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August 11, 2020

Entrepreneur Insights: This sustainable water firm generates goodwill during COVID-19

As companies around the world work hard to supply services, tools and equipment to combat the effects of COVID-19, one standout has been Jibu, a franchising business which helps people in poor urban areas access clean and affordable drinking water in seven African countries.


Jibu is experiencing a eureka moment thanks to its generosity and ingenuity amid the COVID-19 crisis. 


As the pandemic took hold in mid-March, the company made water delivery free of charge, gave free water to hospitals, increased the frequency of communications with customers and trained their employees on safety and hygiene measures in order to get clean water to those suffering in dire conditions.


“There is a lot of goodwill being created due to all the free water being delivered. We believe that this will be a springboard to greater business opportunities. Our business is created for times like this,” Randy Welsch, co-founder of Jibu, said.


Jibu was designated as an “essential service” in all the countries in which it operates, which means that it could continue delivering water, albeit with protective measures like facemasks, at a time when most other businesses in the region were shutdown.


Promoting entrepreneurship and independence


Jibu was born when Randy Welsch and his son Galen had the idea to create a financially sustainable model that could address society’s water issues without sole dependence on philanthropy and public investment. They believed that local “ownership” of a market-based solution would transcend volatile humanitarian trends and funding priorities.

“Impact should be evaluated by how the business model provides opportunity for empowerment. Not only by which consumer segment is served – by how the consumer segment is empowered,” Galen Welsch wrote in a Next Billion article. “Shifting the locus of power means treating employees and consumers as people with dreams as big as yours.”

First-time social entrepreneurs are equipped with Jibu’s water purification and other equipment, branding, training, and the capital required to launch franchise locations selling drinking water at prices lower than the charcoal it would cost to boil it. Their goal is to create a profitable business for local entrepreneurs, creating jobs while promoting social well-being, mobility, and agency for new business owners.

In summer 2018, Jibu joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA), a growing community of over 200 companies committed to inclusive business models.

With its newest COVID-19 initiatives, Jibu is helping preserve the advances made over the past months and years in water impact investing. While other industries have been hit with supply shocks due to COVID-19, so far Welsch says that “we haven’t had major logistical issues but moving water around is still a challenge.” The company recently added LPG to the list of products it supplies. The entire initial supply was sold in just 5 days.


Clean water and sanitation for all

The sixth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal is “clean water and sanitation for all,” and this goal – widely regarded as an essential human right – drives both governments and private sector businesses like Jibu to help maximize universal and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.


According to the World Health Organization, 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said, “Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways. It is an essential foundation for good health.”


To achieve SDG goals, the world needs to find scalable, replicable solutions to solve society’s most complex issues. Through the franchising of eco-friendly, ultra-filtration equipment, Jibu addresses water scarcity issues while providing business opportunities to thousands of first-time entrepreneurs.


“Our model requires population density in order to work,” Welsch said. “South America, Central America, Africa the Middle East. There is not enough safe water in these places, and they need services like ours.”


Companies like Jibu, which are thriving despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, provide fantastic opportunities for impact investors not only because they have proven to be successful in difficult economic conditions but also because their values are clear. Welsch also hopes that entrepreneurs and business leaders will leverage their own talent and resources in the communities that need them.

“People need safe water and they become more aware of their health in situations like COVID-19,” Welsch said. “It is very heartening to see our model be tested like this.”

This article was realized in collaboration with The Content Engine.

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