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Cynthia Koenig: Founder of Wello

Cynthia founded Wello with one idea in mind: providing clean water to as many people as possible. Wello Water’s innovative WaterWheel design is affordable, hygienic, and effective in making clean water access a reality for people around the world. Cynthia’s favorite part of her job is being able to return to the communities she worked with in the early days to see the fruits of her labor in action.

How do your products aid in the clean water crisis?

From Wello’s perspective, we look at the water crisis as multidimensional. There is the issue of having access to clean water, and the issue of having any water at all. Some people have water coming out of their faucet that isn’t safe, and some people have to walk long distances to get water that may be safe, may be contaminated, and may not be there at all. There is a time burden, a health burden, and a physical burden associated with water access. Women and girls are often the primary water collectors for their families, and they can spend hours each day getting water. When that time is free, they can be more productive with their time and it benefits the whole family. Girls can go to school and contribute economically, which leads to healthier families. When people have access to water, they are also saving time and get positive health impacts. The goal was to create a product that people really need and can use in their daily lives, and we did just that.

Can you tell us about how you design the products?

I initially started with a question: how can I make safe water more available to people who need it? Although I had a lot of ideas, none were a perfect solution. With a limited amount of funding, I lived in rural India for a year to test different concepts with local communities, like flexible tubing and water balloons. I invited women, girls, and anyone who was interested in the design process to participate in the creation of the product. We landed on a design that is appropriate for the rough terrain and benefits the people using it, which ended up being Wello’s WaterWheel. The WaterWheel allowed for men to step up as water collectors which lifted some of the time burden off of women and girls. Co-creating the WaterWheel with the community allowed us to develop a product that had their needs in mind.

Why do you think access to clean water is still an issue?

A lot of progress has been made in getting people access to safe water, but the bulk of that progress is in cities. Urban areas are densely populated, so when better purification and water sources are available then more people have access to safe drinking water. When you think about people in rural areas, it’s really challenging to make the economic case for spending money on drilling wells and cleaning water. When wells are drilled in rural areas, they are done as cheaply as possible, which often means they are shallow and less effective in providing reliable access. We have figured out a way to get people the resources they need in extreme situations, but we have yet to find a solution to get piped water to these places affordably.

What areas of the world do you distribute Wello products?

We have a focus on India because the scope of the problem there is so massive. We could stay very busy just focusing our work there, but we have expanded to other areas where we are needed. Our shipping goes anywhere in the world, it’s just a matter of where we get requests and managing the complicated logistics of international shipping. Currently, we operate in several African countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. There is so much demand out there, so we do whatever we can to make it work.


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