How falling ill with dysentery inspired a teenage Joel Mwale.

12 Nov

As a teenager Joel Mwale was hospitalized
with dysentery after consuming contaminated water distributed by his Kitale municipal council during the annual dry season.

As he lay in bed, Mwale, then 18, came upon the idea that would provide his community with access to safe drinking water and put him on the road to
becoming one of Africa’s most promising
young entrepreneurs.

“I thought that what if this thing keeps on
happening, year in, year out, what if next year
the same problem happens?” he says of the
illness which also affected numerous other
people in his home village.

“I should do something,” he said to himself. “I’m not just going to sit back and watch things happen.”

Upon his release from hospital Mwale invested his life savings, 8,500 Kenyan Shillings ($95), in building a
borehole in his village — a deep well that could
reach the water flowing far beneath the ground. With the help of local volunteers and
tradesmen, he began digging on a patch of land close to his home and before long they struck water.

The team then set about putting the pipes,
infrastructure and mechanical system in place
that would enable its extraction.
Almost four years on and the project has been
so successful that it still provides clean water
to around 500 households, says Mwale.

“It works in such a way that somebody has just
got to turn a wheel then a lot of water comes
out on the other end,” he says.

Galvanized by his DIY borehole success, Mwale
soon set about planning bigger projects and
investigating how he could bring safe and
reliable drinking water to the wider Kenyan population.

He was initially held back by a mixture of
financial constraints and the need to help his
unemployed mother, but before long he found
the spark that would bring him his next project.

“One day while I was walking around my community … it was raining and I saw water running off the ground,” explains Mwale.

“So I said that if there’s anything that I can do to be able to trap this rain water, store it in a reservoir, then be able to purify it and sell it to the public … this can be a good idea,” he adds.
With the help of a financial loan from a local farmer, Mwale began investing in the necessary equipment and business infrastructure to put his idea into action.

Within a matter of months he had founded
Skydrop — a company that would come to
specialize in capturing falling rain water in a
series of giant tanks before purifying and
bottling it for sale on the commercial market.

The start up has since helped Mwale bring
clean drinking water to a much wider
consumer base — selling 33,000 bottles in the
last financial year alone — as well as providing
a service that is more reliable and cheaper
than those provided by the Kenyan government, he says.

It has also enabled him to provide for his
family, offer employment to a growing number
of people in his community and win him the
Azisha prize — an African award for innovation
that comes with a $30,000 prize.

Such high praise and financial rewards seemed
a long way off as he lay prone on his hospital
bed, admits Mwale.

But he adds he hopes his success will inspire
others in Africa to act upon their ideas and
become more involved in different types of
entrepreneurship.

“I think there are many more youths who are
sitting on their potential,” he says.

“But the most important thing is that in order
for Africa to realize its goals … youths and
everyone will need to embrace the true spirit
of entrepreneurship because it’s only (through)
true entrepreneurship that people are able to
utilize their full potential.”

By taking chances and acting on their instincts,
he adds, African people can help solve the
myriad problems their elected representatives
have so far failed to address.

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