Profile of Purpose: Clear as Water
Joissam Ghana brings clean water to rural areas of West and Central Africa.
Meet Samuel Appenteng, managing director of Joissam Ghana, a company working to make clean water more accessible to rural communities in West Africa. By collaborating with the communities his firm serves, Appenteng is pumping hope and health into the people who need it most.
Unfortunately, the scale of the problem is immense. “In sub-Saharan Africa, over 320 million people have no access to potable water,” Appenteng explains. “As we went more and more into the rural communities and saw the kind of deprivation and denials of a decent living, I began to realize that we need to bring relief to people.”
From groundwater exploration and research drilling to water quality analysis and water treatment, Joissam is changing lives with clean water. Joissam began its work in Ghana, but the company has already expanded to seven more countries: Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Togo, and Gabon in Central Africa. Its approach is unique: to involve the community in the clean water effort from the very beginning.
Appenteng describes a typical scene when a team arrives at a village to begin drilling for water. “They will all come around and help you as you go and pass the lines to be able to start sending electrical charges into the earth,” he says. And once drilling starts, “You will have everybody in, down there observing, and there’s a lot of tension. And then the technical team was saying, ‘We’re getting there.’ You start getting a lot of excitement. Believe you me, as soon as you hit water, and it starts gushing out, women and children start jubilating like it’s a football game with a lot of goals.”
Listen to Appenteng’s mini profile to hear how his company is increasing its impact across Africa and providing health and economic benefits to millions.
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Darius Teter: Welcome to Grit and Growth from Stanford Seed. I’m your host, Darius Teter. This is the next installment of our Profiles of Purpose documentary series. These short-form stories are told entirely from the perspective of business owners, and they offer firsthand accounts of the struggles and joys of building impactful businesses in challenging markets.
This week, we’re excited to introduce you to Samuel Appenteng, managing director of Joissam Ghana. Joissam’s mission is to make clean water accessible to rural communities in West Africa. It’s a huge and complex undertaking that involves everything from selling hand pumps to geophysical surveys and groundwater drilling. But the benefits are as clear as the water Joissam delivers.
We’ll hear how Samuel gets communities to buy in and help with the process, and how transformative it can be for them. In addition, Samuel shares his ambitious vision for Joissam’s growth, and how Stanford Seed is helping him get there.
So let’s turn it over to Samuel himself.
Samuel Appenteng: In the typical rural community, children must wake up as early as 3:30, 4:00 a.m., and walk several kilometers to fetch in these containers because there’s so much you can carry, and go several times every day to try and have access to what you would not call water at all. My name is Samuel Appenteng and I’m the managing director of Joissam Ghana Limited.
Joissam is involved in groundwater exploration and research, drilling of bore holes, water quality analysis, and, of course, we treat the water where there’s a need to do that. I come from a family background where we have manufacturing concerns, and I used to run the plants, which manufactured IV fluids.
And there had been a war in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, quite a number of people had been displaced. And so one fateful evening, I had a call from one of the chaps there who said, “Look, we have a problem with diarrhea, dysentery conditions, and water sanitation problems are becoming a challenge.” So we would need some hand pumps.
And I began to look for, Where do I get these things? My wife, Efua, she’s been with us in the business, she has held the fort very strongly, anytime I’m away. And she controls the administration event, drives even the hand pump sales. I don’t know what we would’ve done without her, honestly, because she has an eye for detail.
In sub-Saharan Africa, over 320 million people have no access to potable water. That tells you the scale of the problem. As we went more and more into the rural communities and saw the kind of deprivation and denials of decent living, then I began to realize that, look, we need to bring relief to people. We need to bring some comfort to those who are really deprived.
Darius Teter: Joissam has a uniquely collaborative approach with the communities that it serves.
Samuel Appenteng: In a very typical village setting, when we move in there to do what we do, we call it community animation. You’ve got to go there and talk to the people there and tell them exactly what you intend to do.
Right from day one, they’re already excited, welcoming you and giving you all kinds of water. And the water is actually colored. It’s a chalky white, and then they pass it to you and say, “Drink it.” Because in Africa, you welcome people with water and you’ve got to close your eyes and just also dip and pass it around. You don’t drink because obviously it’s highly infested.
You would find that in most communities, they’ll give you space and say, “Look, find it anywhere you want.” But our objective is to make sure that we shorten the distance between residents and water sources.
They will all come around and help you as you go and pass the lines to be able to start sending electrical charges into the earth and you are measuring resistivity. Then they will set up the rig and then they start drilling. At that point, I can tell you, you have everybody down there observing, and there’s a lot of tension. And then the technical team was saying, “We are getting there. We are getting there.” You start getting a lot of excitement, believe you me. As soon as you hit water and it starts gushing out, women and children start jubilating, like it’s a football game with a lot of goals. What we take for granted in our urban communities, it’s like gold for them.
In these typical villages, they don’t have access to electricity. And so then we do the hand pumps and then we select one young lady and a young gentleman, and we train them on how to do maintenance. Then we make sure that we are in contact with them to be able to find out how well their product is doing. As soon as you have access to potable water in any community, what it means is that it has economic benefits. It has health benefits and life generally becomes improved.
Darius Teter: Samuel has high aspirations for Joissam moving forward, but they’re not just based on wishful thinking.
Samuel Appenteng: In the year 2014, we were doing something in the range of about two million. And then we move from there to six point something million. And then of course subsequently it has been growing thereafter. And this year we are looking forward to about 15 million plus in turnover. The vision of Joissam is defined clearly that by 2025, we want to be the number one provider of professional services for water in West Africa. We want to be able to do solar connections to rural communities. So the vision is very big. We know we cannot do it alone. We would need partners. We would need people who can invest in us. We don’t know where we will go thereafter, but we just hope that we will make as much impact as possible in the next 10 years on people who otherwise will not be left to see their 18th birthday. People are, just, when they have the fundamental rights, life begins for them.
Darius Teter: Thank you for listening to that Profile of Purpose, and thanks as well to Samuel Appenteng of Joissam Ghana, which continues to expand its geographic footprint. The company is now registered in eight countries in West Africa and recently expanded into Central Africa as well. They were able to survive the initial COVID lockdowns without laying off a single staff member and secured their first ever grant funding. But there’s still plenty of work to do. In the coming years, Joissam plans to fix pre-existing hand pumps across the region, 30 percent of which are no longer working. They’ll also continue to train local mechanics to repair and maintain these pumps, increasing access to clean water throughout rural Africa.
To learn more about Samuel and Joissam’s work, visit their website at joissamghana.com. And if you like what you hear, there’s a Profiles of Purpose film series on the Stanford Graduate School of Business YouTube page, with a video version of this very episode.
Grit & Growth is a podcast by Stanford Seed. Laurie Fuller researched and developed content for this episode, with additional research by Jeff Prickett. Kendra Gladych is our production coordinator, and our executive producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Andrew Ganem and sound design and mixing by Alex Bennett at Lower Street Media.
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