An SGB’s journey to becoming the largest ceramic water filter manufacturer in Africa  

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Spouts of Water Ceramic Water filter with man using to pour a glass of water and a smiling child next to the water filter

Join us over the next few months as we showcase some of the amazing Small and Growing Businesses we are working with through our Take-a-Stake (TAS) initiative, and the huge impact they are having on the WASH and waste sectors.   

Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs) too often fall into the ‘missing middle’ of investments – whereby they are too big for microfinance and yet too small for banks. They, however, have the potential to fill the huge global investment gap which lies in the way of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, leaving millions without access to clean water, safe sanitation and adequate waste services. TAS aims to strengthen the supply side of the WASH and solid waste sectors by providing impact investments to SGBs in developing countries and emerging markets.  

SGBs just like Spouts of Water in Uganda, who from humble roots in a chicken shed, has sustainably grown to become the largest ceramic water filter manufacturer in Africa, providing 1.1 million people with access to clean water. We had the privilege of recently interviewing Spouts CEO, Daniel Yin, who has led the organisation since 2017.

So Daniel, where did it all begin?

Our story started in 2011 when our co-founder Kathy came to Eastern Uganda, stayed with a host family, and saw how families were struggling to access clean drinking water. Over the space of year Kathy came up with a local and sustainable solution; a ceramic water filter. After unsuccessfully convincing other organisations to implement her idea, Kathy moved to Uganda and teamed up with another classmate to put it into action. 

They moved to Koumi, which is where our first factory and residence was – a chicken farm. A 200sqm space with half dedicated to the machines and space to sleep and the other half 200 chickens! We did about three years of research and development and in 2015 sold our first filter. Since then, we have been able to distribute over 215,000 filters reaching over 1.1 million people.  

We manufacture everything locally, 99% is made here in Uganda, because we want to stay as locally relevant as possible and find that locally sustainable solution. 

Why are the products you provide so important? 

The number two cause of death in children under five is dirty drinking water, and in Uganda around 90% of the population are forced to boil water using firewood or biomass to make their water safe. This method is not good for the environment and takes time, but with the water filter, we negate the need for this. It’s cleaner, it’s easier and brings huge health benefits. 

How have you seen Spouts grow?  

When I joined in 2017, we had 30-35 employees, we now have 600 employees across Uganda and Rwanda and make around 10,000 filters a month.  

We are expanding geographically – recently we started a project for 400,000 filters in Rwanda, reaching over 2 million people, basically one in every six Rwandans will be getting clean and safe drinking water through our products by the end of next year – which is huge. We are now looking to expand into other countries in the near future.  

Currently we are also going through a very large expansion on the production side. By early next year we are going to be the largest water filter manufacturer in the world – making 70,000 water filters a month reaching half a million people every single month.  

Daniel, CEO of Spouts of Water, speaking with six of his team members outside their production facility.
What has driven this growth? 

The culture we have created, everyone in our organisation from top to bottom is very impact driven. We have had grants, like TAS and YSB who have been very supportive and then we had an equity investor who has been very impact driven. 

And through organic means, we have grown a lot through the business we have been able to create and soon we are bringing in more equity investors to really help us scale through the whole of Africa. 

How are you ensuring this growth is sustainable?  

We now have the opportunity to gather climate credits through our water filters and are one of the only ones from a water standpoint in Africa who can do that and scale that solution, that’s been a big catalyst for our growth.  

We are also focusing on our commercial arm as we want to build something sustainable, and not just rely on carbon. We have two arms which allow us to maximise our impact; we target rural areas where our business is not commercially viable. Then on the other side we have a commercial arm, where we are selling our products as opposed to giving them at a highly subsided cost or for free.  

We are also partnering with organisations who are impact driven and know the landscape, for example, TAS and YSB. Through these partnerships we are able to access new networks, gain WASH expertise and receive high level guidance on where the market is heading. 

Have you seen any barriers to gaining investment?  

There are not many investors for water companies. The way we have gained support has been from the climate side. It was difficult for us in the past as there are very few water investors.  

But there is now more movement towards investing in water, people are now seeing that it can be done, it can be scaled, it can be sustainable, and as result confidence is growing in investing in this space. 

How important do you think SMEs are in reaching SDG6, clean water for all?  

Their role is huge, they are leading the pack. I have so many examples of large corporations who started water filters in Uganda, in Kenya, in Rwanda, but they have never been sustainable, they go into the market and they leave. It is not because of a lack of resources or distributional network; they have a million times more capital than we do. But, they don’t have the contacts, the experience, the knowledge on the ground, the way that SGBS have. SGBs have the cultural, local context. They are leading the pack with the support of larger partners and organisations.    

And finally, what are you most excited about going forward with Spouts?  

Reaching people who need it, we are one of the very few water solutions, there are billions of people in Africa, so reaching our full potential and reaching these households that need water.  

How can we maximise what we have been able to build, for example, we can have water filters in every household but people need more than just water. Now we have the distribution network set up and we have the data, we can go back and give cook stoves so they have clean air, clean energy and clean water.  

We can now double the financial benefits, double the health benefits, do so much more for that household to bring them out of poverty and build a more sustainable life.  

Spouts of water will be joining us at the upcoming World Water Week in Stockholm to explore further the need to ‘Unlock the financial sustainability of SMEs to achieve SDG6’. Find out more about our events and how you can join us live either in-person, or online.

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