Turning Coffee into Water
The Well Coffeehouse was created in response to the global need for clean water. After learning of the global water crisis, co-founders Rob Touchstone and Chris Soper wanted to make a difference. They had a vision for how business could be used to impact this issue. They realized that solving an issue of the magnitude they were facing could not be solved by them alone. They needed a community to come alongside them and aid them in their mission. What better way to foster community than through coffee? They began to see how they could invite others into that mission through a coffee shop - creating community in the cafes while building community through the health and life that clean water brings. Nine years later, the Well has provided clean water in over 50 communities, reaching over 20,000 people with clean water access.
Many of us in developed countries don’t think about where we are going to get our next drink of water. Water insecurity rarely, if ever, crosses our minds unless we have to temporarily reduce water due to drought or we live in a city that struggles with poor plumbing infrastructure. However, for 1 in 10 people worldwide, collecting water is a daily task – often walking miles each day to find it. A majority of those affected are in rural communities, away from the urban cities and infrastructure that could bring water to their communities. So they walk, spending hours each and every day trying to find water. The responsibility of finding water typically falls to women and children. Because they spend a large portion of their day collecting water, they are not able to go to school or find work. For some, the issue is a lack of access to nearby water while others may have plenty of water nearby, but unfortunately the water is contaminated. The contaminated water carries a host of different diseases that make them sick. These water borne illnesses are the number one reason a child will not live to see their fifth birthday.
How does the water crisis impact the coffee I am drinking?The great irony is that many of the countries that lack access to safe water are also the world’s greatest coffee producers. For example, Ethiopia (the birthplace of coffee) is also one of UN’s top 10 countries targeted for water access according to the Global Development Goals. Since this need affects rural communities, it is primarily the communities where our coffees are grown. Our desire is to love full circle and ensure we are prioritizing the communities from which our coffee is sourced and the communities surrounding them. The access to safe water and other water related resources ensures their health as well as their ability to improve environmental practices of their farm. This, in turn, makes their coffee more profitable for them.
Do you drill the wells yourself?
No, we aren’t well drillers, we are coffee makers. We leave the well drilling to the experts by selecting different water partners according to their expertise and impact. We choose and evaluate organizations that are working on the ground in each of our coffee growing communities, empowering local communities to participate in their safe water practices. Local communities are the heroes of this story. We simply play a small role, helping grant the funds necessary to complete the hopes that they have for the health and future of their families and communities.
For each coffee we import, roast and brew, we have a water partner in place to serve their local community, addressing the needs on the ground. As we have profits to share, we fund those water projects and celebrate the impact that you, our customers, help us make every day.
How do you make sure it is sustainable?Long before a hole is dug for a well or a rain tank is built or a spring is protected, we start with education and awareness. Individuals within each community are brought together to understand where disease comes from and how the water they drink can make them sick. You can’t solve a problem if no one yet recognizes that there is a problem. In order to help people, they need to be aware that there is a need and take ownership in meeting the need.
Beyond water, this requires conversations around hygiene – how the simple act of hand-washing plays a role in disease prevention. Beyond hygiene, sanitation is also an important topic – where people go to the bathroom can contaminate water when latrines aren’t used. Where animals bathe and drink can also affect a community's water.
Beyond wells or water solutions, it’s important for the community to take ownership in the process – from savings for repairs to participating in the construction – so that they aren’t relying on someone else for their clean water. In doing so, they can ensure the water is flowing for decades to come.
Haven’t people been trying to solve this for a while? Why isn’t this over yet?
Yes, for decades, the water crisis has been a focus. What we have learned over the last few decades is that we often try to solve global problems through our own frame of reference, one that is not contextualized to the people that it seeks to serve. We feel we need to do it ourselves if it is going to be fixed. We think technology is the solution, until we create something that cannot be maintained or sourced in these rural communities. We think that money is the solution, until we fund programs that have no local ownership or participation, only going into disrepair and left unused. We forget that at the center of this crisis is people, and without involving them in the solution, we are just rescuing rather than resourcing.
Global development is a long road. Sometimes we take steps forward and see change. Other times we see civil unrest and war. We see drought. We see famine. But in those communities that see their health improve, where they see their children able to attend school, where their dignity is restored - whenever there is a setback, they always find hope that there is a way forward again. So, we walk with them on this long road, knowing that, as the African proverb reminds us: if we want to go fast, we can go alone; but if we want to go far, we go together.
What can I do?The coffee you purchase makes a difference.
We have made it our mission to source unique coffees and roast them with passion and precision for you to enjoy. It starts with the quality coffee that we provide because we want to showcase the pride of the growing community, so that we can provide the highest quality coffee experience for you and the highest impact for the growing community – in the price we pay and the profits we share through water. So, as you choose The Well for your coffee, you are meeting your coffee needs while meeting the needs of those we get to serve together.
If you are interested in making a more direct impact to a water project through a tax-deductible donation, contact us and we can let you know which partners and projects we have planned.