Randy Welsch and his son Galen are passionate about providing people across the world with clean drinking water — and just as passionate about how they’re doing it.
Jibu, a father-son business created in 2012, allows entrepreneurs in East Africa to solve the drinking water crisis by creating ownership opportunities and partnerships for them to make money and a difference in their communities.
“There’s probably nothing more important than safe drinking water,” said co-founder Randy Welsch. “You’re never going to be healthy or have a quality life if you don’t have access to it. You see people with bad water and just want to fix the problem, but eventually donor dollars run out and business solutions are needed to get to the root of the problem.”
That’s why the Welschs created a franchise model — training and financing locals to sell affordable drinking water. So far, Jibu has 17 franchises: 10 in Rwanda, six in Uganda and one in Kenya.
Welsch said training African entrepreneurs is extensive: “Training is a core component that we as a franchise always must provide. A lot of these owners don’t have any business experience, so we’re training them on entrepreneurship, finances, marketing, the difference between revenue and profit and on running the business itself. We’re like an incubator for entrepreneurs.”
Instead of drilling for water, Jibu locates community water sources near their stores and treats the water through solar-powered filtration before selling it to customers.
“We’re very generous in terms of how our model works, but business owners pay us to come, and that is a foreign concept,” Welsch said. “It just doesn’t happen much in emerging markets.”
Jibu focuses on a hybrid approach, as a for-profit business with the goal of making money and a nonprofit providing charitable impact in a sustainable way.
“People tend to think you have a pocket for giving and a pocket for making money, and you almost feel guilty combining the two,” Welsch said. “Why not make money that gets recycled back into your cause?”
Jibu is an L3C, Welsch said.
“I think there are a lot of people in the foundation world who want to see models that are more sustainable — rather than continually just throwing money at a problem.”
– Randy Welsch
“It’s like an LLC but we have to prioritize our charitable impact alongside our profit-making,” he said. “That is important because there is a place for donor dollars in our model. I think there are a lot of people in the foundation world who want to see models that are more sustainable — rather than continually just throwing money at a problem. Relief is more immediate and development is more long-term.”
The Welschs self-funded Jibu during its first two years, visiting Rwanda, Uganda and Congo simultaneously, trying to perfect their model in terms of pricing, store size and brand.
“It was a grand experiment,” Welsch said. “We weren’t sure if we’d be successful, but focused on building trust and relationships.”
Jibu worked well in Rwanda and Uganda, and the Welschs began investing in those locations. For a franchisee to break even, about 1,000 to 1,200 liters of water must be sold every day, or about 300 gallons.
“The highest we thought we’d ever sell is 2,500 liters,” Welsch said. “All our franchises in Rwanda are double that, selling 5,000 liters per day. That’s significant because all of that is profit to the bottom line because the expenses are set. We don’t have to grow the business bigger to get those numbers.”
Jibu believes that to really solve issues like clean water, private industry, the nonprofit sector and government need to find common ground.
“With our [investment] raise last year, we had about one-third of private investors, one-third of foundation support and one third from the U.S. government,” Welsch said. “The U.S. Agency for International Development is a major grantor to Jibu.”
And Jibu isn’t just out to provide water. The father-and-son team hope to create a platform for other products and services, such as low-emission cookstoves and medical services.
“We produce excess solar power in our units,” Welsch said. “We’d like to find ways to sell that excess power to communities because they typically don’t have power in their homes. We have hundreds of storefronts and it’d be a shame not to be selling other things.”
Following his time in the Peace Corps, Galen, 28, oversees Jibu operations in Africa. Randy, 60, works the business from Colorado Springs to develop relationships with investors.
It’s gratifying to see locals take ownership of the problem and be successful, Welsch said.
“People said to us, ‘You can’t trust locals because they’ll take advantage of you,’ ” he said. “Individuals in emerging markets and poor people have the same dreams as the rest of us.
“No one starts a business with, ‘Oh, I just want to get by.’ They have big dreams. They want to make a difference and they want to make money. We’re enabling them to dream big and, so far, they’ve totally outperformed.”
Address: Colorado Springs, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya