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Water makes the world go round

A Conversation with Cyril Bruyelle, founder of “20 questions to the world”​
Water makes the world go round
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Nestlé Waters and a young documentary maker partner up to travel to 50 countries around the globe to ask people about what water means to them.

In some ways, Cyril Bruyelle is typical of his generation. He is aware of the many complex issues facing the world, and frustrated by the lack of clear solutions. After completing his studies in entrepreneurship at the ESCP, Bruyelle worked for a while in microfinance, strategy consulting and even founded his own social enterprise. But no matter what he did, he couldn’t quite find his place. One day, he sat down in front of a blank sheet paper and wrote down his goals. “Understand the world”, “travel” and “interact socially” ended up topping his list.

Convinced he could never understand the world if he stayed in the social media-fueled “bubble” of Paris, Bruyelle decided it was time he went looking for his own answers.

“I didn’t know who or what to believe anymore. On social media, anyone can publish their opinion on any subject, no matter how complex”, says Bruyelle.

Interview landscape

The idea he came up with was powerful in its simplicity: he would travel across the globe, asking people the same set of questions—on topics ranging from religion, to education, to the future—in the hope of finding common answers. He called it “20 questions to the world”.

Of the 1000+ people Bruyelle interviewed, most of the answers fall into just a handful of categories. Regardless of country, age, religion or social status, for instance, people expressed a widespread concern over the risks of technological disruption and environmental damage. But above all, Bruyelle discovered a message of hope and optimism.

“20 questions to the world” wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Nestlé Waters. After developing the initial idea for the project, Bruyelle began searching for sponsors. One day, he walked into Nestlé Waters’ office to pitch his project.

A few brainstorms further,“20 questions about water” was born. Drawing inspiration from Bruyelle’s initial idea, the plan was to ask people around the world their thoughts on water. After all, what is more universal than water—the primary source of all life on Earth?

Interview in the hothouse

“Water is such a precious resource, and there are so many complex challenges surrounding it—safety, health, access, plastic waste, the circular economy. That’s why this is such an interesting and important project,” says Bruyelle.

On his tour of the world, Bruyelle asked individuals from all walks of life key questions about the way they perceive water: “What does water represent to you?”, “how should we improve the recycling of plastic bottles?”, or “what are the benefits of good hydration?”

“I loved the open-minded approach taken by Nestlé Waters,” says Bruyelle. “While they suggested a few topics, such as hydration and plastic waste, I was completely free to choose the questions.”

Interview in tropics

The result is a montage of interconnected personal stories that highlight the importance of water, as well as the challenges we face. For Bruyelle, the key takeaway is clear; by working with an industry player such as Nestlé Waters, things can move forward very quickly.

“Working with Nestlé Waters for over two years now, I’m at the heart of the industry, and I see how much they invest in tackling these issues. In terms of impact, their multi-stakeholder approach is unique. By involving everyone involved in the production chain—from the communities that live near the sources where they bottle the water, all the way to the end consumer—they are creating true shared value.”

Interview near the house

With “20 questions about water”, Bruyelle hopes to stimulate a much-needed public debate about water and the challenges that need to be overcome. To this end, a broad range of experts from NGOs, academia and the private sector have been asked to add their perspectives to the project. In addition, a new team is currently on the road as part of a follow-up project, “20 questions to the sustainable world”, to understand how people perceive sustainable development.

Despite seeing significant challenges, Bruyelle remains optimistic: “This is a story you won’t hear in the media, where coverage around water is often negative,” he says, “but historically, worldwide access to safe drinking water today is better than ever. Over the past 30 years, we’ve made incredible progress.”

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Discover the testimonies from around the world

Cyril in a nutshell


1) You are condemned to live on a desert island and can take one book, one movie, and one song with you. Which do you bring?

* Book: “L’aventure pour quoi faire”, in which 12 adventurers talk about what it means to go on an adventure.
* Film: “The salt of the earth”, by Sebastiao Salgado, because it is wonderful to see how nature saved the life of a man who was depressed by the terrible things he had seen happening on earth.
* Song: “Les passantes”, by Georges Brassens, because with just one woman the island would never be a desert island anymore!

2) What’s the first reform you’d implement if you became Minister for the Environment?

It’s pretty simple, really: I would build recycling trash bins in every street in Paris.

3) How many glasses of water do you drink each day?

8 glasses (two liters per day). Obviously..