How an Austin Nonprofit Turned on the For-Profit Taps

By Allison Brown

[Originally published in the Austin Business Journal on August 19, 2016]

Austinite’s clean water enterprise yields new revenue stream

Sarah Evans has spent the last seven years running Well Aware, a nonprofit that provides clean water to people in Africa and has improved the lives of thousands. But the Austinite thinks she can have an even bigger impact running a new for-profit consultancy, Well Beyond LLC. The business helps non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, better use their funds and ensure they are doing their utmost to serve those in need.

Evans’ interest in environmental conservation began well before her nonprofit efforts. She graduated with a communications degree from the University of Texas and earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University with a focus on environmental law. Evans later clerked for the Environmental Protection Agency’s water department and worked in lobbying and securities law before pursuing an interest in the global water crisis.

In 2010, Evans went to Kenya for the first Well Aware project without knowing what she was really getting into.

“We got so lucky, knowing what I know now,” Evans said.

In the water charity sector, some organizations have seen millions of dollars wasted as projects fail or don’t function properly, so Evans made an effort to build key relationships with the East African communities she wanted to help.

Evans, Well Aware’s executive director, began forming a technical team on the ground in Kenya to make sure projects were completed correctly, giving the nonprofit a foundation on which to grow and take on more projects — all while keeping all of its wells up and running at some 30 locations around the country.

Other water charities began to look to Well Aware for advice because it was clear Evans had figured something out. One of her tenets she was happy to share: Successful projects are more than just donations and awareness.

In a recent article published by Wandering Educators, Evans said, “Direct contact with communities, real relationships with beneficiaries, and having an agile and flexible model is not just the most effective way to provide lasting clean water; it’s the only way to measure success and impact.”

Expanding the model

As more NGOs looked to Evans and her team for help, the idea for a consulting arm of Well Aware began to take root.

But Evans wasn’t sure if the team could take on the work and keep up operations on all of their projects.

“We realized a few things,” Evans said. “For many NGOs who need and want our help, it’s not in their best interest to work with another nonprofit doing the same work. That’s why we decided to pull the consulting piece out to be separate.”

And thus, Well Beyond was born this year. Well Beyond remains connected to Well Aware through licensing all of Well Aware’s intellectual property, as well as through sending a stream of profits to the NGO.

Evans’s for-profit business takes project requests from NGOs, conducts field evaluations, proposes fixes and follows up with yearly impact measurement studies.

“We want to instill in these organizations the knowledge to carry forward without our help,” Evans said.

As soon as Evans wrapped her mind around splitting the model into two entities, things happened quickly. Nonprofits were lining up to hire Well Beyond, government entities were looking to help, investment offers were put on the table and Evans set out to prove the concept would work before fully staffing a whole new team.

While Well Aware will remain only in East Africa, Well Beyond has the flexibility to work with more consulting projects in other parts of the world. The team was set to visit four projects in Haiti in August and one in Jordan in October.

“With Aurora, we can be nimble, adaptable, involved wherever we are needed in whatever capacity needed,” Evans said.

This new business model will enable Evans to recruit and pay talented engineers more than she was able to with the nonprofit model of Well Aware.

“As a small NGO, it’s really hard to pay competitively,” Evans said. “It excites me that we’re going to be able to hire more talent with the new business model.”

First up on Evans’ list of new hires: a hydrogeologist and engineer. She hopes to have those two technical positions filled by January and will later move forward to hire more technical team members, a project coordinator and an operations manager.

For now, the Well Beyond team remains just Evans, a few subcontractors and a part-time administrator. Evans will continue to serve as executive director for Well Aware and CEO of Well Beyond simultaneously, but she may look for a new director for Well Aware over the next year.

Evans’s objective in launching Well Beyond is to help NGOs better use their funds, so the affordability of her consulting service remains at the forefront of her mind. She has not yet finalized the price structure of Well Beyond, and she hopes profits from Well Beyond will one day cover any overhead costs of Well Aware, with a goal of being self-sustaining in five years.

And as the spigot of global aid continues to pump money into developing nations, Well Beyond will redirect it toward more impactful water projects, Evans said.

“As water problems globally become on the forefront of more people’s minds,” she said, “I want to be a part of that.”

Allison Brown covers a variety of topics and industries for ABJ.



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