Changing the way safe drinking water is bought, sold in Africa

James Steere (Supplied)
James Steere (Supplied)

Cape Town – South Africa has over the last few years experienced water shortages that led to it not being able to provide reliable water supply to almost 2 million people between 2011 and 2015.

Social Entrepreneurship is largely seen as one of the many ways in which South Africa can overcome the water challenges experienced in the country.

Oxford graduate James Steere has taken it upon himself to come up with an innovative solution to the water crisis currently facing Africa. His company, I-Drop Water is a for-profit social enterprise that designs, builds and installs drinking water purification and dispensing machines in grocery stores at no cost, sharing income generated from water sales with store owners.

I-Drop Water has so far installed purification and dispensing units in over 55 locations in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Ghana and helped shop owners save almost 995 000 litres of water and over 1 300 kilograms of plastic waste associated with traditional bottled-water alternative.

“I sincerely believe in the need for sustainable solutions, and the opportunity exists to create long-term, value-generative solutions through traditional, tested business models and wisdom,” says Steere. “We are trying to create a future where access to clean, safe drinking water is no longer a dream.” he adds.

I-Drop Water was founded in 2015 and the company was announced as the winner of the South African version of Chivas Regal’s The Venture III.

Global search

The Venture III is Chivas Regal’s global search to find, mentor and support burgeoning start-ups that are dedicated to making a difference in their communities. The annual competition sees entrepreneurs compete for a share of $1m in funding for their world changing start-ups.

Steere was recently announced as the South African winner of the social entrepreneurship initiative and he will travel to Los Angeles later in the year to compete for the global prize.  

“This is a competition through which I am representing entrepreneurship in South Africa, so my first objective is to win it for SA. There are so many great businesses coming out of SA and if I can generate just a bit more interest in us as a market for investors, that would be a win by itself,” says Steere.

“We are extremely proud that our business was born in Africa and has the potential to impact millions of people around the world. LA will also be a great opportunity to shine the light on the drinking water challenge that so many people face.”

In preparation for the LA finale trip, Steere and the rest of the winners from around the world travelled to London for Accelerator Week.

“The week at Oxford and London was amazing in so many ways. The main lesson I took away was that there are amazing people doing extraordinary things with businesses all over the world and we in South Africa should stand as equals with them in tackling big global challenges,” says Steere.

Steere and his business partner and wife Kate are passionate about their business and are excited about the opportunity to broaden their reach.

“Winning the Chivas Venture would transform our business. The prize money would allow us to massively grow the number of I-Drop Water units in grocery stores across SA and beyond. This would help us significantly increase the number of people with access to safe, affordable drinking water,” he says.

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