Rising above Kampala’s traffic-jammed streets, bustling sidewalks, and vibrant markets, is a sign printed with the word, “Jibu.” A word that means “solution” in Swahili.
But to the locals in Uganda, Jibu means the place to buy the highest quality and least expensive water around.
Behind this solution is Galen Welsch, a tall, native Coloradan with an infectious smile and the kind of welcoming enthusiasm and spirit one only expects from a camp counselor.
Galen’s story starts in Morocco, where he spent two years teaching English in rural villages with the Peace Corps. After finishing his commitment, he knew he could do more than provide the poor with better literacy; He could provide them with better lives.
And one of the most essential elements of human life is water.
There is an enormous need in the world for clean water -- 3.4 million die yearly, primarily children, making contaminated water the leading cause of disease and death in the world. Some estimate there is 450 million East Africans do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. It’s especially bad in cities.
The global water crisis has proven practically insoluble to donors and the international development community. Donor-funded clean water projects fail 50% of the time after 2-3 years, primarily because of a lack of community buy-in and local ownership on the beneficiary level. Well-intentioned projects, like treadle pumps, don’t integrate well in a local context, where, for example, women fear exercise on a bike will render them barren.
By starting a clean water initiative, Galen was entering a field with a pronounced history of failure.
But he wasn’t acting alone. His father, Randy Welsch, who spent his career with one foot in philanthropy and one in the private sector, provided the support and connections to match Galen’s pragmatic enthusiasm and determination to see the project through.
Given their status as muzungus (outsiders; literally translated as “those who spin around in the same spot”) and difficulty facing any water initiative, Galen and Randy knew it was imperative to include local entrepreneurs from the beginning.
Based on feedback from locals, they iterated and reiterated their business model. Galen and his team surmounted serious setbacks -- corrupt government officials and bureaucratic red tape, bogus import taxes, and entrepreneurs not aligned with the mission. However, leaning on the community’s support, they finally reached a workable solution.
- Use a local distribution network of franchisees, who purify the water at the source and who put some skin in the game, which naturally brings out a higher order of problem-solving skills and grit.
- Streamline the supply chain to cut out grocery stories, which act as a middleman
- Recycle the bottles (like a propane gas exchange)
- Sell water at a modest price point (50-75% cheaper than the bottled water at the store)
And it’s working. Or as Galen says with a chuckle, “At least, it hasn’t failed yet!”
Starting a business is one thing. Scaling it to reach the masses is another.
With each day’s success came organizational growing pains, Galen decided to apply to the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online program, hosted at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship on Santa Clara University’s campus.
This six-month mentorship program connects a Silicon Valley mentor with a social entrepreneur half a world away, who helps them develop, innovate, and test their product. In this case, John O’Keefe, a lifelong resident of Northern California, CEO and founder of Correctional Communications Corporation, a software development company which created proprietary communications and security platforms for use in jails and prisons. John also served as Pacific Bell’s Vice President of Operations, managing over 300 employees with a $20 million dollar budget, and the Vice President of Sales, bringing in annual revenues of $300 million. Needless to say, his advice packs a punch.
Without ever meeting in person, John and Galen held weekly calls, working through and applying the GSBI curriculum to every facet of the Jibu business model. The end result: a more robust, scalable model, and a rock solid working relationship. After graduation, John and Galen still keep in touch with monthly meetings. When the two met in person in Kampala, it was a heartwarming meeting.
Galen poured John his first glass of Jibu water. John instinctively swirled his glass and lifted the rim to his nose, as if it were a vintage Sauvignon Blanc. Then he laughed at himself: “You can take the man out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the man.”
That’s the power of the GSBI: Connecting entrepreneurs, locals or muzungus, with Silicon Valley’s best and letting magic happen.
Sector(s): Health; Water
Impact Area(s): Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda
Staff Size: 20
GSBI Programs: GSBI Online
GSBI Year: 2014
GSBI Participant: Galen Welsch
GSBI Mentors: John O'Keefe
2014: Unreasonable Institute Fellowship
2014: ANDE Membership, B-Corp Certification, SOCAP Entrepreneur Fellowship
2015: Sankalp East Africa Showcase : First Runner Up
2015: International Franchise Association (IFA) Next Gen Grand Prize
Jibu provides seed-financing and support to equip East African entrepreneurs with the materials needed to launch safe drinking water franchises. Jibu offers an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to make drinking water 75% cheaper than bottled water, at the same price as boiling water, but with the convenience of door-side delivery and the aspirational association with bottled water.
January 2014: Launched first franchises in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo
April 2014: Launched first company-owned franchise in Rwanda
June 2014: Received local governments water quality certification stamps in all countries of operation
January 2015: Closed first round of equity investment
Impact to Date:
- 10 entrepreneurs equipped with skills and finances to own an enterprise
- 5,000 + people provided with access to safe drinking water
- 11 local, co-owned enterprises launched