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Cases Publications

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.


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