Interview: How 25-year Old Christelle Kwizera is Making Clean Water Accessible to Communities in East Africa
While water is a necessity for people to survive, a number of African countries still battle with water crisis. Rwanda is one of such countries, where the government have for many years tried to make clean water accessible to all.
According to statistics, 2 out or 3 people in Rwanda live in poverty and millions lack access to safe water. This problem is what 25year old Christelle Kwizera is on a mission to solve through Water Access Rwanda (WARwanda).
Since launch, Christelle has provided water solutions to not just Rwanda, but other East African countries. In this interview with Founders Africa, she tells us how WARwanda is providing solutions to the water crisis in East Africa and how the journey has been so far.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am a 25-year-old Rwandan mechanical engineer with a passion for social entrepreneurship and youth employment.
Tell us about Water Access Rwanda and the solutions you provide
Water Access Rwanda is a social enterprise that services the regional EAC market (mainly Rwanda) with innovative solutions in sustainable and reliable clean water access.
We are committed to employing young people in providing these solutions, and our motto is simple, affordable and durable, something well represented by our INUMA ground water kiosk systems.
What inspired the idea for it?
I am always inspired to action by the fact that access to reliable safe water is still a huge issue for many and that there is a lot of inadequate or unsustainable solutions being poured into this sector.
We believe access to water is a human right, and that the private sector can have a great impact in this sector by shifting the mentality from being input-focused to output focused.
I was outraged as a young student to see that some methods were so over-designed they were pushing prices up across the sector and not making water something that can be affordable without government subsidy.
Tell us about your achievements so far and how you’ve been able to impact the people of Rwanda with WARwanda
The biggest achievement is the number of people who are now able to access water reliably through the different water points we built and manage across Rwanda.
With that, we’ve been able to provide full-time employment to 42 people with an average of 28 years old. We also took youth entrepreneurship in Rwanda to greater heights by being a very sustainably run and impactful enterprise that also won recognition on an African stage (Africa Entrepreneurship Award, EDF pulse Africa Award, East African Business Community Excellence award).
Tell us about your entrepreneurship journey
My very earliest venture was selling to friends, colleagues and neighbors. A clear example I remember is as students in secondary school we were obsessed with posters of celebrities and soccer players. I would purchase a star magazine for RWF 4,000 and sell all the cut-out pictures and posters in the middle of the magazine for more than RWF 10,000. I was about 12 when I started doing that.
Foreigners who visited our house would bring me loads of magazines to support my ventures. However my adult journey as an entrepreneur was more focused on solving needs, I had grown a disdain both for NGO’s wastefulness and businesses’ blind focus on profit and success. So it was very natural for me that when I wanted to make a sustainable change I should go the social enterprise route.
What’s your most exciting moment as an entrepreneur?
First, being able to hire people and meeting payroll every month. Second, pitching and competition. I love the rush from the competition, but also getting to talk about the amazing work the company is doing.
What’s the one thing that inspires you?
Seeing the result of the work done. It still amazes me that through our tiny efforts thousands are accessing clean water right now.
What is the greatest challenge you encountered running WARwanda and how did you overcome them?
If I knew how much managing a company is about managing people and how underprepared I would be for those initial shocks, I would have quit early on. But I learnt many great lessons in leadership and one of them is that you won’t have answers and that in some situation you just close your eyes and pray to God for the serenity to accept whatever challenges you are facing.
What are the future plans for WARwanda?
I want us to go to a new market with INUMA. That is short-term. The long-term plan is for WARwanda to have become a star, still mainly youth-composed company, with decentralized water infrastructure assets across Africa that will have completely eliminated the water crisis and pushed it out of rural Africa’s reality.
What advice would you give young African entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Find happy clients first before fame finds you. I see so many young African entrepreneurs get stuck in this media/conference circuit and completely let their business go to waste and to loss.
Always strive to make your customers so happy that they are the ones showering you with awards and good word of mouth marketing.