On a mission to make the world better, drop by drop

One member in Sydney is working on both tech and on-the-ground solutions to end extreme water poverty by 2030

Rez Haremi, CEO and founder of Essential Need, at WeWork 333 George St in Sydney. Being a WeWork member has helped him connect with partners working toward the same mission. Photograph by Brendon D'Souza/WeWork

Rez Haremi, founder, CEO, and board director of Essential Need, is a visionary social entrepreneur. With a career spanning more than 20 years, Haremi has committed his life’s work to having a positive impact on the world. He is currently working to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.1, to ensure access to clean water for all.

Motivated by having meaningful conversations with people across the world, Haremi had traveled extensively to learn about different cultures before settling in Sydney and finding a community of like-minded entrepreneurs at WeWork. A systems architect and technical innovator by profession, Haremi first joined WeWork 100 Harris St in Sydney in November 2016, one month after WeWork first opened in Australia. 

Being in a WeWork location helped him build his organization. “If you plant a seed and wish for it to germinate, grow, and bear fruit, you’ve got to have the right environment to help it flourish. One’s environment (and hard work!) is vital for successful entrepreneurship,” he says. “Stepping into WeWork, the building’s unique character and spirit made the workspace feel vibrant, friendly, and entrepreneurial.”

Global water crisis 

The United Nations Development Program reports that water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of people around the world, and dwindling drinking water supplies affects every continent. Ensuring universal safe and affordable drinking water involves reaching over 800 million people who lack basic services as well as improving accessibility and safety of services for over 2 billion people.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 as a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Goal 6 of those goals is to ensure availability and sustainability of water and sanitation for all. The UN is tracking progress to Goal 6 by using key indicators to assess the proportion of a population who can safely access clean, affordable water within a 30-minute round-trip walk from their home.

Searching for a solution

Born and raised in Iran, Haremi’s father had escaped poverty before studying medical science and becoming a respected university lecturer of food science and technology. As a deeply spiritual individual from an early age, Haremi invested in understanding himself and his purpose through meditation, intrepid travel, and field research. Through traveling to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East over 15 years, Haremi gained a better understanding of the poverty cycle. 

When he first moved to Sydney, Australia, in the early 1990s, Haremi analyzed Amazon and eBay to learn the importance of scalable, customer-centric business models and the continuous improvement of a team’s culture. He completed his degree in computer system engineering in 2003, before launching his own purpose-driven e-commerce platform a few years later.

An in-country partner of Essential Need building a sustainable water kiosk in Nigeria. Photograph courtesy of Essential Need.

After 10 years of working in automation and systems integration in e-commerce, Haremi founded Essential Need in 2014, an online global care platform. Registered in Australia as a charity, Essential Need’s mission is to unite all sectors of society to help achieve Target 6.1 of the Global Goals. 

In this organization, Haremi blended his expertise in computer systems engineering with a greater social good. Working toward solving the problem from the root, Haremi designed and built a digital platform to host a centralized mapping system for water management for communities in urgent need of water. 

Essential Need’s World Water Meter is a visualized mapping solution that leverages data provided by UNICEF and the World Health Organization to plot the availability of water resources in the developing world. The map is programmed to analyze data collected from the field to create a priority queue for project beneficiaries. In communities identified as lacking access to water, Essential Need onboards an in-country partner who assists with funding and training to implement sustainable water projects. The model both brings access to clean water for residents in need and creates jobs by hiring and empowering local people. 

A space to fuel creative thinking  

Haremi credits WeWork 5 Martin Place as the birthplace of Essential Need’s mapping solution. There the team was laser-focused on maximizing the impact of the tool and fast-tracked the building of the solution: The software was in development for eight months and was running on a pilot program in 15 months.

Over the past four years, Haremi has spent two to three days per week at WeWork. As a member of WeWork All Access, he can work from hundreds of WeWork locations around the world. He especially likes meeting room 15B in WeWork 5 Martin Pl, which features the saying “Stay Humble” on the wall.

WeWork has also provided a central and vibrant office space for Haremi to meet with like-minded professionals who believe in his cause, he says. “WeWork has played a substantial role in Essential Need’s development,” Haremi says. “Collaboration is truly instrumental in achieving lasting success. Without collaboration there could be no viable solution.”

Across WeWork locations in Sydney, Haremi hosts in-person strategy workshops and whiteboard collaborations with others. He usually meets with his team at Essential Need as well as with cross-sector industry professionals, such as software developers, engineers, and government officials to track and manage the tool. 

“Connecting with people at WeWork is important to me—regular events and activities make me feel energized, like I’m in the right place. We have so much to learn from one another, and moments of real-life connection inject a sense of fun,” he says. “The most inspiring place to me is nature. In this environment, I draw energy from my own thoughts and ideas. Second to that is finding inspiration in the presence of others.”

Haremi is currently developing high school programs targeted at becoming part of the syllabus for geography classes. This month, to mark Earth Day, he is planning to host a “lunch and learn” series at WeWork 5 Martin Pl in Sydney to drive awareness of extreme water poverty and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Working with others is paramount. “Together, as a global community, we can take active steps toward a better world and a healthier planet for future generations,” he says.

Tanya McCloy currently serves as senior public affairs manager for WeWork in Australia, overseeing corporate communications and public affairs nationally. Based in Sydney, McCloy was previously a contributing writer at Broadsheet Media.

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