SolAir created to lift a hometown
When you hear the words “Flint water,” what probably comes to mind is the crisis with the Michigan city’s water supply that started five years ago and that has exposed tens of thousands of people to elevated levels of lead.
But #MovementMaker Jonathan Quarles believes “Flint water” can come to mean something very different: healing, pride, innovation, excellence. On August 18, he’s launching SolAir Water to help his hometown start writing a new chapter.
What’s Going on in Flint Now?
But before we talk about SolAir, let’s take a moment to catch up with what’s been happening in Flint, a city of almost 100,000 people. Even though we don’t see Flint very often in the national headlines these days, “the water situation is not a hundred percent fixed,” Jonathan says. “There are still some pipes that are compromised.” #Firestarters that means there’s still work to do!
The after-effects of the lead contamination that has already occurred will also be an ongoing issue for years to come. In children, lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, behavior problems and health issues. “They still don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” Jonathan says.
Harvesting Water from the Air
Jonathan has always wanted to make an impact with his work. But he never imagined that would involve helping his home city recover from a devastating crisis.
Born and raised in Flint, Jonathan left home to study at Florida A&M. A few years after college, he moved to Detroit to build his career. Family visits were the only thing that ever brought him back to Flint.
But when the water crisis happened, Jonathan saw how his expertise and experience could enable him to help his hometown. Through a client, he had gotten to know the founders of a company called Zero Mass Water, which developed solar-powered Hydropanels that make water out of air. (Seriously! The science behind how this works is pretty amazing, and you should check it out on the SolAir website.)
Jonathan helped Zero Mass Water make connections with city leaders and community members. He stressed to the company that their efforts in Flint would have to be long-term. “They committed to doing a yearlong listening tour getting the buy-in from the community,” he says.
As a result of their efforts, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint placed 15 panels at a busy local recreation center and 15 more at City Hall, where visitors can sample the water harvested from the panels for free.
‘The Next Water Capital of the World’
Jonathan then started SolAir to package, sell and distribute the water from the panels. His goal is to find and train a local entrepreneur to take over the business. But until then, Jonathan is making sure that SolAir benefits Flint on many different fronts. SolAir is creating jobs, and it will donate a portion of all sales to the Flint Water Fund. The company is also putting money into Flint’s coffers by leasing undeveloped land from the city to put up more Hydropanels.
And then there’s the bigger-picture goal behind all of Jonathan’s work.
“I felt like we needed to redefine the narrative of how Flint is considered in the world,” he says. “I want Flint to be the next water capital of the world.”
Jonathan’s vision goes beyond SolAir water becoming a point of pride for the city. He hopes the federal government will locate water R&D facilities on some of Flint’s vacant land and that they’ll tap into the engineering talent that’s in the area because of the automaking industry.
“We’re taking a bad situation and trying to make good out of it,” he says. Jonathan sees something that others have ignored and he’s stepped up as a leader to turn this moment into movements. This gives me chills!
He also wants SolAir to show that entrepreneurship can be about a lot more than making money. It can also make a social impact.
“You don’t have to rely on the government to give you money to make change,” he says. “You don’t have to rely on anybody else but yourself. And there’s a responsibility for every business owner and every entrepreneur to create impact with everything they do.”
How You Can Support the SolAir Movement
Do you work in hospitality or another field that makes purchase agreements with bottled water suppliers? Landing those agreements is Jonathan’s big goal right now for SolAir. So if you have a lead, please get in touch with him. SolAir is also seeking to work with pharmaceutical companies, dentist offices, and automakers. Finally, SolAir offers sub-licenses if you want to start your own business that supports water-related causes. To keep up with the latest on SolAir, follow them on Instagram.
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