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Fostering close connections and collaboration in the workplace is something which employers strive towards, and for many companies this is encouraged through team-building activities.

Usually an annual endeavour, a group of colleagues might go to (or get out of) an escape room, or try their hand at a cooking class or team sport. There are also many options for team-building charity events, like for example, a fun run.

For Matt Henricks, the founder of the Helping Hands and Water Works programs, the question is: “how best [can] we use this goodwill that we’ve got?”

Matt is an organisational psychologist, and he is all about harnessing the strength and productivity of these organisational groups and putting it towards something meaningful.

He said that, too often, people are going to training events or activities and walking away with just a binder.

“We’ve got all these really capable people going to training around Australia and we’re not really using that time as well as we could be.”

Water Works, his latest project, sees participants engage in various challenges and competitions in order to build a water filtration system.

According to their website, these portable filtration systems are designed to last for two years. Once enough have been built, they are delivered to a community in Uganda for use in homes, schools and health care centres.

Matt said that the original focus was on remote villages, with fourteen being supplied with the filtration kits, however after a visit to the refugee settlement camp Kyata II (pronounced Cha-ka-two), he decided to reorientate the project towards refugees.

He said that tapping into corporate-run initiatives allowed his charity access to unique funds. Something which employers would be spending each year anyway.

“I think it’s also fair to say that a lot of charities are spending a lot of money fighting over limited resources.”

The Water Works project has also taken off overseas, spreading through the Silicon Valley to large-scale corporations such as Google, Apple and Facebook. Programs incorporated into the school curriculum have also begun to emerge in America.

In addition to supplying funds and the filtration systems themselves, Matt said Water Works instils a strong focus on sustainability.

“We need to make sure that these initiatives are sustainable, and to be sustainable it has to be owned by the community” said Matt. “We get that sense of ownership from the people we’re helping, and they need to be driving the project as much as or more than we are.”

The program employs locals in Uganda who are on the ground to check-in on the implementation and maintenance of the systems. They also help establish a committee within the local community for continued oversight.

Matt said that although he can give statistics about the number of filtration systems that have been made and distributed, the more important side of things is the social architecture — the “software” versus the “hardware.”

Consideration must also be given to the perspective of a village who is receiving aid, because giving limited resources can create resentment.

Until they can help every household in the village, Water Works will hold off on going to a particular area. But that’s where the foundation of a corporate team-building exercise can be particularly valuable.

Between innovation, impact and sustainable practices, Water Works seems to be ticking all the boxes. Doing it with your workplace mates at the local Coles might be a bit of a stretch, but for all the future CEOs, keep Water Works in mind.

For more information on the Water Works initiatives click here.

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