Bernelle Verster

Merah Mas Industrial Biotech, University of Cape Town, Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research - CeBER
Cape Town, South Africa

About Bernelle

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I'm called the water maverick. I'm an all round disrupter. My passion is using interfaces to learn to change systems: At once within and apart.

I am also passionate about water, and spend my time trying to clean it in a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable way. I work on what I call 'Wastewater biorefineries' which I like to think helps to create an ecosystem by looking at wastes as having value that we can capture and use to close materials cycles, to make the world a better place.


Afrikaans, English

TED Conference

TEDActive 2011

Areas of Expertise

bioprocess engineering, Social Entrepreneurship, Water & Wastewater Treatment, interfaces

An idea worth spreading

What happens when you cross a hippie with a capitalist? Not such a far-fetched thought, as most of today's youth find it hard to fit into either the environmental or entrepreneurship boxes - we are social entrepreneurs, impact entrepreneurs, or just people who want to have fun while creating real, multidimensional value for others.

Living in South Africa and seeing the most developed solutions right alongside 'developing', or low-tech solutions lifts the barrier of what 'should' work in any given situation. We see here everyday that hard-core technologies and profit can go hand in hand with social cohesion, laughing and community.

Life and business can go hand in hand. We can be financially sustainable while being caring of the earth and ourselves. We can make a difference, learn and make money while having fun. As a bioprocess engineer I use Life's principles to develop technology and my company, while making sure that the communities and environments around me are cared for.

I'm passionate about

WATER! Textiles. Being outside, animals (especially fish), entrepreneurship, biology ... sport, beauty.
interfaces. Between environment and business, hippies and engineers, love and obligation...

Talk to me about

all things Water (if I don't know I'll find out for you), bioprocess engineering, social entrepreneurship, youth & South Africa. Systems. Design thinking

People don't know I'm good at

making clothes. and being really persistent, but they know that. What they don't often know is it's because when you work as a team, as a community, you become stronger, and then nothing gets you down

My TED story

Late December 2010 we were looking for a way to educate people about water, the technologies in it, the behavioural changes required and the inspiring people who address the problem. Someone piped up that it fits with TED - Technology, Entertainment (at the time we thought it was Education) and Design - the idea for TEDxCapeTown 2011 - 'Be water my friend' - was born.

We had our first TEDxCapeTown to coincide with World Water Day. The day was aimed at building awareness about water, but it sparked a huge awareness about community within me, and we had so much fun doing it, so we've carried on, from strength to strength, exploring the nuances and complexities of the phenomenon that TED and TEDx has become. I think I'm a completely different person now.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

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Bernelle Verster
Posted over 1 year ago
Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education
Check out this TEDxUCT talk about adapting the Khan Academy to South African low bandwidth conditions: The initiative is called numeric (, and the speaker is Andrew Einhorn.
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Bernelle Verster
Posted about 2 years ago
How do we best integrate food security, cities & urban design, and water management to create something beyond sustainable?
Well, what the YWP's do as a group is work on the need that professionals are poorly supported to do their job. We tackle this through the following: · Provide opportunities for YWPs to meet and communicate · Provide career development opportunities for YWPs · Support employers with the recruitment and retention of YWPs · Ensure the Programme remains relevant to YWP What I increasingly realised is that we don't engage with the greater public about what the people in the water industry itself is doing to provide e.g. clean water as part of their actual jobs (and yes, this is in the context of (rural) South Africa, which has similar but also different challenges that the rest of the African continent) - hence my main and original reason for getting involved in TEDx. We, as working professionals, also work with NGO's, but what we often find that the communication with NGO's are poor, we often undo each other's work (e.g. NGO's installing their own pumps rather than work with improving the maintenance of the already existing ones, improving the local system). So if you were looking for projects where we ' provide clean water' I can only direct you to our technical internal sites, coz that's what we do - The YWP site is here, by the way, I know there is an inactive one on the web too - My frustration, that I share with you, is that there is a fantastic amount of great stuff out there, and the researchers and practical people in the field don't have the time or skills or will (we're not meant to be PR people) to get this out into the world in a way that makes sense to people who are not experts in this field. How do we best engage with the world? I don't think a website is the best way - even more so in Africa where internet just is not well developed. TEDxtalks?
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Bernelle Verster
Posted about 2 years ago
How do we best integrate food security, cities & urban design, and water management to create something beyond sustainable?
Absolutely. But action that fits in the big picture, and not just a feel good project that pleases the funders (Aka no AId.). I get what you're saying about YWP & poor website content. This is a big reason I started with TEDx. One huge thing we got from this conversation was to create a common language between researchers and decisionmakers. Not dodge the complexity to get a simple 'clean and affordable drinking water' that looks good on a website, but engage with the complexity to see how all the links fit together. Developing this common language involves lots of science journalists who are trained to talk a common language, with a good working relationship with the researchers (and not swing an angle to be sensationalist), and this will also result in better website information. Whereas we can easily blame the YWP websites for getting too caught up in the challenges and not having any projects or solutions to show (or not showcasing the projects they are involved in), we can as easily blame the Aid industry, like the carbon credit industry to oversimplify and so contribute to the problem ( Anyways, watch this space, we're trying to find a better way.
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Bernelle Verster
Posted about 2 years ago
How do we best integrate food security, cities & urban design, and water management to create something beyond sustainable?
Hi Krisztian, I agree completely, the YWP is a voluntary group of Young Water Professionals, people working in the water industry and under 35 years of age, and we work with our fellow colleagues and clients and friends and what not towards solutions. Most times we have no money either. So it's exactly a case of 'freely cooperating individuals and the emergent community behavior' as you said. anyways, we're busy loading up what the YWP's said in this informal conversation.