The last time we had one of these celebrations was two years ago. Our 2020 plans were finalized and ready to go but sadly cut off by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, our work remains social distanced to keep every one as safe as possible. Despite missing the party, we are all hard at work today to keep delivering clean water to the people who need it the most.
The Emergency Water Fund is coming to an end this month, so after 9 months of free water, our field staff and entrepreneurs are working together to get their communities ready to begin paying for water again. User fees are an important part of a sustainable clean water economy for all water enterprises, not just Saha businesses. It’s also dry season here in northern Ghana, so many dugouts and streams are beginning to dry, so many businesses will be on hold waiting until the rains start again in June or July. As the EWF winds down, our expansion plans are ramping up. With a small team we are ready to start opening new businesses in new villages. As we know, COVID-19 doesn’t lessen the need for clean water – it only highlights how crucial water is for health. With our COVID safety protocols, we are confident that we can open new businesses while keeping our staff and community partners safe. Luckily for us, almost all our work takes place outdoors!
Until next year, when we hope we can celebrate World Water Day properly, enjoy some images from previous parties!
For a year now at Saha, we’ve been using remote calling to water business entrepreneurs and customers to enable Saha to keep in touch while avoid direct contact due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This technique gives Saha opportunity to listen to success stories, learn about problems that need immediate attention and continue education on COVID-19. During a routine phone call, field officer Amin Bangaham learned that Mr. Muda has been an active customer and strong advocate for the Saha water business in his community of Zowu.
Entrepreneurs in Zowu (most closely pronounced “Zoh”), in Central Gonja, opened their water business in 2018. Since day one, Mr. Muda was glad to have an option other than the dugout water for his family to drink. He lives with with wife and children as well as his elderly father. His wife, Mrs. Muda, refills the family’s safe storage containers whenever they are empty. Mr. Muda said that at first, the children and his wife were reluctant to drink the new water, but over time they’ve come to enjoy it even more than he does! He told Bangaham that they used to go to the community health center every month to get drugs due to someone in his household experiencing diarrhea, but since they’ve been drinking the clean water from the Saha business, it has been almost an entire year since he’s had to visit the hospital. He attributes this change to the drinking water, since he learned in the very first community meeting before the business opened that drinking the dugout water causes diarrhea.
Mr. Muda is the head of one of 62 households in his community, and Zowu is one of 246 Saha water businesses. Saha water businesses are impacting over 100,000 people just like Mr. Muda every day.
Saha Global announces it will extend its Emergency Water Fund program in response to President Nana Akufo-Addo’s January 3, 2021 proclamation that free water be extended for “lifeline customers.” These customers consume less than 5 cubic liters each month, so all communities served by Saha community water business qualify for the initiative. This extension of the free water program directly responds to the government’s efforts to support the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The original Emergency Water Fund, which was originally set to expire at the end of 2020, supported clean water businesses active in 225 rural communities in Northern and Savannah Regions of Ghana. In a statement from Tamale, Director of Ghana Operations Theo Boateng says, “as an organization, we are glad we are able to continue supporting our community partners and the Government of Ghana so we can all make it through this pandemic together.”
Clean water is a basic human right, necessary for health. Saha works in small rural communities that do not have pipe systems or other options for clean water. Since 2008, Saha has trained over 700 women entrepreneurs to treat their surface water to make it safe to drink. After businesses open, Saha continues to provide business training and support for at least 10 years.
When work anniversaries happen, it’s nice to take a step back and reflect on the years gone by. For Wahab, 2020 marks ten years working with Saha. What follows is a condensed summary of a conversation between Operations Manager, Rhiana Meade, and Front-Line Supervisor, Wahab Lawal.
Wahab’s first memory of joining Saha is that he actually missed his first meeting! He was supposed to meet Kate in the afternoon one day, but had to attend a funeral with his mother in a village near Kumbungu. He remembers the next day, Kate and Peter drove by in the Saha truck to where he was selling phone credits and invited him to the field the following morning at 5:30 AM. Wahab remembers Kate, Peter, Shak, and TJ all went together to Nyanguripe, and he learned about what Saha did by listening to Peter lead the community meeting. After that, Wahab worked with Kate and TJ to implement the business. Then, Kate went back to the U.S., and Wahab and Peter implemented a new business in Mile 40.
At the time, there were only 5 Saha villages, but he vividly remembers visiting Wambong to learn about how the system worked for the first time. He recalls, “I was so impressed, and learning about the solution gave me motivation. Before I joined Saha, I always wanted to help my people, but I didn’t know how. Some people are teachers, some are policemen, some are soldiers – all do their work to help the nation. We have a water problem – it’s one of the biggest challenges we have. When I saw the clean water business, my feelings were such such deep love, I saw the work was so good and it would change a lot of lives.” Wahab has a personal connection to the clean water problem: his mother suffered from guinea worm multiple times when he was a child, and he remembers having to help care for her during those times.
The Global Leadership Program (GLP) arrived in January 2011, and Wahab implemented with his first of many teams of field representatives in Chani. To this day, he says, “Whenever I visit there, there is still energy in that community. I implemented both solar and water there, so to me it is my own community. My own home village.”
Working with the Saha has also given Wahab opportunities to travel beyond just villages for work. Some of his favorite memories are accompanying visiting field reps to tourist sites like Mole National Park and Kintampo Falls. When Saha won a UNDP grant, Wahab went to Accra with Morganne to receive the award. One of the most exciting trips was to TedXAccra, when the whole team traveled to Accra to support Kate as she spoke.
Much has changed at Saha in 10 years. First and foremost, the name! When Wahab started, it was “Community Water Solutions.” The name Saha means a lot of things in Dagbanli – time, luck, opportunity. He says, “the name has potential – it is a spiritual name. It’s a powerful name.” Whenever he meets new hires at Saha who have anxiety about their future prospects, he reassures them, don’t worry – Saha is a place where your luck, your opportunity can take you far.
Back in 2010, there were just 4, then 5 employees: now, he can’t even count how many work at Saha! He’s seen a lot of organizations and projects come and go in Tamale, but none that look like Saha. “Saha is there to change our lives – my life, the people’s lives. Anyone who works with Saha: their life is changed.”
So what’s still the same, all these years later? “We change things easily – we try new things, if it doesn’t work, then we change again. Saha changes a lot, we are flexible! We like trying new things and new skills. But the bad roads never change! We will always be riding our bikes on those bad roads every day!”
Finally, reflecting on ten years with Saha, Wahab says, “We thank God coming from where we started to here. The organization has not left me behind. I’m a supervisor, I’m part of the management team. When I look at that, I know I accomplished something real.”
Back in July, we announced the Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund, extending the government of Ghana’s free water initiative to all Saha communities. At the end of September, the Ghanaian government announced that they are extending their free water initiative through the end of the year. With that extension comes the expectation that all Community Service Organizations, including Safe Water Enterprises like Saha Global, provide free water as well. While there was no official indication at the time that this extension was going to be announced, Saha was prepared for this possibility which is why our Board of Directors had voted to extend the EWF through Dec. 31st back in July. It felt good to be prepared when the official announcement was made!
We are extremely proud of how the Emergency Water Fund has included our community partners in this important, life-saving initiative during a pandemic. Saha is dedicated to working in the hardest to reach places, and leaving no one behind. Over the past few months, we’ve seen great enthusiasm from our women entrepreneurs and community partners. We’re seeing more clean water than every before being consumed in our communities. Our team has risen to this new challenge, delivering supplies and customer service throughout a difficult rainy season. We’re grateful to our funding partners, who understand that this year is different than any other for Saha, and for the world.
When COVID-19 was first confirmed in Ghana this March, we knew we needed a good plan to change our operations, keep the team safe, and fulfill our mission. During those first few weeks, we developed our remote customer calling and other remote work structures. We’ve since developed safety protocols such that we feel confident to have our team in the field, doing what we do best – getting clean water to people who need it!
COVID-19 safety measures changed several things: day-to-day operations for our Saha teammates, things we ask of our entrepreneurs and businesses, and changes to how we operate in the communities. Managers and other office-based staff who can work from home are encouraged to as much as possible, and have extra data packages so they can get their work done without the office internet. In the office, you wash your hands outside before entering, and must wear a face mask at all times. We miss all the handshakes, hugs, and high-fives, but we know if we stay safe, we’ll be able to enjoy those expressions of friendship and camaraderie again!
In the field, front-line teammates wear masks and gloves, and carry hand sanitizer with them. Each teammate has either several cloth, washable masks, or is supplied with disposable ones depending upon their preference. After all, the best mask is the one you wear!
When we are in the field, we’ve changed how we communicate to stay outdoors and avoid entering the interior of any structure. If we need to do a small group meeting, like with some village VIPs and the entrepreneurs, we do them outside, safely distanced, under a tree. Community meetings and household visits, always a great way to spread information, are also on hold for now as we avoid large gatherings or going door to door and being in contact with lots of people. The great thing is that because everyone knows about COVID-19, it’s easy to explain why we’ve changed our procedures. It’s gratifying to know that the people in the villages understand we are doing these things in order to keep them safe! At first, it was awkward to not shake hands and wear masks while talking, or to ask to meet the elders outside rather than in the chief palace. But as the pandemic continues, more and more we hear from our partners that they are happy we are trying our best to protect their health.
Our entrepreneurs have also changed the way they run their business, beyond the free water. They all wear face masks while selling water – in fact, our front-line team reports that when they show up in a community and sales are happening, 100% of the time, the entrepreneurs have their masks! To date, we’ve distributed over 600 masks – 1 for each entrepreneur, and starting this month we will be distributing enough so that each entrepreneur has 5 so she can wash them between uses. They are also enforcing social distancing at their businesses during sales. It’s so hard to remember to do, so we are really proud that 96% of the time, we can observe social distancing during sales! For those familiar with our usual opening day photos with plenty of crowded people and buckets, this is a huge change.
With safety as the first priority, we adapt to each new piece of information as the world learns more about COVID. The protocols we have make us feel confident that we are protecting our team and our partners.
The coronavirus pandemic has continued to affect everyone’s life all across the globe. Here at Saha, we are pleased to announce a new effort to help promote hygiene and clean water consumption in the fight against this virus.
Saha’s Board of Directors approved an exciting new initiative in our COVID-19 response. In alignment with the Ghanaian government’s efforts to provide free water access for as many Ghanaians as possible for 3 months, Saha created Coronavirus Emergency Water Funds for each of our partner communities. These funds will allow all people living in Saha partner communities to access free water from their Saha business for the months of June, July and August. While this is different than our typical social enterprise model, this emergency effort strongly aligns with our organization’s mission as well as the overall goals of our COVID-19 response. Our leadership team has done extensive risk analysis and mitigation planning and we feel confident that this short term, emergency relief effort, will not have a negative impact on our entrepreneurs’ ability to charge for water in the long-run. Instead, we believe this initiative will contribute to a positive relationship with both the government and our community partners while also providing Saha with a lot of opportunities to learn about demand, price and business logistics.
We are dedicated to our mission – getting the cleanest water to the people who need it most, now more than ever. We’re grateful to have this story covered by several Ghanaian news sources, including Citi Newsroom, story linked here.
The response from our partner communities has been overwhelmingly positive. We are so proud at Saha that we keep showing up, month after month, year after year, even during a crisis, for nearly 100,000 people. Stories from the field to come over the next days and weeks.
We wanted to take a moment to update our supporters on how Saha is responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ghana announced the first two confirmed COVID-19 cases in country on March 12th. Like everywhere, the situation is changing daily as the case number grows.
The goals of Saha’s COVID-19 response are the health of our staff and partner communities, communicating accurate information, and following the instructions of public health officials. With those three goals in mind, we have decided to pause any new water business implementations while we wait to see how the situation in Ghana progresses. Instead, we are going to focus our efforts on making sure that our 247 current partner communities have the water treatment supplies that they need to keep their water businesses running smoothly. We are also reaching out to our government partners to see if and how Saha can help spread accurate information about COVID-19, hand washing and/or other important messages since we have such strong relationships with so many remote, rural villages and the staff/transport required to reach those communities quickly.
As soon as the first cases were announced in Ghana, our entire staff, in small groups, went through training on COVID-19 and how to protect yourselves via frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and staying home when sick. We set up a hand-washing station at the office and mandated anyone who entered the compound had to wash their hands. Despite the reduction in field work, we are committed to continuing to pay our staff through the duration of their contracts, and have been using this time to develop and test new ways for our team members to support our entrepreneurs remotely. We are also continuing to provide health insurance benefits as well as a new unlimited sick-leave policy. We also gave one safe storage container to each team member so they can set up their own hand-washing station at home to keep their families safe.
In the last two weeks, we have transitioned to work-from-home for our whole team. Our field team has been working hard together on establishing phone contacts for all 247 villages. This sounds simpler than it is! We work in the most remote, rural places in northern Ghana, where few people have cells phones, there is no electricity to charge that phone, and network connections are poor. Our team has gotten creative – using the numbers of motoking and market truck drivers, or contacts from nearby villages to reach our entrepreneurs. To date we have successfully been able to contact 80% of our villages through these methods. This work is ongoing but we are confident that our innovative, hardworking team will find a way to remotely reach all of our village partners. We are also developing new protocols that minimize contact and support proper social distancing recommendations for when our entrepreneurs need our support in securing more water treatment supplies or fixing a technical problem.
So much is different for Saha (and all of us) compared to just a few weeks ago. One thing that hasn’t changed is that clean water is essential for health. In our 247 partner communities, the Saha water business is the only source of clean water for the residents there. These businesses are currently serving a total of 110,000 people. Saha is in it for the long haul with our partner communities, and we will continue to support them in delivering clean water no matter the circumstances. We thank you for your continuing support as we fulfill our mission to bring the cleanest water to the people who need it most.
Almost 10 years ago, in June of 2010, Saha (then called Community Water Solutions) hosted 5 volunteers in Ghana as a part of our newly launched Global Leadership Program (then called the CWS Fellowship Program). At that time, Saha was a small, new non-profit. We had 5 water businesses up and running and were excited about the results we were seeing in our partner villages. We knew that our idea for low-tech, locally owned water businesses had the potential to have a major impact on the water crisis, especially in the small “last-mile” communities that were often left out of typical water solutions. But, we were struggling to grow. There were hundreds of villages in northern Ghana without safe drinking water that could benefit from a Saha water business, but we lacked the man-power and the funding to reach them.
That all changed when Ben, Molly, Sarah, Amaia and James arrived in Tamale. Before coming to Ghana, these 5 volunteers raised enough money to launch and monitor a water business in the village of Wambong. They then travelled to Ghana for 3 weeks and worked alongside Saha to train Abiba and Monera, two women from Wambong, how to treat water from the contaminated village water source, make it safe to drink, and then set up a business selling this water to their community. After the 3 weeks, Ben, Molly, Sarah, Amaia, and James returned to the US. Abiba and Monera continued to run the water business (Abiba is still in charge today!), and Saha continued to monitor the business. The Saha Global Leadership Program was born!
To date, we have hosted 517 Field Reps in Ghana who have helped Saha launch 114 clean water businesses and 24 solar businesses in 114 rural villages throughout the Northern Region of Ghana. These businesses provide safe drinking water to 49,300 people while the solar businesses provided access to electricity to 8,700 people. Almost 300 women from rural Ghana run these businesses, who are able to earn income for their families while providing life-saving access to water to their communities.
Over the past 10 years we’ve joined our Field Reps on 28 20+ hour bus rides. We’ve laughed through icebreakers, celebrated Fire Festivals and Damba Festivals. We’ve endured countless taxi breakdowns. We watched hundreds of sunrises and sunsets, celebrated 138 opening days, talked for hours during debriefs, and so much more. We met so many interesting people, who have continued to support Saha for years after their time in Ghana. Hosting this program every summer and winter was such a joy and we are so thankful to each and everyone of the 517 people choose to volunteer their time, talents and skills to help Saha grow.
Since that first program in June 2010, Saha has evolved tremendously. We now have 210 water businesses serving safe drinking water to almost 100,000 people. Thanks to the generous support of our foundation partners as well as many donors from around the world, we’ve been able to grow our Ghanaian staff and now provide jobs at Saha to over 50 people from northern Ghana. Our team is able to open new businesses throughout the dry season, instead of just during the months when we host Field Reps. This allowed us to open 70 new water businesses in 2019 – almost tripling our 2018 impact.
Saha has always been and will continue to be focused on serving remote, rural villages. The Global Leadership Program worked because there were so many rural villages without water access within a 2-hour radius of Tamale (the capital of the Northern Region where we could safely host our volunteer Field Reps). This is no longer the case. Saha has officially reached all of the rural villages that are a good fit for our solution within that 2-hr radius of Tamale. While we tried many times to host Field Reps in the smaller city of Salaga, we have found that it is not possible for Saha to safely run the program outside of Tamale. This means, that starting in 2020, Saha will no longer be running the Global Leadership Program.
Ending the GLP is bittersweet. We are so, so grateful for the support that our Field Reps have provided over the past 10 years. There is no question that Saha would not be where we are today without this program. Over the past decade we grew from a MIT student-project spin off to a thriving non-profit impacting almost 100,000 people with plans to reach 800,000 by 2023. We met some incredible people through this program. In fact, every American that has ever worked for Saha, besides Kate (our co-founder) started as a Field Rep! This program was incredibly impactful, and it was SO FUN!
At the same time, we are really proud of that fact that 58 of our 61 current staff members are Ghanaian and almost all of them are from the region that we serve. By making the transition to an all-Ghanaian implementation team, we are able to take advantage of the entire dry season, opening new businesses 8 months out of the year instead of just 2. We know this is the right next step on our path to achieving 100% water coverage in Northern Region Ghana.
To all of our Field Rep alums – THANK YOU. Thank you for your support, not just in Ghana when you were a Field Rep, but also after you came home. You’ve fundraised, shared stories and photos, advocated for our work, and so much more. We are so lucky to have you all in the Saha family, forever! In closing, we thought we’d share some of our favorite photos from the GLP.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been just two days since we said goodbye to the 2019 Summer Field Reps. Thanks to this awesome group students and young professionals, Saha was able to partner with with 5 more communities in Northern Ghana to open new water treatment businesses. Because of them, 1,221 people now have the ability to drink clean water each day. 17 women entrepreneurs are able to provide potable water to their friends, family and neighbors through community-supported small businesses. And Saha is able to welcome 20 new faces to our global Saha family!
Can you believe it? We sweated through taxi breakdowns and laughed through broken stand disasters. We rolled alum balls on the porch and rolled with the punches more generally. We navigated the market and the ins and outs of a new-to-us culture. Most importantly, we found joy and success in the surprise of the unanticipated. Though not every moment was easy, all the (literal) blood, sweat and tears certainly paid off.
It was such a pleasure to work with all of y’all, and we consider ourselves lucky to count you as part of Sahayili! As you head off to your next adventures, please don’t forget