Venuste Kubwimana, 33, a Rwandan social entrepreneur has been attempting to succeed in an ecosystem where only economically profitable ventures thrive.
However, his enterprise ‘Water Kiosk at School’ is a classic startup story, with more aims than profits and financial returns.
Kubwimana who describes himself as a typical village boy holds no formal degree but has tried to work to dispel the popular myth is that one needs tertiary education to succeed.
“I was born in a small village of Gihinga in the Southern Province of Rwanda, completed my elementary school at Kamonyi Primary School, and later struggled to join high school, which was also difficult to complete,” he told The New Times in an interview.
Kubwimana thinks with the “Water Kiosk at School” as he calls it, he is edging closer to his dream.
The social entrepreneur is trying to bring clean water closer to the communities, specifically community schools in the East African region using a quite unique model.
In many parts of the region, water access is a huge challenge. According to WaterAid, in Rwanda, five million people do not have ready access to clean water, and over 900 children under five die each year from diarrhea.
In addition, every morning, many school-going children wake up early to walk long distances so as to fetch water from rivers or wells before going to school, causing absenteeism and resulting in school drop-outs.
“This is a common story for an average African village child. As someone who was born in a rural area, I know what it means. Growing up, it was impossible to leave home without fetching water, and if you did, you risked not finding food at home as parents were busy in gardens trying to make ends meet,” he says emotionally.
The idea to come up with such a project was inspired and based on a personal experience, and the desire to change his past experience, an experience that is limiting the dreams of many African children.
His solution might not be new as there are other people providing clean water solutions, but the model he is using is what makes it unique.
First, he chose to set up a non-profit organisation, International Transformation Foundation (ITF) with the main goal of building a committed and passionate team of young dreamers who wants to address issues faced by many African young people.
“With this foundation, we wanted to work as a team to make a big impact. But we also thought it would be easier to secure more partnerships, which we believed was critical to realise our targets,” Kubwimana says of the organisation that is now based in Kenya, where its operations began.
Already it is reaping benefits. They have entered into partnerships with renowned brands like Nakumatt, a regional supermarket chain, Amsterdam city, and Bank of Africa, to mention but a few.
How does Water Kiosk at School work?
Kubwimana describes it as a school-based and students-managed business selling clean tap water to community residents at affordable price.
“It is both an educational and profitable business, teaching students business and entrepreneurial skills, and generating much needed income for schools that we work with,” he says.
The project is made up of up to three key parts; tap water station, hand-wash facility made up of an automated drip tap, and a provision of re-usable water bottles, which are given to students.
According to him, their work is basically to go around interested community schools and slums setting up water kiosks. They pre-finance these water kiosks, and schools can make repayments within a period of 24 months.
Kubwimana cites that the cost of setting up a single water kiosk can be around US$6,000 and US$10,000, depending on how close or far the water distribution pipe is. Still, many rural schools cannot afford that cost.
“This is why we set up these kiosks and provide room for schools to generate income through selling water, after which they can repay in installments,” he explains.
In some villages in Kenya, they develop jerry can karts, which students use to carry water back home. This reduces the physical exhaustion from constant lifting and carrying heavy loads on their heads.
So far, they say they have been able to establish up to 10 water kiosks in ten schools and communities in four counties across Kenya.
According to their latest report, 4,815 school-going children no longer need to be absent from school to secure water for their families, and this has improved sanitation and health at their schools.
“Generally, there are over 70,000 households in Kenya that have access to clean tap water at an affordable price through our project,” the seemingly passionate entrepreneur reveals.
Entering the Rwandan market
The entrepreneur disclosed that plans to enter the local market are already underway which for him will be a dream come true.
He says that they have entered into partnership with the Ministry of Education that will see them setting up the water kiosks in six schools at the beginning.
“To me, this is a dream coming true,” he notes, adding that he has been convincing his team why it was important to enter Rwandan market.
The Rwandan entrepreneur hopes to change the way people access clean water in the region.