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Colorado-Based Business Works to Spur African Entrepreneurship to Address East Africa’s Clean Water Problems

Zambian-Children-Getting-Clean-Water-For-The-First-TimeColorado Springs feels like a long way from the poor neighborhoods of Kampala, in Uganda, and Kigali, in Rwanda. But that’s nothing compared to the gap between a small father-and-son business, and the overwhelming clean water problems in East Africa.

But Randy Welsch, 59, and his son Galen, 28, are not ones to balk at a challenge. Jibu, the Colorado-based business that they cofounded in 2012, set itself the target of helping 4 million people gain access to clean drinking water in five years. (“Jibu” means “solution” in Swahili.)

The problem of unsafe water is not new. About 1 in 9 people worldwide are forced to drink potentially bacteria-ridden water every day, leading to an estimated 3.4 million related deaths every year.

Efforts to solve the problem aren’t new either. In 2014, USAID alone spent $361m on water supply, sanitation and hygiene programs, 86.5% of which was directed to Africa and Asia.

Yet the problem persists. Up to half of all water supply projects fail within two to five years, representing a waste of $1.2bn to $1.5bn in aid funding over the last 20 years, according to research cited by the United Nations. The Welsch father-and-son team feels a new, more business-based approach is needed.

Randy Welsch’s diagnosis of the issue is blunt: donor-based programs don’t work.

“Donors are just happy when they see the water flowing and kids jumping in puddles of water,” he says. “But once the pumps break there’s really no good follow-up sustainability model.”

What’s needed, he says, is a bottom-up approach led by local people who have “skin in the game”. The result is what Jibu’s cofounders call a “business-in-a-box” franchise model.

The model is relatively simple. Working through its African headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, Jibu provides in-country entrepreneurs with equipment to filtrate and bottle water, a retail space from which to sell and market it, and backup support as required. After that, it’s down to the franchisee to make of it what they will.


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