Commons Speaker Series #7–Untapped Shores with Elizabeth Schirmer

Elizabeth Schirmer, founder and CEO of Untapped Shores International (USI), shared her global work in hydroponic farming and water sanitation as the seventh speaker in the Commons Speaker Series. USI uses entrepreneurship to address the following three needs of women and children worldwide: sanitation and hygiene; clean water; disaster relief. Untapped Shores International is a not-for-profit organization that equips business and leisure travelers with life-saving water and sanitation technologies that fit in their luggage, to be dropped off with entrepreneurial women and orphans in their travel destination ( By identifying partner organizations at the local level in developing countries, USI streamlines the support that the most at-risk people receive by providing necessary equipment and direct training.

Elizabeth shared how she and her husband developed the idea of “giving back as you go”. They are committed to sharing enabling technologies that can be put to use the day they arrive in any destination, with just 1-2 hours of training with local residents by the equipped travelers. The Untapped Shores International units are designed for short deployments with long-term long distance support and cost just under $500 to make. Once travelers sign up to deliver a unit, the support is crowdsourced through social media. The recipients of the equipment form a franchise arrangement with Untapped Shores International to receive ongoing support (nearly everyone has access to cell phones and texting) and to report back the impact the technology is having on their local community.

Mrs. Schirmer demonstrated the hand-held solar powered water purifier that can support 2000 people a day. With a battery, connecting wires, and access to any salt water, the unit creates quantities of chlorine through saline electrolysis which can then be used to purify water, sanitize medical equipment and dishes, and reduce the spread of water-and-contact borne diseases. The chlorine concentration is tested for the first three months to ensure that it is at the proper potency and effectiveness. Where salt water is not available, USI provides quantities of salt so that the local villagers can mix their own salt water to then put through electrolysis. In situations where any water is not readily available, Untapped Shores International partners with Cherry Water, which works to get water to the villages through building irrigation systems.

Elizabeth also shared her work with hydroponics, particularly in locations where the ground soil is contaminated. Working with the Institute for Simplified Hydroponics ( and founder Peggy Bradley, USI has experimented with creating the most effective proprietary medium (mushroom compost, chicken poop and sawdust) for growing. She shared some examples of growing vessels some villages have used–buckets, burlap bags, and even hanging pairs of pants! USI encourages using ladybugs and garlic spray as pesticides, and even developed a board game, Hydroponica, which provides the basics of troubleshooting and allows the locals to explore possible scenarios as they begin to grow their food.


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