Global youth award spurs school drop-out’s water business start-up

It was rather odd for a 17-year-old to receive a high-profile delegation at his rural home in Trans Nzoia County.

Africa Leadership Academy (ALA) President Chris Bradford had paid Joel Mwale, now aged 18, a visit at his Bidii farm in Kibomet, Kitale, after he was nominated among seven other contestants from Africa to compete for the inaugural $75,000 Anzisha Award targeting youth aged between 15 and 25 who have implemented projects that have a reasonable impact in the community.

“I did not submit my entry for the competition. I came to learn that someone had nominated me,” said Mwale.

He was the overall winner of the award, scooping $30,000 in prize money and a two-year scholarship to attend ALA.

He beat 186 applicants from 22 countries. He joined 80 students ALA shortlists annually to attend the school in Johannesburg.


Sky Drop Enterprises, a rain water harvesting project, is the scheme that earned him the award.

Within a short span of time, Mwale has toured several countries in the world talking to the youth on investments.

To date he has addressed 20 international conferences that feature great world leaders.

Rubbing shoulders with the likes of former South African President Thabo Mbeki as a panellist is no longer odd to him.

Mwale spoke to the Business Daily in May, when he made a short stop-over at the Nation Centre in Nairobi on his way to South Africa and later Malaysia for a conference after a holiday.

While his age mates in secondary schools were busy reading for their final examinations, Mwale ventured into water bottling business.

He dropped out of Friends School Kamusinga at Form Three after his grandfather, who had been paying his school fees was unable to.
Sky Drop is a business Idea he conceived out of desperation and the desire to make ends meet.

“I remember it was in April during one of the heavy rainy season in Kitale. I was just walking as the rain poured and happened to spot a closed down yoghurt shop. Next to the building there was this water tank that was storing the rain water from the gutters of the roof,” he said.

Mwale saw a business opportunity and pursued it further. He approached the owner who offered to lease it at a fee.

His next challenge was to acquire a purifying machine to process the rain water harvested.

“I inquired from a friend about the cost of the machine and he gave me a figure of Sh500,000.”

The next three and half months saw Mwale knock on doors of all the local banks and NGOs for funding but they declined.

“I guess they did not see my idea as viable. Besides, who could listen to a 16-year-old school drop-out?”

Having pursued available funding options without success, Mwale turned to his 20-acre family land, which had been lying fallow for years since his father, who was a manager at an agricultural society, died of cancer in 2000.

It took three months for his mother to allow him lease the land to raise capital for his business.

“I purchased the purifier at Sh430,000 and used the remainder on rent and operations,” he says. “We used to harvest rain water and focus on production during wet season. During the dry spells, we would market our product.”

In its initial stages, Sky Drop faced stiff competition from established drinking water bottlers.

He could sell about 10 bottles of water a day when he started off.

The fact that they were new in the market largely contributed to the slow uptake of the product.

However, Sky Drop has managed to get a share of the lucrative drinking water market in Trans Nzoia and his business records a turnover of Sh2.5 million annually.

Mwale has now expanded his business, thanks from the Anzisha Award.

He has employed 12 workers among them his mother, registered Sky Drop as a limited company and bought the former yoghurt shop.

He also acquired another piece of land where he intends to drill a borehole as part of his plan for growth.

“The borehole will make it possible for us to produce 6,000 litres of water per hour. This will be an addition to our current plant that gives us 5,000 litres of water per hour,” said Mwale.

The expansion cost Sky Drop Sh1.2 million including drilling the borehole, buying a bigger processing machine and setting up a distribution system.

“Once we begin operation on this new plant, we project $24,500 in annual profit. And since the water produced by the borehole may be more than what we intend to use, we have plans to pipe the surplus to the community at no cost, serving a population of 500,000,” he says.

“Already we have invested Sh400,000 in drilling four boreholes for needy communities and we will keep doing more for them."

Mwale is now on his sixth month at ALA where he is pursuing a leadership programme and IGSE.

He says that on completion he is keen to go for higher education in the US.

The award is managed by the ALA’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership in partnership with MasterCard Foundation.

This year MasterCard injected $2.5 million into the project.