Innovators Beth Koigi and Inza Kone shine among laureates driving global change

These innovative machines draw, filter, and mineralize water from the air, providing a crucial resource to those in arid and semi-arid regions. Picture: Harry Cunningham /Unsplash

These innovative machines draw, filter, and mineralize water from the air, providing a crucial resource to those in arid and semi-arid regions. Picture: Harry Cunningham /Unsplash

Published Mar 28, 2024


The Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a part of the Perpetual Planet Initiative, are recognizing exceptional individuals with innovative projects that aim to improve lives and protect the planet.

These projects cover a wide range of areas, from creating life-improving technologies to saving endangered ecosystems and exploring new frontiers on the planet.

The 2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise have honoured five Laureates, selected by an independent jury of 10 international experts.

These inspiring individuals share a common goal: to make a positive impact on people's lives while safeguarding the planet for future generations.

Their projects are truly remarkable, including providing clean water to communities in Kenya's arid regions, protecting a primary forest in West Africa, saving critically endangered wild camels in East Asia, leading community-led reforestation efforts in the high Andes, and establishing a farm-to-closet supply chain in Indonesia that benefits rural craftswomen and the environment.

Among the 2024 winners are Beth Koigi and Inza Kone. Inza Koné, a primatologist, has been working tirelessly to protect a biodiverse forest in Côte d'Ivoire, safeguarding its endangered fauna and reducing poverty in the area.

Thanks to Koné's efforts, the Tanoé-Ehy Forest became a community-managed natural reserve in 2021.

2023 Enterprise laureates. Picture: d Inza Kone. Inza Koné, a primatologist/Supplied

In the spirit of concluding International Women's Month, Independent Media Lifestyle had the opportunity to speak with one of the laureates, Beth Koigi.

She expressed her gratitude and excitement, saying, “Thank you so much! I still can't believe it. I'm looking forward to the support.

“The reason I started working with water specifically is that sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa have been experiencing water shortages and scarcity, and it's becoming worse. A bigger proportion of where I come from is dry.”

Growing up in the lush greenery of Limuru, Kenya, Koigi never imagined a world where clean water was scarce. However, when she left home for university, she was shocked to see much of the country struggling for water.

Since co-founding her start-up in 2017, Koigi’s atmospheric water generators are producing over 200,000 litres of clean water per month to over 1,900 people. Picture: Beth Koigi / Supplied

“Waterborne diseases were one of the main reasons why I had to think about where to get water for drinking and cooking. We experienced one of the longest droughts, around the same time Cape Town was approaching day zero, and most of our water sources dried up.

“So I started creating a decentralised water supply to ensure clean drinking water, even amid scarcity,” Koigi said.

Rolex awards for enterprise dinner. Picture: Beth Koigi

Koigi emphasised the disproportionate impact of water issues on women and children.

“Women are often responsible for household tasks like fetching water and cooking, and they feel the effects of water scarcity the most. That's why our programme focuses on women and children, who are at the heart of our efforts.

“Women volunteer much more than men, as they naturally gravitate towards issues that affect them.”

Realising that the water problem extended far beyond her home-made filter, Koigi took action.

With over 50% of people in Kenya lacking access to clean drinking water, she founded Majik Water, deploying atmospheric water generators (AWGs) powered by solar energy.

These innovative machines draw, filter, and mineralize water from the air, providing a crucial resource to those in arid and semi-arid regions.

“In a conversation, Koigi explained, 'Atmospheric water generator systems that harvest water from the atmosphere are not a new concept. Whether it's fog, mist, or dew, we are utilizing different technologies and collaborating with communities to harvest water from the atmosphere.”

“Working primarily in dry regions, we make use of the humidity and have devices that condense the water from the atmosphere, similar to how air conditioners work. We then collect those droplets.”

Koigi's innovative technology is a game-changer in addressing one of the world's most pressing problems, water scarcity.

However, for start-ups working on hardware, securing initial capital can be a daunting and expensive process.

“We put ourselves out there, applied for prizes, grants, and competitions, just to get that initial capital. We also collaborated with researchers to understand atmospheric harvesting and its potential, Koijis said.

Koigi highlighted the importance of community involvement in the final stages of water harvesting, emphasizing the value of feedback and tasting sessions.

“Involving the community in the process has made it simpler. By engaging them in tasting and sharing their thoughts, we've gained valuable insights, especially in regions where water harvesting has been explored,” she said

Majik Water has taken significant steps to make clean water accessible to communities. The start-up has set up a local shopkeeper with the first atmospheric water generator (AWG) to sell the water it produces at a fair price.

Additionally, the company has partnered with a solar farm to power the machine and provided training to local electricians for basic maintenance.

With this model, each AWG is expected to cover its operating costs while providing clean drinking water to 50 households daily.