About a month ago, Jonna promised that I would fill everyone in on a new opportunity that was presented to me. Sorry for the delay, but here you go.
Early in June, I got an email from Lou, a colleague of mine from
Michigan who used to be a missionary with
the CRC in South Africa and
other parts of Africa for many years. He has been somewhat involved with our gas
station venture as well; I had gone to him for advice on the investment because
of his background here in SA. For the
last two years, Lou has been working as the international marketing director
for Sawyer Products, a Florida
based company. Sawyer manufactures water
filtration products that were designed for taking into underdeveloped areas
where safe, clean water isn’t available.
Lou had been all over Africa and had
contacts in many countries, so he was a great choice for this role since the
product is also heavily tied to missions.
Lou was looking for some help in SA to get the Sawyer filters in front of non-profit and mission organizations. There was a gentleman named Carel(pronounced liked Carl) that had been working with Lou here in SA for about a year and had made some progress, but Lou wanted to increase the time and effort here. Lou visited SA in the middle of June and I spent half of 3 straight days meeting with him and Carel to talk about what I could bring to the table. After Lou left, Jonna and I talked about the opportunity for about a week before deciding it seemed like a great thing for me to get involved in. With the future of our petrol station still up in the air, having some income from this would make it a little easier for us to wait for the resolution of the issues holding that up as well.
So while we stayed in
at the house of our friends for a week at the end of June where there was
unlimited internet, I gave myself a crash course on water filtration and
products that were available here. Since
that time, I have been meeting with Carel once or twice a week as we plan our
next 6 months strategy. I have been
making contacts with many organizations and visiting people in the townships
around here to find out more about the local water situation.
Carel and I have already taken on another gentleman named Blessing to work with us. He just spent 3+ weeks up in
meeting with organizations there that can possibly use our products. I’m also developing a marketing plan with a
man who lives in a township north of Hammanskraal. He saw the filter, committed to buying one
before he even knew the price, and a week later told me he was quitting his job
as an architect so he could devote more time to work as a distributor for us in
the local villages! It is exciting to already
see the big potential for job creation after only a couple of months.
While the filters were designed with missions in mind and that will be a big part of our focus, there are also recreational product applications that we hope to investigate as well. In the
US, Sawyer filters are sold in
Walmart, REI stores, Cabella’s, etc for campers, hikers and fishermen who want
to drink safe water when they are out of reach of a good water supply. With South Africa being more developed
than other African countries and with a big outdoor, tourist economy, we plan
to target some of the wealthier population who could use the products in that
Investing in the gas station was never about a dream to run a business like that. It was about providing us with income while we volunteered in
South Africa and about having an
opportunity to participate in a newer area of Christian witnessing known as
Business As Mission. I see this
opportunity with Sawyer as being an even greater example of that model as not
only will we be creating jobs and supporting the local economy through our
business work, but our products literally save lives and in some cases help
missionaries reach people by first providing for the physical need of clean
water and then later opening the door to be able to share the Gospel with
them. To help Carel and I as we build
the business, we have been accepted as an official Partners Worldwide project. This is an organization started under the CRC
that connects entrepreneurs in the US with business startups around the world
to help create jobs for the poor. We
will have a couple mentors in the US that will help us with planning and
strategy and a greater network of Christians to tap into for advice and
contacts in our work.
We are excited about this new direction in which God has pointed me. After almost a year of not having any real work to do, it feels great to again be able to put into practice some of what I’ve learned in my 10+ years of business experience. This has the potential down the road to fully support our family here in SA while we continue our other volunteer work in the Hammanskraal area. But at least for the first six months as we get this going, we will still need to rely on the support of others who believe in what we are doing in South Africa. More to come on that topic next week.
Please pray with us that God will bless this work and that we can see many great things come out of it! If you want to see more about the products and the impact they have had across the globe, please go to http://www.sawyersaves.com.