Calabash Water - Hydrating Humanity

This is one in a series of interviews for the 2018 Impact Challenge finalists at Business Today’s 44th International Conference.

Seven students from Emory University are creating a line of stainless steel water bottles. What sets their product apart from the competition? Their social impact: Calabash puts 20% of their profits towards creating clean water infrastructures in areas of need. The company pairs with local NGOs in impoverished communities to implement and monitor this infrastructure, checking up on their projects on a bi-annual basis.

Calabash co-founder Kwame Wireko realized the need for clean water when visiting his hometown in Ghana. He says, “my grandmother and I were passing a group of school kids, who were drinking what seemed like dark coffee from a gourd called a calabash… I asked my grandmother, ‘why are they allowed to drink this caffeinated beverage and I am not?’ She replied, ‘it’s not coffee, it’s contaminated water.’” This spoke volumes to Wireko, even as a young boy, and he realized the dire need to implement clean water infrastructure in Africa.

Wireko then approached co-founder Cole Holan about using a business model to improve water quality in impoverished region. Today, the core Calabash team is made up of seven Emory University students: co-founders Cole and Kwame, web-design director Loqman Adnane, photographer and social media director Elizar Alden Aspiras, marketing director Yun Ji, finance director Benedict Wong, and communications director Michael Pioso. The team plans to continue the initiative after graduating Emory, hopefully growing it in scale.

When asked about their business strategy, the Calabash team stressed the importance of Business to Business, or B to B, transactions. For a company that produces water bottles, B to B transactions entails producing large, customized bottle orders for companies or institutions, or for events such as conferences. By putting bottles in offices, school stores, or convention centers, Calabash gets exposure to multiple individuals. Co-founder Holan says, “most college students will not buy their own water bottles. They get free water bottles from conferences and events. So we realized it’s better to go up one level and sell to the large distributors. If we can sell more volume and make more money, then that money can go towards more projects.”

The hope is that through social media exposure and face-to-face referrals, the popularity of Calabash bottles will grow, allowing the team to implement more clean water infrastructure across Africa. Ask yourself: what water bottle are you drinking out of, and does it have the same social impact of a Calabash bottle?

To learn more about the Calabash team and how to order individual or bulk-order bottles, visit their website at