West Africa Water is a pioneer in the production of safe drinking water in Senegal, made possible by its decentralized and low-cost desalination system to treat brackish water. With a $505,000 (287 million CFA) Trade Hub co-investment grant, the company is building upon its goal of expanding and growing its network of water kiosks in three regions—Dakar, Thies, and Kaolack—through partnering with more franchisee water kiosk owners. The concept is ecological prudent, job-creating, and socially responsible.
In this Q&A, Thomas Gajan, West Africa Water’s Managing Director, highlights how his company is providing access to quality drinking water at an affordable price through the company’s business model.
Q: West Africa Water SA is an established company in Senegal and has the ambition to become one of the leading actors in the production of safe drinking water. How will your partnership with the Trade Hub contribute to the growth and success of your company?
A: The partnership with the Trade Hub is a gas pedal for our business. The financial support enables us to quickly set up 25 new water kiosks and renovate 25 existing kiosks with high potential. The Trade Hub’s technical assistance also contributes to raising our operational standards within the company, to prepare us for scale-up.
Finally, this support in the form of co-investment with the private sector reassures and encourages our historical private investors to continue to support our social enterprise in its development. It also allows us to attract new investors with a more institutional profile because the market in which we operate and our economic model require financing and time to reach a critical size.
Q: Access to safe water remains a problem in Senegal for some populations, particularly those in poor neighborhoods and rural areas. How is West Africa Water making safe drinking water more accessible to the communities that need it most?
A: We work on two levels of accessibility: geographic and financial.
Our water kiosk model allows us to produce safe drinking water in a decentralized model, and to target the populations that need it most. This local production and marketing model minimizes the cost of transporting water and single-use plastics while creating jobs in targeted neighborhoods and areas.
We have deployed many kiosks in rural areas in the past and continue to operate them wherever people do not have an acceptable alternative. We have also found that access to safe, quality drinking water remains a problem in some urban and peri-urban areas, especially the more popular ones, and have chosen to expand our model in these areas because the communities need our service. Also, the financial break-even point is easier for entrepreneurs to achieve than in rural areas, where the model usually has to be subsidized.
It should be noted that we market water through entrepreneurs at a rate at least three times more affordable than the cheapest mineral water on the market in 10L sizes. And we adapt our price to the purchasing power of the population by reducing the price in all cities and areas that need it.
Q: West Africa Water ensures the production and sale of uniform safe drinking water by implementing water quality testing every 6 months for each kiosk, and has several mechanisms in place to monitor and ensure water quality. However, because of people’s long-term use of bottled or boiled water for drinking, some may be reluctant to use water from your kiosks. How do you help kiosk owners and consumers come to trust that the water provided is safe?
A: This is one of the focus points of the Trade Hub project, and it begins with awareness-raising operations in the neighborhood where the kiosk is starting its activities. Several days of activities are planned for the commercial launch of a kiosk, to explain the model to the population and have them taste the water. Water analyses are also posted on each kiosk. At the end of this important commercial launch period, word of mouth usually takes over.
Q: In addition to securing partnerships and funding such as through the Trade Hub, what is one key strategy you are using to ensure West Africa Water’s sustainability?
A: People’s need for safe, affordable drinking water is high. The key to ensuring the sustainability of our business is to continue to build a solid foundation and demonstrate the economic sustainability of the water kiosk model, which provides a shared value between the beneficiaries (safe and affordable water), the entrepreneur and employees (job creation), and finally society at large (environmental protection, fight against the informal economy).
To achieve this, we invest in everything that adds value to the franchise offering, including innovation in our water treatment technology, IT services to franchisees, and marketing and brand building. It is this expertise and tools that we will be able to make available to partners in other Western African countries as we roll out our franchise model to new territories.