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Emergency Water Fund Wrap Up Part II: The Stories

Throughout the Emergency Water Fund (EWF), we’ve been able to talk to our entrepreneurs and customers to get a better understanding of how they feel about COVID, clean water, and the free water program.

The water entrepreneurs were working really hard throughout this time, treating much more water than they had before (see Part I: The Numbers). We asked them several questions about the EWF and their feedback was really interesting and really helpful for Saha to consider.

First 98% of the entrepreneurs that we surveyed were satisfied with the EWF payments. We told the women that they were allowed to use the money earned for anything they wanted, and they did!  Some examples include:

  • Paying school fees for their children
  • Purchasing plots of land for farming
  • Purchasing seeds to store and sell later
  • Farming rice
  • Expanding stores/growing trading businesses
  • Buying cell phones
  • Planning new businesses
  • Investing in village savings and loan (VSLA) associations

Despite being satisfied with payments, 49% found the EWF “stressful” or “not easy” due to the tremendous increase in clean water demand and workload. This is not surprising, especially given the other responsibilities that the women entrepreneurs have at home, including farming and harvesting shea nuts, cooking, cleaning, and caring for their children. In the future, as we consider potential changes to our model aimed at increasing clean water consumption in Saha villages, it will be really important for Saha to acknowledge the increase in workload to the entrepreneurs and to explore solutions to burnout.

The first few months of the COVID response in Ghana included lockdowns in larger cities and limited public transportation which had economic impacts in Saha communities.  Most communities’ primary economy is farming or fishing, and the people rely on travel to larger market towns to sell their goods and to buy things that aren’t produced in the communities.  While there were no official lockdowns in the north, travel was restricted, and many people didn’t travel outside of their communities due to fear about the virus.  People had challenges both selling their goods and finding everything they would normally buy in market towns.  After the initial few months of this, markets returned to normal, with some changes.  There are “veronica” buckets for handwashing stationed at many places, and you need to wear a face mask to board public transportation.

Entrepreneurs reported that while their long-time customers were fetching water for free, so were many other people who had previously only fetch sporadically or not at all.  That’s exciting to us – we like the idea that the free water might have created new continuing water purchasers by removing the cost barrier to clean water.  When we polled customers about the free water, we heard 100% positive feedback, including:

  • “I was very excited for fetching water at the center for free!”
  • “It actually helped me and my family.”
  • “Very grateful for the free water project.
  • “Saha should keep telling the entrepreneurs to be active in treatment so that people will not miss drinking clean water at the center.”

We asked village “VIPs” – elders, assemblymen, chairmen, volunteers, and chiefs about their perception of the free water program. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, including:

  • “Everyone had the chance of getting clean water available in the community!”
  • “It is very good and wished if could continue, because I’m the community leader I really liked the idea everyone could come for water and it prevents my people from various illness.”
  • “This initiative was the best, even though it wasn’t everyone who fetched, but most of the the community people fetched the free water so it has really helped my community.”

One VIP even told us that he refused to drink dugout water when offered in another community he visited recently! We asked them for advice about what Saha could do now that the EWF had ended, and they told us to keep visiting households, educating the community, and encouraging them to purchase.  Many told us that they want to be included more in that effort going forward, and using their influence to encourage people to drink safe water.

Overall, the response from entrepreneurs, customers, and VIPs was positive – more people were drinking clean water and seeing how it could fit into their lives over the EWF period.  Now the real work for Saha begins: how to keep those new customers, retain the old ones, and keep supporting entrepreneurs and communities with their clean water businesses.

Mma Damu, water entrepreneur in Balamposo (photo credit: David Gutierrez Gomez)

Emergency Water Fund Wrap Up – Part 1: The Numbers

Saha Global’s Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund program. (EWF) ran for 10 months from June 2020 through March 2021.  The program was established to fulfill a government mandate that as part of coronavirus relief, water had to be provided for free for all Ghanaians.  Now that the program is wrapped up, and the team has fully transitioned back to normal operations and can look back and take stock of all the program accomplished.

We ran the EWF program with 226 businesses, and were able to fully fund the program due to a combination of working with generous existing funders and direct fundraising from foundations and individuals, including over 19,750 USD from individual donors on Giving Tuesday 2020.

The EWF focused on enabling women entrepreneurs to give the water for free – by providing the supplies they need for treatment and paying them a wage to replace lost earnings.  We created a bonus structure whereby women could earn an additional 33% on top of the monthly wage if the community reported that water was free and conveniently available all month.

In the 10 months of operation, on average 92.5% of entrepreneurs earned their bonus each month – keeping businesses running throughout the rainy season (roughly mid-June through September), a time when many choose to temporarily close the business due to easy and free rainwater access.  This means that month after month, they continued to treat water and give it away – for free!  When asked, 98% of customers reported free and consistent access to the water.

Water quality remained high throughout the program – 98% of tested polytanks were clean and free from disease-causing E. coli.

When we sum up all the chlorine Aquatabs that were used over the program, women entrepreneurs treated more than 10 million liters of water – a massive increase over previous years.

In addition to treating and giving away clean water, the EWF program also focused on education around mask wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing.  We posted large infographic posters at the water centers and smaller ones on household safe storage containers – over 14,000 pieces of educational material in all.  In staff observations, 94% of the time we saw social distancing protocols followed at the business.  We distributed over 3,000 reusable cloth masks to over 600 women entrepreneurs so they could stay safe while serving their communities – and 95% of the time our staff arrived at the business, they saw the women wearing them.

Overall, we are thrilled with the results of the EWF program. We are proud we could support the government’s goal of providing both health benefits and economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We also learned a lot about the barriers and motivations people have for drinking clean water!  There’s a lot more we will learn as the businesses transition back to self-sustaining enterprises.  For now, we are focusing on opening new businesses again, and working with our existing businesses to keep the momentum from the EWF program going.

In our next post, we will share some of the anecdotes and stories from the field throughout the EWF. Stay tuned!

 

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

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.

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 or face respirators 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.