Debra Swersky
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Power vs. Water


Would you rather be guaranteed power (electricity) for the rest of your life or a supply of water? Everyday for the past week Babson's Women Leadership scholars have been answering this question - morning, noon, and night. We wake up when it's dark out wondering if the lights will turn on, if our cell phones charged, and if our flashlights will work (the ones powered by our phones). When we walk into the bathroom we wonder if when we go to the bathroom if our toilets will flush, or if the faucet will turn on. When we walk out of our rooms we wonder if there is drinkable water left for us to brush our teeth with. It sounds crazy... especially if you're reading this on your computer, phone, tablet. But, that's what we find ourselves discussing regularly: Power vs. Water. 

To the people of Rwanda these thoughts might be status quo and part of their everyday life... if they don't typically have power or water then the thought of having power AND water might be what sounds crazy. Coming from the US, for me and the girls, we had low expectations and adjusted relatively well to our new surroundings. When the power went out we couldn't charge our phones and prepared better for the next day/night once it came back (sporadically). We accommodated the power outage. When the water stopped working we took it in stride and waited for it to come back... just like the power. But, the water didn't come back for several days: bucket showers, forced flushing, hand sanitizer, and half-washed hands became the new normal. For a week we asked ourselves: Power vs. Water. Life without water was more difficult to adjust to... but that's because we knew that we would eventually be returning to both.

For all of the practical reasons, like survival, I'd choose water over power any day of the week. But power is the language of innovation: the lightbulb, the telephone, the internet... With power you can take "one giant leap for mankind." Couldn't I figure out how to make water with power? Or order some with my Amazon Prime account for next day delivery? (Just kidding.)

As I drive through the streets of rural Rwanda to the capital, Kigali, I notice the plethora of cell phone stores and airtime providers competing for my business... not water companies. This tells me that I am thinking about the answer to this question all wrong. Coming from the states my expectation is that if there is a toilet then the water should work. But that's just the problem... my expectation is that it will work. But even if it doesn't you can still get water to flush the toilet (or not). You can boil water to hydrate. You can survive a day without it... If you really needed to. But, let's look at power. Sure, you can more than survive without it... but, can you thrive? I don't think so. Power opens your network to many more people than just those who you can physically touch. It's the classic example of a circle drawn on a piece of paper to represent "your comfort zone" (in this case, water) with a small dot on the outside of the circle that's labeled "where the magic happens" (in this case, power). 

That said, though water may fall into my personal comfort zone and into the most basic of human needs (according to Maslow), it does make me wonder where power falls on his pyramid... 

Debra Swersky