From a network of water professionals scattered across the globe to an international NGO empowering hundreds of young social entrepreneurs and impacting thousands of vulnerable communities.

Antonella Vagliente, born and raised in Argentina and a co-founder of Young Water Solutions, has been implementing youth empowerment and water projects since the age of fifteen. All the Young Water Solutions founders share the same passion, and they have all been confronted with the same obstacles: lack of opportunities, funding, and technical support. “Young people are often perceived as victims of water issues rather than agents of change,” Antonella explains. Determined to address this, 16 junior and senior water professionals joined forces and created Young Water Solutions in 2015. 

A mission to WASH 

The Brussels-based international NGO supports young social entrepreneurs in low and middle-income countries to kick-start their WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) businesses. “We want to give them the same opportunities as older entrepreneurs. Therefore, we work exclusively with young people who have great ideas but no resources,” Antonella explains. 

With a mission to make a scalable contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals, and fully aware that these goals are deeply interlinked, the Brussels-based international NGO takes an integrated approach in all its projects to address other challenges such as gender inequalities, deforestation, and climate change. It’s goal is to empower at least 1000 young entrepreneurs (of whom at least 500 women) to implement water solutions in their communities by 2030. 

Creating viable businesses 

The commitment and willingness of young people to act for their communities is inspiring. However, Young Water Solutions finds that they often need help to think creatively and out of the box. In a sector that is heavily regulated and conservative, it’s not always easy to innovate, as Antonella highlights: “Many of the proposals we receive from young entrepreneurs still have a very traditional approach, their ideas lack innovation. Moreover, their projects often rely on a non-profit business model. It is difficult to make a business profitable when it is targeting poor and vulnerable communities, so they need to learn how to diversify their services and products.” 

The NGO’s flagship initiative, the Young Water Fellowship, offers budding entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35, a one-year program of intensive entrepreneurship training and coaching, pilot project development support, and funding of up to €5000. Since 2015, Young Water Solutions has run seven editions of the Fellowship at regional and national levels in 32 countries and in collaboration with local incubators. “Out of the 39 start-ups and 95 entrepreneurs we helped, 70% still exist and are working on their project, the remaining 30% are working in related sectors.” At present, the NGO is focusing on regional and national editions in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Bangladesh, and Latin America. 

Empowering local partners 

Young Water Solutions not only wants to be the go-to place for young entrepreneurs but also for local actors seeking guidance on how to effectively engage and empower youth. “We want to remain a manageable size as an organization but with a strong network of local partners and the right tools, the Young Water Fellowship and other initiatives can be easily replicated.”  

During each edition of the Young Water Fellowship, the team organizes workshops and roundtables with local policymakers, investors, other incubators, and the young entrepreneurs to discuss existing gaps and share solutions.  
In November 2020, a meeting with sixty stakeholders in Senegal had the catalyzing effect they are looking for. After attending this meeting, the Minister of Water took the lead and started planning new water programs. “This is our ultimate goal: to be able to step out of the countries and leave our local partners, who represent our values and our spirit, to handle the programs.” 

Young Water Solutions is now ready to further scale up and use lessons learned more efficiently. By joining the Impact Programme, the NGO is building valuable connections with the private sector and gaining access to tools that can help it attract new partners and grow more effectively. Furthermore, Antonella highlights the benefit of having personal coaches: “None of the coaches have expertise in water, so they bring a completely different and external perspective on what we are trying to achieve. They definitely push us out of our comfort zone!”   

Find out more about Young Water Solutions HERE.