So You Want to be a Social Entrepreneur: Starting Out, Scaling Up, Staying Committed

Case Abstract

The global water crisis is a silent crisis. It does not attract the same level of attention as airline accidents or plummeting economic statistics, yet its toll is far more staggering: more than 3 billion illnesses and 2 million deaths result from drinking contaminated water each year. These casualties take place almost exclusively in the developing world and the rural poor bear the brunt of the burden. Hippo Water International (HWI) is U.S.-based nonprofit organization that aims to improve access to water by implementing sustainable solutions to the global water crisis. HWI’s flagship product is the Water Roller, an innovative water transportation tool that carries water inside its “wheel,” transforming 200 pounds (90 kg) of water to an effective weight of just 22 pounds (10 kg). The Water Roller makes it possible to collect 24 gallons (90 liters) of water- five times the amount possible using traditional methods – in less time and much more easily.

The Water Roller was invented in 1991, and over the course of the next 15 years, approximately 30,000 Water Rollers were distributed, almost exclusively in a few South African provinces. HWI’s director, Cynthia Koenig, founded the organisation with the intention of assisting the manufacturer / distributer of the Water Roller bring the product to new international markets. But what began as a project to occupy her spare time as she searched for full-time employment soon took centre stage, with Cynthia taking on responsibility for marketing, fundraising, product redesign, and day-to-day operations. Different business philosophies and goals ultimately led Cynthia and HWI to break their ties with the South African manufacturer and strike out on their own with the redesigned Water Roller. In the process, Cynthia has experienced the professional and personal challenges and rewards of starting and operating a social enterprise.

Authors: Michael Gordon
Institution: Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, USA
Competition Year2010
Place1st place
TrackSocial Entrepreneurship
Key WordsSocial enterprise, Social entrepreneur, Nonprofit organisation, Growth strategy, Water crisis, Contaminated water, Water Roller, Developing countries, Sustainable solutions
CoursesSocial Enterprise, Social Entrepreneurship, Base of the Pyramid Business
Target Audience MBA, BBA
Permission RightsThis case is part of the oikos free case collection. Download a free online copy below. If you are a faculty member and you are interested in teaching this case, you can request a free teaching note by sending us an email to

This case is also part of the new oikos Case Collection book (Volume 2): Case Studies in Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability published by Greenleaf.
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posted June 30, 2010

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