East Africa

143, Kathy Ku and John Kye, SPOUTS of Water | Safe Drinking Water for all Ugandans

SPOUTS of Water is a social venture, based in Uganda, that is providing access to safe drinking water.

Safe Drinking Water for all Ugandans, with Kathy Ku and John Kye, SPOUTS of Water

Kathy Ku and John Kye, SPOUTS of Water

In 2010, Kathy Ku spent time in Uganda, where she experienced first-hand the problems with the lack of access to safe drinking water. About 30% of the population of Uganda, around 10 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. And about 60% of the population boils their water to try to purify it. Waterborne illness is the number one killer of children under 5 in Uganda, and sickens millions of Ugandans. The responsibility of securing drinking water falls disproportionally on women and children, reducing their ability to participate in other activities such as going to school.

Kathy had seen this problem before through her work with Engineers Without Borders. She knew that there were low-cost solutions available, such as nickel-impregnated ceramic pots, and yet no one in Uganda was manufacturing them. So, when she returned to school at Harvard, she could not stop thinking about this problem – or talking about it.

When I asked Kathy how she enrolled others into the idea of starting a company manufacturing water filters in Uganda, she told me “It was mostly the fact that I wouldn’t shut up about it.” After talking about the idea almost non-stop, a resident tutor finally advised her, “If you’re not going to stop talking about it, you should just go for it.”

Kathy and a handful of students began working on a design project. They developed a business plan and presentation. John Kye, who was also a student at Harvard, saw the documents that they had produced and was thoroughly impressed. He wanted in.

Initially they contacted nongovernment organizations working in Uganda with their ideas, but the local NGOs were not interested in manufacturing. Eventually, Kathy and John realized that, if this idea was going to come to life, they would have to do it themselves. They formed a company SPOUTS of Water to carry out their plans.

SPOUTS produces an accessible, effective, convenient solution, the Purifaaya ceramic water filter. The Purifaaya filter is locally produced in a factory outside Kampala, Uganda, creating livelihood for Ugandans. They distribute the filters to Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Because the Purifaaya filter costs around $20 USD, and lasts for 2 years, it is affordable to most Ugandan households. Today, around 60,000 Ugandans are using their Purifaaya filters to access safe drinking water. The goal for SPOUTS of Water is to provide safe drinking water to 5 million Ugandans by 2025.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Kathy Ku and John Kye

“I felt like I found something I could be really passionate about, without any doubt.” John Kye

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I wanted to contribute to a positive change.’ John Kye, @SPOUTSofWater”]

“Since joining SPOUTS, I’ve been mostly having fun.” John Kye

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I kind of ended up becoming a reluctant social entrepreneur.’ Kathy Ku, @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It was mostly the fact that I wouldn’t shut up about it.’ Kathy Ku @SPOUTSofWater“] 

“We would meet during lunch periods or in the evenings.” Kathy Ku

“I had come across the business plan for this project and I was thoroughly impressed,” John Kye

“Everything you study sitting in front of computers is going to be drastically different from everything that happens on the ground.” Kathy Ku

“It’s always interesting to see how people are innovating in their corner of the world.” Kathy Ku

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We’ve had investors describe us as Ramen break-even.’ John Kye @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘A good heart can last for so long, but a good company can last for decades.’ John Kye, @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You have to be on the ground.’ Kathy Ku, @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Don’t take no for an answer.’ Kathy Ku, @SPOUTSofWater“]

“We were just two kids walking around in dirty t-shirts.” Kathy Ku

“The most fundamental root cause of all of this inequality can be attributed to sheer luck.” John Kye

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