Water for Life: Doing Well in Haiti
Water for Life Haiti uses its mission-driven business model to dig wells in Haiti, providing access to clean water and a sense of ownership within rural communities.
In November 2015, a team of American architects and students made their second visit to Haiti in support of a local orphanage. As their plane landed, Haitian passengers thanked God for safe travels. They are a religious people, grateful for things the America team takes for granted – such as mechanical pencils and clean water. The team noticed that many businesses were colorfully painted and bore religious names, such as God is Good Dry Cleaners. Approaching one of its most important meetings with Water for Life Haiti (WFL), a Christian nonprofit that digs wells in Haiti, the team was interested in the shared responsibility between WFL and the community.
The Need for Clean Water in Haiti
As of 2013, Haiti has the lowest rates of access to improved water and sanitation infrastructure in the western hemisphere (1). Many organizations threw their hat in the ring to combat water borne diseases, but still such diseases are a leading cause of child mortality with more than 30 people per day infected with cholera (2). The unfortunate irony is that there may be cleaner, underground water a mere 50-150 feet away (3).
WFL Business Model
WFL Haiti was started by an Ohio family in the early 1970s. Their business model is captured in its charitable mission statement: to “[meet] the basic human need of physical water and [equip] the people to provide for themselves” (3). Essentially, WFL uses its status as a Christian non-profit to proselytize and dig wells for rural Haitian communities. They address a clear need for access to clean water, and by choosing a non-profit model that operates off of sponsorships and investments from the target community, WFL Haiti is an example of how a dual business model (social mission and a product/service) and operating model align effectively.
WFL Operating Model
WFL’s partnership model requires the community to have some skin in the game (5, 6). In doing so, WFL captures some of the value from donations and creates some value by ensuring the longevity of their wells. WFL hypothesizes that the number of broken wells in rural Haiti is because the community does not have a sense of ownership over the well (4). As such, WFL put several processes in place to address this and provide ongoing access to the wells they dig. They:
- Receive a completed service request and partnership forms form community. WFL covers 56% of the cost of the well.
- Hold a meeting with community stakeholders (shared partnership model).
- Send a field coordinator and a government inspector out to assess the site. The town mayor must be present. The field coordinator determines the likelihood of finding water. The government inspector checks that the site is not already covered under its jurisdiction (broad community buy-in).
- Plans for the project, schedule the well digging, and source donations (decreased costs for community).
- Drill and test any water found (access to water). Community provides some raw materials.
- Train community on how to use and maintain well (skill building value).
WFL see the community’s time and financial investment as a critical element of WFL’s partnership model. They “do not want to just make the people dependent upon generous ‘gifts’,” but rather they seek to uphold their dignity and empower them with a sense of ownership and skills to maintain the well (3). There is merit in this approach as it ensures that the WFL well – its core business – will be useful and add future value as intended.
In order to capture maximum value from limited donations, WFL waits for additional service requests in a given area and drills multiple wells at a time. This also enables WFL to reach as broad of a group as possible. WFL captures ongoing maintenance value by incentivizing the community to use them for repairs. WFL will repair the well at a cost, and if they fix anything that was previously repaired by another party, the maintenance fees increase.
Regarding WFL’s faith-based mission, they will pray with the community before drilling, and they include a biblical scripture in the above-ground portion of the well. Through these and other evangelistic steps, WFL mirrors the cultural values of the community it serves.
WFL’s “competitors” do not have the equivalent track records. WFL has built more than 1,600 wells across Haiti with a 90-95% success rate. Others successfully built a few wells in specific areas (4, 7, 8). What remains unclear is whether WFL’s pricing is aligned with its business and operating models. As a non-profit, WFL is expected to manage its costs carefully and decrease costs to the community. WFL may be using its success rate and large-scale operations to demand a premium. For example, Haiti Arise solicits donations of $5,000 per well (8). This may be a subsidized price, but the team would have to explore this more.
Regardless, the remainder of WFL’s operating model and processes are aligned with their mission-driven approach to creating and capturing value through well-digging in Haiti.
- Personal Interviews with WFL directors
- WFL Request for Services (provided by WFL directors)
- WFL Partnership contracts (provided by WFL directors)
- Feature photo: http://www.wflhaiti.org/
- YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5YrGoXde6k
- Girls walking: Personal photo.
- Repair: http://www.wflhaiti.org/media/photo-gallery/welding-and-repair.html
Student comments on Water for Life: Doing Well in Haiti
Cool blog on a great organization. Thank you for sharing. Does WFL work in any other geographic region except Haiti?