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.