Meet Christelle Kwizera, a young entrepreneur striving to eradicate water scarcity

Accessing water is a human right, and as a way of reflecting the fundamental nature of such basics, Christelle Kwizera established Water Access Rwanda, a social enterprise committed to eradicating water scarcity by providing appropriate technologies for durable access to water.

A mechanical engineer and social entrepreneur as well, Kwizera had envisioned providing simple, durable and affordable water solutions while creating decent employment for the youth. And in 2014, she embarked on this vision by setting up this enterprise.

Since then, her enterprise has been a journey of borehole drilling, casing of shallow water wells, pump installation and maintenance and repair.

The initiative targets people in need of access to safe water, as they can barely afford the funding needed to, for example, drill a borehole, filter among other ways of having safe water.

So to service them, her enterprise groups them and builds bigger systems that reduce the per person cost of infrastructure.

The initiative targets people in need of access to safe water, as they can barely afford the funding needed to, for example, drill a borehole and filter. 

In the five years of her journey as an entrepreneur, Kwizera says she has learnt that one needs to invest what is necessary for the business to succeed.

 “Be clear on your objectives, have strong team values and train all your people. Investing in your business means making personal sacrifices and having to live poor so the business can flourish, I have learnt to be humble in such. I still ride motorcycles to big meetings because the company car and other vehicles are busy earning revenue and building assets,” the 25-year-old says.

Sacrificing personal luxuries to keep value in the business has almost become second nature to her.

Challenges

Operating the enterprise calls for ample capital, Kwizera says. “Our model requires investment, something that is not easy when you are a young start-up. This limits our reach and it means we grow slower than we should, yet we need to invest a lot to keep up with quality standards.”

To build their capacity as a company, they have grown mainly by providing services to businesses and firms that wish to go off-grid.

Christelle Kwizera /Courtesy photos 

“Our most profitable arm of the business is done by collaborating with non-government organisations, government and companies that do corporate social responsibility with us. We have managed to raise some of that money as grants or through revenue share agreements,” she says.

“Also, award funding has been great for us, and I am glad being a young female running a company was able to get us many cash awards which we used, for example, to buy IT equipment for the team, a car, build a storage facility, among others. I have reinvested all retained earnings back in the company since it started, so this has helped our cash-flow,” Kwizera adds.

Milestones

Water Access Rwanda allows 47,612 customers to access water across 86 stations in the country, particularly in Nyarugenge, Rwamagana, Ngoma, Bugesera and Rusizi districts.

To date, Water Access Rwanda has managed to build 38 INUMA kiosks.

INUMA water mini grids are ideal for a last mile piped safe water access. They are also great for back-up systems where piped water already is, as they offer a lot of reliability with water never running out, except for intended closure or quick maintenance.

The enterprise has also drilled 94 boreholes and has partnered with Nyarugenge, Rusizi, Bugesera, Ngoma and Rwamagana districts to establish or rehabilitate water points.

Her recent award from the Jack Ma Foundation Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative saw her secure a $100,000 grant.

Winning this for a young entrepreneur was massive, Kwizera says.

“It was beyond my wildest expectations. My team and I are experiencing renewed strength in our purpose and I intend to ride this wave to strengthen our delivery. I have a lot of takeaways from the judges that I will implement as soon as possible, as they are small changes in my leadership that I can do. We also intend to use the exposure to attract talent and funding to our initiative. There is almost like a ticking clock on getting this to scale and we will need talent and funding to do it right,” she says.

Kwizera believes that her enterprise emerged among the winners because of the simple yet powerful force behind her idea.

One of the INUMA water kiosks that provide safe water to residents. 

“We are serving a basic need with consequences on our lives that are massive. I also think it has a lot to do with the kind of entrepreneur I am. One who is very value-driven and wants to use business to make the world better, not necessarily make myself richer. Wealth will be the natural result of being efficient at what I do, and it won’t be just for me,” she explains.

Future plans for the initiative

The young entrepreneur plans on doubling down on their efforts to make sure INUMA remains a guaranteed source of safe and reliable water for all customers, while getting themselves ready for massive scaling by filling their structure with the right people and investing in the needs of the business for smoother operations at scale.

Winners of the Jack Ma Foundation Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative

Kevine Kagirimpundu is another Rwandan who won this award. She is the co-founder of UZURI K&Y DESIGNS, an African-inspired eco-friendly shoe brand. She managed to secure $65,000.

Others include;

Dr Tosan J. Mogbeyiteren, the founder of Black Swan that uses software as service in digital record-keeping and community engagement, to increase birth registration and early childhood immunisations in Nigeria.

Chibuzo Opara, co-founder of DrugStoc — a cloud-based pharmaceutical IT and logistics platform focused on eliminating counterfeit drugs, expanding access to pharmaceutical products in Nigeria

Kwizera (3rd-left) holding her $100,000 cheque after winning the Jack Ma Foundation Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative. Courtesy photo

Moulaye Taboure, the co-founder and CEO of Afrikrea which is the “Made of Africa” fashion, art and handicraft online marketplace based in Cote D’Ivoire.

Waleed Abd El Rahman, CEO of Mumm Company, a virtual cafeteria for businesses with an online marketplace in Egypt.

Ayodeji Arikawe, co-founder of Thrive Agric which is an agricultural technology-enabled company that works with 22,000 farmers in Nigeria in enhancing access to finance.

Mahmud Johnson, founder and CEO of J-Palm based in sustainable palm-oil production in Liberia.

Mentoring is key, lending a helping hand when it comes to growing skills, business, and networking is very important for young female entrepreneurs. Interacting with those who have made it in the business area can be important in building their confidence.

Charles Shyaka, Incubation Officer

They should be given access to funding for in most cases capital is a big problem yet very critical in the growth of any business. Some women can have the skills and determination but lack funds, and it ends up limiting their business success.

Winnie Umuhoza, Businesswoman

The prevailing issue of unpaid care work should first be addressed. Women in the business world find it hard to balance their responsibility as mothers, wives and at the same time business owners. This affects the rate at which their business can prosper. Campaigns should be in place to address this from the community or family levels.

Lillian Mutesi, Cashier

Women need to be equipped with enough skills to run a successful business. This can be done through trainings and workshops where they can be taught how to take risks among other skills that are required to be a successful business person.

Sam Mugisha,  Businessman

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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