Social entrepreneur and water scientist, Murendeni Mafumo created Kusini Water, an innovative mobile, solar-powered water purification system that provides safe drinking water, he is now working towards building a network of locally-owned franchise water businesses to roll out the technology to rural parts of South Africa in dire need of clean water.
“We are working towards having 30 outlets by the end of 2019,” says Mafumo. Each franchise unit comes with the container unit, water filters and tanks, “everything they need to purify and distribute the water.”
The filtered water is then distributed to the community in re-fillable bottles. “Customers pay a bottle deposit and then exchange an empty bottle for a new, full bottle, similar to how propane gas tanks or glass Coke bottles are exchanged,” they explain on their website.
The first Kusini Water system was launched in Shayandima, Limpopo a year ago.
Mafumo says, “We have seen growth averaging 8% month on month even though the location is not in a high-density place. We are in the process of measuring our impact, but we currently serve 1 000 people weekly.”
Kusini Water’s system uses locally sourced macadamia nut shells and an off-grid power system to treat water from any source (including rain and ground water), removing 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses.
It can produce 40 times more water than reverse osmosis, the current best practice, and uses about half the energy.
Kusini Water is using a social franchise model, a concept similiar to commercial franchising, but with a community focus rather than just profit. The model emphasises community ownership as a driver for success.
Their first franchise partner is a black- and women-owned company, Azine, located in Mpumalanga. The mobile container launches at the end of September, and will supply water for the community of Extension 10 in Emalahleni West.
Because of their social mission, they want to make it easier for franchisees to buy a unit.
“We know it’s difficult for people to get funding for a franchise,” says Mafumo, so Kusini Water is sharing the initial cost of each franchise branch, franchisees will have five years to pay off the balance.
Following the launch, they plan to roll out one franchise every month for the next two years, which includes two new outlets in Limpopo in November and December, in the Vhembe region.
A Community Contribution
The bulk of the funding for the project comes from the Innovation Hub. Mafumo joined its incubator programme in November 2016. The hub is assisting with development and equipment costs.
Resolution Circle, the UJ initiative has come on board and has provided engineers for the project.
Red Bull Amphiko Academy is also helping the startup with their marketing needs including promotional materials and printing costs. Mafumo is one of 16 of social entrepreneurs who participated in the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, a programme designed to support grassroots social entrepreneurs who are making a positive difference in their communities.
In May Mafumo, took part in a 10-day residential programme during which he and the other participants received mentorship, inspiration and practical skills training from top local and international figures.
“I learnt a lot about the importance of storytelling and the power of the community. We’re working on creating a narrative that will help us make a genuine contribution to our community.”