Africa is replete with individuals who are solving great problems through their businesses. From Iyinoluwa Aboyeji in the West to Nthabiseng Mosia down south, there are numerous examples that epitomize the drive for excellence across the continent. Business is about solving problems while making money. In this edition of Entrepreneur Spotlight, we talk about a woman who has managed to do both excellently well. Today, we will talk about Christelle Kwizera and her drive to solve Africa’s water problem.
Who is Christelle Kwizera?
Christelle Kwizera is a 27-year-old Rwandan mechanical engineer and social entrepreneur. She had her secondary education at Kigali International Community School from 2009 to 2011. She then proceeded to Oklahoma Christian University, where she got a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
At just 20, while still at university, she founded Water Access Rwanda, an award-winning innovative social enterprise that offers tailor-made solutions to the problem of poor water collection, distribution, and purification.
In 2014, Christelle served as the CFO of Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs of Rwanda, a platform for youth innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship that seeks to inspire and motivate young people. The same year, she became a MILEAD fellow and served as Chief Creative Officer of Isaro Foundation, a thriving non-profit that promotes the culture of reading and writing in Rwanda. Christelle also won the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award this March in Paris by INCO with support from the Chanel Foundation.
Turning Water Crisis into a Million-Dollar Solution
According to the United Nations, over 320 million Africans lack access to potable water. All through her life, Christelle Kwizera made it her life’s mission to bring potable water to Rwandan communities at affordable rates. In realizing this lifelong dream, she founded Water Access Rwanda, which is on its way to becoming a unicorn. Speaking to Founders Africa on her vision, she said,
“I am always inspired to action by the fact that access to reliable safe water is still a huge issue for many and that there is a lot of inadequate or unsustainable solutions being poured into this sector. We believe access to water is a human right, and that the private sector can have a great impact in this sector by shifting the mentality from being input-focused to output-focused. I was outraged as a young student to see that some methods were so over-designed they were pushing prices up across the sector and not making water something that can be affordable without government subsidy.”
Since setting up in 2014, the startup has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, including a Series C seed fund by the Jack Ma Foundation.
Taking Over Africa’s Water Supply Sector
It is often said that where the government has failed, it is the responsibility of individuals to rise up to the challenges of the people. Needless to say, Water Access Rwanda has been an outstanding success in this regard. Since 2014, the enterprise has built a formidable network of 95 boreholes and purified clean water microgrids.
Through this network, the startup has provided access to safe water to over 132,000 Rwandan, DRC, and Burundian households. In 2020, the company expanded its services to include irrigation services to farms, schools, and businesses.
Due to the expansion drive of the company, it is expected that the startup will provide water supply to over 300,000 customers by 2023. Christelle Kwizera is eyeing expansion throughout Africa. According to her,
“I want us to go to a new market with INUMA. That is short-term. The long-term plan is for WARwanda to have become a star, still mainly youth-composed company, with decentralized water infrastructure assets across Africa that will have completely eliminated the water crisis and pushed it out of rural Africa’s reality.”
The rough climb to the top
The road to a 100,000+ customer base has not been easy for WARwanda. In past interviews, Christelle Kwizera admitted that Rwandans were not welcoming initially, partly due to poverty. With every completed project, they built trust. Eventually, more Rwandans and firms were willing to use WARwanda. In addition, Christelle also admits to the problem of low managerial know-how at the onset. She said,
“If I knew how much managing a company is about managing people and how underprepared I would be for those initial shocks, I would have quit early on. But I learned many great lessons in leadership and one of them is that you won’t have answers and that in some situations you just close your eyes and pray to God for the serenity to accept whatever challenges you are facing.”
5 Business Lessons from Christelle Kwizera
#1. Your passion is a gateway to limitless opportunities
Christelle Kwizera always expresses how passionate she is about providing access to potable water to Africans. Right from her secondary school days, she followed her passion through to see it become a reality. The result, a fast-growing African company that is on its way to becoming a unicorn. She is now employing hundreds of Africans and providing water to thousands of homes.
#2. You are not too young to start
Christelle Kwizera started out at the tender age of 20 setting out to better the lives of many Africans. For many African youths today, there is an unwillingness to get started on their goals until they ‘come of age’. Christelle debunks this. She believes—as every African should—that no one is too young to get started with their world-changing ideas.
#3. Always reward investors’ confidence in you
The lifeblood of WARwanda has been seed funds from investors both within Africa and outside. Since 2017, WARwanda has received grants to the tune of millions of dollars, with the latest being a Series C Siemens investment and a Jack Ma Foundation $100,000 grant. Undoubtedly, every business owner must strive to keep investor confidence high.
#4. Challenges are only a stepping stone
Like every business owner out there, Christelle Kwizera experienced her fair share of challenges. Penetrating the Rwandan market, navigating a difficult business environment at 20, and building up from there all proved challenging. However, she stuck to her idea and vision. Thankfully, it paid off.
#5. The next million-dollar African business is around you
Christelle Kwizera understood the prevailing conditions around her in Rwanda and she was vocal about them. In addition to being vocal, she realized that she could creatively look around her and generate a solution. In other words, quit complaining about that problem around you. Instead, look for a way to solve that problem and watch your fortune grow.
African women face serious challenges and a high barrier of entry into Africa’s leadership spaces. Nevertheless, Christelle Kwizera is blazing the trail. We know this is just the starting point for her. Hopefully, her story would motivate other young African women to rise above the limitations set in front of them by societal standards. What is limiting you from chasing your dream? Share your concerns in the comment box below.