Community//

Thomas Rotsaert: “If you want to set up your own social impact enterprise don’t be scared, just start; Even when small you will make an impact and you will learn along the way”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Rotsaert. Thomas is a Belgian living in Kenya and one of the co-founders of Woeha! a young non-profit organisation for water and education in Ethiopia. Thomas moved to Kenya in order to follow his passion for business development in Africa where he is currently working as commercial leader fabric care at Procter & Gamble in order to bring new innovations to the African continent. Thomas’ main drive in life is to make an impact in everything he does.

Thank you for speaking with us! Can you tell us about your background and your career up until now? And how your education has benefited your career path afterwards?

After my master’s in business economics at the University of Ghent (Belgium), I graduated from Vlerick Business School with a master’s in marketing management. At Vlerick Business School my one of my main highlights was leading a 3 month marketing project for an impact-investment company in Ethiopia together with two classmates. My professional career then started as management trainee at the FMCG multinational Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Belgium. Driven by my endless passion for Africa, I decided to finally move to Africa with my girlfriend and join Jumia, an African commerce company based out of Kenya. A few months ago, I got the opportunity to rejoin P&G in Kenya.

Tell us a bit about Woeha!, your role there and how it was originally set up?

Woeha! is a young, non-profit organisation supporting rural villages in the North of Ethiopia with their general development by helping them out with basic needs as potable water and education — these basic human requirements are the base for a healthy community. Woeha! has a relentless focus on bringing all stakeholders close together (participants, villagers, government, organisation), pushing greater ownership by each of them and closely following-up locally on the ground. The project is not steered by one stakeholder, but all stakeholders are equally crucial to complete our goal.

Woeha! organisation exists of more than 500 members in Belgium who participate in an annual event to generate funds for the communities in Ethiopia. I am one of the three co-founders and I oversee the operations from concept to setting up events to collaboration with our local partners, the local communities and government in order to ensure 100% of the funds immediately benefit the local community. We are an organisation owned by all participants who are all highly involved.

What were your reasons behind setting up Woeha!? And, what does the company look to achieve?

Woeha! started off basically as the story of “three guys who fell in love with Ethiopia and wanted to return that love by helping the local communities”. The idea for Woeha! started in 2013 when we visited a local village in the North of Ethiopia during our Vlerick project, we observed a woman collecting dark brown water in a yellow jerry can from the local river. The head of the village explained to us that this was the water they were drinking day in/day out. This caused most of the early deaths in the village.

With this, our main reason (Pieterjan, Vincent and I) was to give back to the beautiful people in Ethiopia who are enormously hospitable and had given all three of us the most impactful experiences of our lifetime.

Woeha!’s objectives are very easy and clear: We want to achieve maximum impact in Ethiopia via investment in the key basic needs of people via sticking to our main principles of (1) every single penny raised is invested and making an impact (2) involvement of all stakeholders at any step in the project (3) only the long-term counts.

What impact has Woeha! had in Ethiopia?

Driving behind the efforts and participation of all Woeha! members, we have been able to provide school infrastructure to 1600 children and to provide potable water to another 6000 people. Fulfilling the basic needs is the key driver of getting people out of poverty and giving them and their family the chance for a better future.

Can you tell us what empowers and motivates you to work in a role like this?

The smiles on the faces of the children at school and all the people in the village that we have seen while attending the classrooms and seeing locals tapping clear water from the borehole is invaluable and strengthens us to overcome any challenge.

What challenges have you faced in this role and how have you overcome this?

The main challenges were:

– educating the village on the need for potable clear water

– managing the execution of a project like this from another country.

The first challenge was solved via focus on driving education to all people in the village before the start. Our local friends/partners (Jan & Banchi) on the ground engaged them on the project as without the village people’s conviction of the need, there is no certainty for long-term impact. The second challenge was solved via working closely together with our local friends/partners on the ground. They are executing the project for us on the ground with the different stakeholders while we are in constant contact with them to follow up and problem solve all together.

Tell us about the most incredible experience you have had at Woeha!?

For me, the most incredible experiences were achieved while observing the great and many smiles on the children in the village in Ethiopia next to the genuine smiles and joy on the faces of the participants of our Woeha! event in Belgium.

First, when we visited the village in May 2019, without any notice to the local community (as we wanted to experience how the real daily life is going on), children were spontaneously visiting the borehole and tapping water in their jerry can while also drinking from it. For me this is the clearest signal that the project has delivered on all our objectives. The project is incorporated in daily life, villagers are educated and it is being used. Next to this, the borehole was perfectly maintained after more than a year was which gives confidence for the longer term.

Second, The joy on the faces of all our Woeha! participants at the event. As “what is more important than having fun with your friends and in the meantime supporting a good cause, to create smiles on other people’s faces?”

Can you give us a piece of advice for young people wanting to work in or set up a social enterprise?

If you want to set up your own social enterprise — I would say: don’t be scared, just start — even when small — you will always make an impact and you will learn along the way.

If you want to join a social enterprise — don’t go by default for the bigger social enterprises — go for social enterprises where the mission and vision are in line with your own believes and go for social enterprises that are down to earth and where people are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to make an impact on others.

Lastly, the best way to make a sustainable impact is to go to the field, meet people, engage with them, understand how they think and what they need the most. This is the best way to really help them and make an impact.

Do you think future leaders have to have a greater focus on society, sustainability and the environment?

In my opinion this is a vital aspect of any modern, future business in order to survive in a business landscape. All consumers are becoming more and more critical in their purchase decisions and making an impact on society, sustainability and the environment will only take on a higher share within the consumers’ purchase decisions.

In order to do this — for me it is very important that every action is being done in a genuine and sustainable way, is it for businesses or for people themselves?

What do you want to achieve in your career, and in life, in the next ten years?

Growing Woeha! to the next level in order to make an impact on more people’s lives in a long-term sustainable way. Next to this professionally at Procter & Gamble in Africa, being able to make a positive impact on the businesses growth by coaching people and growing brands that have a positive impact on the daily habits of Kenyans. Lastly, being more and more involved in the set-up of coaching programs/ systems for young entrepreneurs and business professionals in Africa to let them explore their full potential and have them making a sustainable impact in Africa.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Women are endowed with so many natural talents, and sometimes we forget about our strengths in order to fit in a male-dominated world.” with Jesmane Boggenpoel

by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine
Community//

“To develop Grit, track your successes”, With Phil Laboon, Zach Boyette & Irina Papuc

by Phil La Duke
Community//

“Why you should thank a customer using their name for a good review” With Nextiva CMO, Yaniv Masjedi

by Yitzi Weiner

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.