Water Box Ambitious Plan

The Water Box is a winner of the 2019 Innovation by Design awards.

Jaden Smith’s ambitious plan to provide clean water in Flint—and the rest of America

Smith and his partner Drew FitzGerald’s social impact project The Water Box is a winner of the 2019 Innovation by Design awards.

When Jaden Smith first decided to do something to help the residents of Flint, Michigan, who faced a municipal water supply contaminated with lead starting in 2014, he went to church.

“In a community like Flint, a lot of the trust that still remained was in the faith-based community, in the churches,” says Drew FitzGerald, who cofounded the nonprofit 501CThree with Smith with the goal of solving problems relating to water, food, shelter, and energy using smart design and engineering. The project they ultimately launched, a mobile water filtration device called the Water Box, was designed and built with the full partnership of First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, which had been fielding bottled water donations and hosting water drives for the local community since the crisis began five years ago.

The first Water Box—one of the 22 winners of Fast Company‘s Innovation by Design Awards—launched in March 2019. In the months since, the device has cleaned 8,500 gallons of water, or enough to replace more than 68,000 plastic water bottles. This month, Smith and FitzGerald installed the second Water Box at a community center in northern Flint that serves 6,000 people.

“This has been one of the most rewarding and educational experiences for me personally,” Smith tells Fast Company. “Working together with people in the community experiencing the problems and designing something to help them has been a journey I will never forget. We are planning to deploy more Water Boxes in Flint and other communities facing similar challenges.”

The duo plans to bring more Water Boxes to Flint by the end of the year, including two sponsored by Apple and Ellen DeGeneres, and to other cities in the United States starting in 2020. The initiative is separate from but ideologically related to Smith’s social venture Just Water, which he cofounded at age 12 alongside FitzGerald with the help of his parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The company recently hit a $100 million valuation.

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