training and education to support looking after the facilities and behavioural change. Finally we monitor our programmes for a minimum of 7 years, to ensure they continue to be sustainable in the long term.

My desire is that Just a Drop is a cause and organisation people believe in. That they know they are making a positive difference by supporting it - and that it makes a life transforming difference to our communities. But that it is also recognised as a purposeful and worthwhile development organisation that donors can have confidence in, with a real personal touch, which truly values them.

The ultimate success will be, of course, Just a Drop not being needed any more. That would be the very best outcome I could wish for, but it’s also sadly highly unlikely at this point in time.

What I would say is we all have to look beyond ourselves. Solutions to problems at a global level are not short term fixes. We can do what we can whilst here and I would advocate we should all do something whatever it might be. It could be as simple as looking after an elderly neighbour.

The cause is greater than us, and the best thing you can do for it is ensure that others can benefit from what you’ve done and build off it to create an even bigger difference

So my advice would be to think long term whilst responding to the now and maintain that important balance between doing what’s right for the moment and thinking what’s best for the future.'