Water from whisky

South Africa has experienced severe water shortages, with almost 2m people having no access to a reliable water supply between 2011 and 2015. This crisis has partly inspired the launch of I-Drop Water, which is already transforming the way safe drinking water is bought and sold in southern Africa.

Social entrepreneur, James Steere, has created I-Drop Water, 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 installed purification and dispensing units in over 55 locations in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, helping shop owners save almost 995 000l of water and over 1 300kg of plastic waste — an achievement that saw the company announced as the winner of the South African version of Chivas Regal’s The Venture III.

The Venture III is Chivas Regal’s global search to find, mentor and support burgeoning startups that are dedicated to making a difference in their communities. Steere was recently announced as the SA winner of the social entrepreneurship initiative and will travel to Los Angeles later in the year to compete for the global prize.

Says Steere: “Everywhere I have travelled in Africa, there is bottled water for sale in grocery stores at an exorbitant price. And yet, in many of these grocery stores, there is a water supply; what is missing is a way of purifying water on site. This is a widespread issue and 750m people across the globe still do not have access to safe, clean drinking water.”

I-Drop installs purification and dispensing units at the point of sale. Shoppers refill water containers, which means that plastic waste is reduced, and it is very affordable — up to 80% cheaper than bottled water. Meanwhile, the water supply comes at no cost to retailers, and the company splits the revenue with them, which drives economic activity in communities.

“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 extremely proud that our business is born in Africa and has potential to impact millions of people around the world as water shortage is a fast growing global crisis.”