Photo: Impact Water/Yunus Social Business
Today is like most others in the bustling city of Kampala, Uganda. Philip Wasiwa, the lead technician at Impact Water, is on his way to Kawempe, on the northeastern edge of the city to visit a school and carry out a routine inspection. The school has had one of Impact Water’s purification systems for the past year, and Philip's visit is part of an ongoing two-year preventive maintenance program.
Founded in 2014, Impact Water is a social business that manufactures and sells high volume water purification systems to schools across Uganda. The school in Kawempe is one of over 1,100 that have their systems installed, providing safe, clean drinking water to over 500,000 school children across the country.
“Access to clean drinking water is a big challenge in Uganda,” explains Mark Turgesen, Country Director for Impact Water. “Every year across the world an estimated 272 million school days are lost due to sickness caused by drinking unsafe water, and as much as 40% of these cases can be attributed to the transmission of disease when at school. In Uganda, most schools get their water from boreholes or pipes which aren’t safe, and this is a big problem”.
Impact Water’s purification systems are environmentally friendly and avoid the need for schools to burn wood to boil water before consumption. This helps solve another widespread problem, deforestation.
“One of the big challenges we faced when starting Impact Water was finding a way for schools to access credit to pay for the water systems,” says Turgesen. “So we worked out a way to provide long-term, low-cost credit that allowed schools to time their repayments with the collection of annual tuition fees. This lowered the barrier significantly and helped schools access technology that was previously unavailable”.
Yunus Social Business began a partnership with Impact Water in 2014 when they were looking for a long-term financing to help them expand their operations. “Impact Water has been a fantastic success. We’re always proud to say we’ve invested in them and been a part of that,” says Sylvain Ferriere, Country Director for Africa at Yunus Social Business. “The team at Impact Water is entirely dedicated to generating real, lasting social impact, and what they’ve been able to achieve really speaks for itself. They’re exactly the kind of social business we look to work with, providing long-term, low-cost, flexible financing to help them grow”.
Impact Water is an important contributor the Yunus Social Business mission of harnessing business to reach the UN Sustainable Development goals for 2030. “Reaching the UNSDG’s through charity alone is simply not realistic,” explains Bastian Müller, head of Partnerships at Yunus Social Business. “We need a new approach, an alternative. We believe the alternative is social business. We think that business can be used to achieve the UNSDGs, and do that by reinvesting 100% of their profits back into solving the challenges they were set up to solve.”
The real winners, though, are the children of Uganda. Over 500,000 now have reliable access to clean, fresh drinking water, helping to ensure their education remains uninterrupted by illness or disease. Impact Water has bold plans for the future and hopes to have over 5,000 systems installed serving over 2.5 million children in Uganda by the end of 2018. It is also now developing and fundraising for its expansion plans to other countries throughout Africa, and expects to open several new offices in 2017.