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Clean Water, Fueled by Sustainable Shea

Last year, we were excited to include a new corporate partner in our clean water mission.  AAK, headquartered in Malmö, Sweden, is a multinational company specializing in plant-based oils and one of the largest shea buyers in West Africa.  Shea harvesting is a major industry in northern Ghana, and approximately four million women across West Africa participate in the shea industry.  As you can imagine, this includes many of the women we work with in Saha partner communities.

In addition to purchasing shea through the traditional supply chain, AAK is continuously expanding its Kolo Nafaso program, sourcing shea directly from the women who harvest it. The set-up within Kolo Nafaso includes innovative pre-financing, best practices and finance training programs. According to AAK’s latest report, the company currently works directly with 321,443 women across West Africa.  AAK is committed to sustainable sourcing of shea and improving women’s livelihoods in the same rural communities in which Saha works.

Initially, AAK supported the Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund, helping Saha fulfil the government free water mandate. When the free water mandate ended, we moved quickly to open our first AAK-sponsored water business in Bachado this April.  Implementation officers Basha and Charity worked to set up this business with entrepreneurs Gmayenan, Poalati, and Tiboryan.  Bachado, a community of approximately 270 people, previously had no source of clean water. We were told that other organizations had attempted to drill boreholes in the past but that they were unable to find viable groundwater.  The new Saha water business enables the women entrepreneurs to treat the surface water from their nearby river into good, healthy drinking water.  Opening day was an exciting affair, with 100% of the households coming out to purchase clean water!

One of the things we appreciate about working with AAK is that, like us, they have a long-term plan for working in rural northern Ghana.  Laura Schlebes, AAK Sustainable Multi-Oil Manager, says it best:

“A partnership with Saha Global is a perfect match for AAK on our journey of improving livelihoods and empowering women through our Kolo Nafaso program. Saha Global’s simple and cost-effective technologies, long-term partnership approach, and focus on business-based solutions fit perfectly with our preferred way of working. We are excited to have partnered with Saha and are looking forward to connecting them to more women’s groups that we work with.”

Photos from Opening Day in Bachado:

 

Opening New Water Businesses in 2021

We’re back! Since the first Saha business opened in 2008, we’ve never taken a full year away from implementing new water businesses. When the pandemic hit Ghana, we took a pause in our field operations, and then pivoted nearly the whole team to implementing the Emergency Water Fund (EWF) so we could support the Government of Ghana’s initiative to bring free water to all.

The free water mandate ended on March 31 2021, and we were ready to be “back in business” opening new businesses!  Throughout the EWF program, our expansion team continued to work behind the scenes to scout new potential communities to work in.  Over this time, our scouters visited more than 1,400 communities across northern Ghana, mapping their water access.  The admin and procurement team secured all the supplies and parts our new businesses need, and planned out logistics like team transportation and housing. Thanks to all of this preparation, as soon as we could start visiting new communities, we did!

We’re doing things a little bit differently now, with a smaller team.  In order to keep our communities and our staff safe as the threat of COVID remains, we’ve developed new protocols for community meetings and household visits.  We make sure to have two team members present for a community meeting so they can do some “crowd control” and make sure the meeting doesn’t exceed the government limit for gatherings, and distribute masks to everyone who attends.  We’ve actually found gathering people for community meetings is a little bit easier now – people like getting a free mask!

We give the elected entrepreneurs reusable cloth masks to wear while training with our team and to continue using while they serve water to their community after the business has opened.  When we visit households to distribute safe storage containers and tell customers about the new business, we make sure not to enter people’s room and keep the conversations outside in the open-air courtyards.

Amin Bangaham distributing safe storage containers in March 2021

Like any big process change, we needed to test these out first.  Our two implementation team supervisors, Nestor Danaa and Amin Bangaham Mohammed, implemented the first two communities of 2021 in Savelugu District.  Thanks to their testing and feedback, we refined our safety plans and were able to train the rest of the team.  Now, we’ve already opened 10 new businesses, on track to hit our goal of 50 for 2021.

It’s energizing to be back in the field meeting new people and bringing water access to new places.  One leader in a new Saha community near Salaga told our team, “We’ve been waiting for you!”

Opening Day in Bachado
Charity distributes safe storage containers in a household in East Gonja
Implementor Aisha poses on opening day with community elders in Makango Enuyasu

World Water Day 2021

World Water Day has always been a day of celebration for Saha.  Back in 2010, we celebrated the opening of our fifth water business. Ever since, we’ve hosted gatherings with our staff and women entrepreneurs at our office.

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!

World Water Day 2018
World Water Day 2015
World Water Day 2013
World Water Day 2010 – Opening Day in Gbung, Business #5

Meet Mr. Muda and His Family

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.

The Muda family at their home in 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.

 

 

Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund Extended for 3 Months

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.

10 years with Saha Global: Reflections from Wahab

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.”

   

Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund Extended Through Dec 31st

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.

 

 

Staying Safe from Coronavirus While Delivering Clean Water

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.

Announcing: The Emergency Coronavirus Fund

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.

Baramini in Gidanturu – a Saha entrepreneur for 10 years, proudly serving free clean water for her community.

Saha Global’s Response to COVID-19

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.

Saha’s office hand-washing station, with instructions on our demonstration water treatment center.

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.

Hand-washing at home, thanks to a Saha safe storage container

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.

Team meetings look a little different than they used to! Now the whole team is working from home.

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.