When asked what it takes to be a woman in entrepreneurship, Ninky of Johannesburg, South Africa, took a moment to gather her thoughts, and answered with a sure, calm nature.
“Patience. Lots and lots and lots of patience. And tenacity.”
An eloquently-spoken businesswoman and entrepreneur, Ninky is passionate about providing safe water solutions in her corner of the world.
Ninky grew up in Soweto, Johannesburg. She later went on to university in Cape Town at the University of the Western Cape, where she studied research psychology. Upon graduation, Ninky worked in several companies in research positions, studying and producing data on consumer and social behaviours. Her last full-time job was working for The Coca-Cola Company as Research Manager for several countries in Africa. Through her research and work for different organizations, Ninky has been able to experience and understand much of Africa as well as the needs of families –women and girls–in particular.
A Harsh Reality
“For women in a lot of countries in Africa to cook a meal, they need to go out into the forest, gather wood, bring it home, make a fire, and prepare a meal. It isn’t as simple as turning on a stove. For rural women, this is what they face every day.”
This burden of ‘unpaid work’ falls on women and girl children mainly, resulting in loss on income generating activities and school-work time. She described how the crux between water and cooking exists as well: much of the water is collected from natural sources and must be boiled before use, which creates a need for fire. For the majority of the world, women still have to depend on naturally-sourced items to provide for their family’s needs.
“Wells, rivers, harvested rainwater, stuff like that.”
Another aspect of harvesting water is the parallel between schooling and hygiene. Girls on their menstrual cycle also have a tough time keeping themselves clean. Without clean water to wash themselves, upkeep is nearly impossible and most girls would thus miss school for that time.
Ninky has seen much of what lack of basic resources like water can do to families in rural South Africa.
“I think the one story that particularly moved me from rural KwaZulu-Natal, a video was sent to me of a young lady who was just going to get water, and it was basically from a hole in the ground. You could see in that particular hole, there had been animals like cows and sheep drinking the same water, from the same source. She just walked and drew the water with a bucket, drank some, carried her bucket and then went home.”
This harsh reality touched Ninky and sparked a desire within her to do something about the daily problems women and children face. Around 2017, she met Darin Fey, our Global Director, who was showcasing a VF100 Water Filter at a clean energy expo. Ninky was impressed by how simple yet effective it was and bought a few. She registered an entity named Village Water Filters South Africa, eventually, becoming one of our top distributors of the VF100 model in South Africa.
Wonderfully enough, Ninky was able to provide one for the lady competing with cattle for water.
A Woman of 54
Ninky heard of the Woman in Africa 54 (WIA 54) Award through newsletters and online publications she subscribes to. When sharing about how she heard about the initiative she laughed and said that an invitation to participate just showed up in her inbox and she responded to it. With another chuckle, she said that she forgot about it for many months. That was in March 2020.
The Women in Africa 54 Award is an initiative set up to support women entrepreneurs in Africa. It selects women from each of the 54 countries who have demonstrated industry success in areas like agriculture, health and creative industries. Upon being selected, women receive training, mentorship, networking opportunities, as well as international exposure.
Ninky eventually heard back from Women in Africa 54 and proceeded to complete an interview and other requirements. A few months later, they contacted Ninky that out of 4,000 applicants continent-wide, they’ve narrowed the selection down to just 10 per country, a total of 540 companies. Ninky was selected to be one of those women, representing South Africa.
It gets better: the WIA 54 initiative had another stage of narrowing. Ninky went through more sessions and seminars. They then selected only one woman per country from the 10, narrowing the pool down to 54 women total. Ninky was named.
“Our company was chosen… we will be receiving opportunities to receive mentoring, network, training, as well as opportunities to pitch to investors.”
Besides patience and tenacity, Ninky has learned that entrepreneurship requires a long-term view. With a sly smile, one that could’ve been born out of experience, Ninky provided that success doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s super stressful. There are months where you don’t have any (profit) at all… but telling yourself that in a few years that this is where you want to be, and having a plan–that’s what it takes.”
Being first-in-market is another valuable asset for Ninky and the VF100. For South Africa, Ninky has shared that there is no product quite like it. Being the first to hit the market with any product contains risk. Luckily, for a need like clean water, it is a venture that assumes less risk. Furthermore, Ninky’s outlook on marketing something totally unknown is that it requires extra effort and outreach.
Ninky’s approach in sales has been challenged by the economic disparity in these rural communities. There is certainly a need for the product she distributes, but affordability has been an obstacle for many of the families interested in the product. A challenge is that of maintaining a balance between addressing people’s needs and a profitable business.
She also has realized a niche market within South Africa, in the outdoor and camping community. These are a market of people who take their caravans out into the bush or spend multiple days hiking and backpacking. VF100 sales to this segment of the market have allowed Ninky to keep working towards her goals.
Another area of sales is that of governmental aid and private sector companies. Ninky approached these organizations with a call-to-action, describing the need for access to clean & safe water in rural areas. Utilizing social responsibility programs, these institutions have the capital to greatly impact families needing these water filters. Access to resources through price subsidization has helped many families.
Altogether, a Woman of Power
Inspiring and resilient, Ninky’s story tells not only of business success in distribution, but also devotion to changing human lives. As a woman of power, she has used her empathy to drive her ambition in the world of marketing and sales. And with patience, she has proven that finding equitable solutions to the water crisis can be achieved.
A Challenge to You
At Business Connect, we support those that want to support others. We can help to form a foundation for anyone interested in joining our network of distributors. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a Sales Representative, Regional Sales Representative or Country Distributor for us, click here. We also encourage members of our network and audience to sponsor an entrepreneur like Ninky. If this suits you, visit our sponsorship page here.
2021 has been a difficult year as the world continues to recover from the global pandemic, but we are emerging stronger together. We have had loss and pain, but we are also experiencing victory and growth. We had moments when we simply wanted to quit. It would have been so easy to do so. Truthfully, based on our sales, restrictions in travel, and lack of resources, it would have been easier to do so.
Yet, we could not. There was something in our hearts that made us want to continue. We certainly did not have any special inspiration or miracle that made us continue. I believe it was that we had found something to do in our lives that gave us great joy. It was not money nor even people telling us that we were doing something great. We discovered that we felt we were meant to do something greater with our lives that we did not even initially recognize.
There is nothing more satisfying than to discover that our work is really our celebration. What we do day after day is life giving. With that attitude, comes a persistence that defies logic and gives us hope. This year Business Connect has added staff and new products, as well as grown our network of partners around the world and right here at home.
We are so grateful for you. You have brought your heart to serve others and make a difference. We are better people because of you. This time of the season is the right time for us to say Thank You to you. May the joy of the holidays just be an added bonus to what we believe is a full life. Wishing you all the best.
How do we get clean water to those in need in a sustainable way? Should we provide clean water to communities through the drilling of wells? But who will maintain those systems? How do we make water filters more accessible to those in need? These are the questions that Daniel and Ashley constantly ask themselves.
Daniel and Ashley founded Element Access International in 2017, however the ideas began to form back in 2010 when Daniel first started traveling to Africa. He always felt that he wanted to help make a difference in the lives of those in Africa. He got connected with a neighbor and left for his first trip of 6 months doing development work in Kenya. During some of his first trips, he did some microenterprise, community projects, as well as some small scale well drilling. He began to really see how big of a need there was for clean and safe water and the huge impact that could be made in communities.
He and his wife began traveling back and forth from the United States to Kenya to do additional projects. They wanted to figure out a way to impact even more communities, so they created Element Access International to scale their efforts and make their work more sustainable. They hired local Kenyan teams to do the well-drilling as well as the maintenance. They also sold water filters in the more urban areas in order to generate additional income.
A Growing Business
In 2019 the organization was well established and Daniel and Ashley finally moved to Kisumu, a lakeside city in western Kenya, so that they could develop the organization even more. They have initiated small business development projects, school and household water filtration systems, well drilling, and various other water development projects.
Element Access International is a Kenyan entity and works with both local and international organizations to do complete water development. A key value proposition that they focused on was their ability to provide quality services and reliable work. With their experienced team, they are able to offer continuing support to ensure the filters and wells are being used properly and that technical information is available. This extends the life of the products and leads to a greater impact along with increased sustainability. They have also taken on the role of bringing new technologies and development services to their community in water and solar. Their business has also grown as they diversified their product offerings to sell Business Connect products, including the VF100, Kohler Clarity, MadiDrop+ and more.
Daniel remarked that “the donor world is really changing, so the best solution to keep up with the large demand for clean water is using a business model.” Their partner non-profit organization, Earth and Water, is also exploring ways to do microfinance. The water filters are great products, but sometimes they are not affordable to someone making less than $5 a day. Microfinance allows people to take out a small loan to purchase the filter. In turn, the filter will provide clean water that will keep the family healthy and allow them to go to work. In health, they will be able to pay off the loan much faster.
Transformation Not Transaction
The goal of Element Access International is transformation not transaction. They want to have a business impact and provide a sustainable solution for the need of clean water, instead of just looking for sales. It is a part of everything they do. In addition, they incorporate WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) training for their partners, working to help them succeed.
There was one WASH training after which a lady came up to the team literally in tears. She shared that if she had only known the importance of sanitation and clean water, she wouldn’t have lost one of her children.
This knowledge has power. When there are moments like this, it is a reminder that a little bit of knowledge and a small filter is the difference between life and death.
Daisy met Lou Haveman, founder of Business Connect, back in 2013 when she was working as a temporary secretary for Rev. Theo in Kitubulu Entebbe Municipality of Uganda. He was representing a new water filter technology. That’s when she got to know about the 0.1 micron water filter. It almost seemed magical as it turned dirty unsafe water into safe clean drinking water. It amazed her.
As Lou was leaving, he gifted her with a couple of filters. She thanked him and kept them, but never really used them. Over the years they stayed in touch, even during the time she spent in Amman, Jordan, working as a house helper for two years. Upon her return to Uganda, Lou and Daisy decided to develop a working partnership. They planned to construct a building with four units of two rooms each as an investment in an area that is rapidly developing in her local Ugandan community near Lake Victoria. They began in April and made quick progress, finishing the project in September of this year.
Upon completion, Daisy decided to move into one of the units because she was still renting. Since she did not have piped water on the premises, she and her family were purchasing 20 liter (five gallon) jerry cans for 500 Ugandan Shillings each of clean water. She needed four jerry cans a day for herself, daughter and two nieces, and the cost of 60 cents a day became too expensive for them. As a result, they began to use the dirty water from the small pond near the lake. This water was not clean and had to be boiled, which ended up taking a lot of time and costing money to buy wood. On occasion, they would just end up drinking and cooking with the dirty, unboiled water, which would cause stomach pains and diarrhea.
Daisy had to find a solution. They could not keep spending this money, but needed to be drinking clean water for their health. As she thought about her options, she remembered the gift from her friend and investment partner, the magical water filter. Pulling it from the box in her storage, she figured out how to attach it to a water tank. Immediately she started getting clean and safe water right then and there! A water filter that didn’t seem as important at the time, now brought them health and savings in time and money.
Looking to the future, she hopes to provide these filters to those that live in the other units because she knows firsthand the challenges of not having clean water. This will relieve them of the burden of walking miles to collect clean water, as well as save them time and money that they would have spent with the alternatives.
She gives a special thanks to her friend, Lou Haveman; “The water filter you gifted me has saved us from sickness as well as the expense and difficulties of purifying the local water. We now have access to clean water, no worries about buying it anymore.”
If you or someone you know could benefit from one of these simple, yet effective water filters, connect with us or your local Business Connect distributor. We would love to help you gain access to clean water through the VF100 water filter, a 0.1 micron filter that will provide you clean water without the need of electricity or replacement parts.
Less than 24 hours after arriving in the Dominican Republic, I felt my heart break at the sight of the devastation before me. As representatives of Business Connect, Jereme Lambert and myself had traveled to check on a supply of Kohler Clarity water filters recently provided to families in desperate need. What we found when we landed was devastating; we had arrived at a secluded, impoverished, illiterate, and forgotten group of communities called Los Bateyes. We were greeted by the sight of babies bathing in filthy buckets full of dirt and leaves, flies feeding off of families’ only food supply, and young children playing with rusty metal roofs as toys. The ground was overrun with trash that no one seemed to notice, and feces from nearby outhouses ran in a stream through the center of the communities. This inhumane picture of devastation is the reality of many Haitian people living in the Dominican Republic today.
Many Haitians have migrated east to the Dominican Republic in hopes of a better life. But once arriving, there are few places to find work other than in the sugar cane fields cleaning and cutting down crops by hand for pennies. Their income is just enough to keep their families alive, but never enough to leave these communities of poverty and sickness.
As we trekked across rocks, mud, and sharp plastic trash exploring one shelter after another in these communities, I met a young boy named Mario. His face was full of curiosity as he tried to understand our presence and our appearance. He proudly showed us his family’s home; a small semi-private hut with no bed, no toilet, and no oven; a home completely susceptible to insects and heat. It was after spending a couple hours touring with Mario that my feet started to get sore and I noticed his lack of footwear. “Where are your shoes?” I asked the 10-year-old boy in his language, expecting him to say that he had left them in his shelter, or that perhaps he did not prefer them. But his response jolted me. “I’ve never had any shoes… Will you buy me some?” he asked.
That’s when the reality of where I was standing hit me. It is one thing to witness people living in poor conditions through a screen, but to have children describe to you in their native tongue an example of how desperate their situation is, is heart wrenching.
We were watched closely by community members as we drove off in the only car in sight for miles. Our hearts were hurting to leave such kind and grateful people in poverty as we returned to safe food, secure shelter, and many other modern conveniences.
The filters provided help protect residents from the harsh chemicals present in their water supply. As without them, the poorly chemically-treated water is just one of many daily struggles these communities face. We were happy to see that even though Los Bateyes is still struggling tremendously, progress is being made to end their water crisis, to eliminate waterborne illness, and to grant the residents the humanity they deserve.
A couple weeks have passed since our return, and I am so grateful to be part of a team working to improve the situation in these communities. Business Connect truly changes lives, one glass of clean water at a time, and although I am no longer there physically, I think of the communities often, and hope you will too. Reach out today to join our network and support the vision to end devastation like this around the world.
Meet Henry and his team. Henry is the founder of Tusafishe and one of our partners in the work to provide clean water around the world. We are excited to share that he was selected to be part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. This is a huge honor and opportunity for him to be able to develop as a leader in his community. With that in mind, we thought it would be great to share his story – how a failed law exam turned into a passion to provide clean water to those in need.
Henry originally was going to study law in Uganda. He studied for years and was planning to take the exams in the spring. Unfortunately, when it came time to take the final exam, he was hospitalized from typhoid fever. This was a direct result of drinking unsafe water. The hospitalization kept him from passing the exams and he set out on another path.
As typhoid, a waterborne illness, affected Henry’s life in a big way, he decided to focus on providing clean water to others. In hopes of starting his own organization, he focused on accounting and finance at school.
Laying the Foundation
Upon graduation, he joined a water company as an accountant. Henry learned a lot in this position, but found that the main problem was that there were many who still could not afford equipment for treating their water. Those who lived in cities were able to buy the water filtration products from the company, but no one was thinking about those in rural settings. Henry brought this up to his manager, but his manager said that it was not possible to get rural communities clean water because it did not make sense for the business. They could not just give products away.
This did not deter Henry from pursuing his passion to provide clean water to rural communities. In his free time, he began laying the groundwork for Tusafishe, a social enterprise that would help rural schools gain access to clean water. He also enlisted friends to help him along the way. Eventually, he moved on to a new role as the accountant for the SINA, Social Innovation Academy. This allowed him to use their entrepreneurial space as well as pour into other young entrepreneurs.
In November 2017, he built his first water filtration system prototype with SINA. In the new year, his Tusafishe team gained more stability and wanted to figure out how they could support themselves. They applied for SEED, an organization that promotes entrepreneurship for sustainable development, which provides additional training. Tusafishe won the SEED Climate Smart Enterprises Award and traveled to Bangkok, Thailand to accept it. At the SEED conference, Henry met Darin, our Business Connect global director. Henry made it a point to have more conversations with Darin as Business Connect offered a variety of filter options and he saw this as an opportunity to expand Tusafishe’s work.
A few months later, Darin was visiting Uganda and discussing the various business opportunities with Business Connect. Their goal was to make a profit to sustain their business and allow them to do clean water projects for rural schools.
A Bright Future
Of course, 2020 was not good for the business. As lockdowns swept across the country, business slowed, but this did not stop Tusafishe. Henry continued to search for ways to develop the organization. He applied to and was selected to be a part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship of Young African Leaders. This opportunity provided him the opportunity to take business courses at the University of Nevada, Reno. He also was connected with a business mentor and a larger network of leaders.
As he continues to explore ways to grow his business, we are excited to come alongside him. Our heart is to empower local entrepreneurs and help them run successful businesses. If you or someone you know is an aspiring entrepreneur, connect with us. Our ever expanding network is a great place to find support and mentorship. Let’s partner together to bring change around the world.