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Social Impact Heroes: How Megan Hayes and Kimberly Reilly Are Helping To Bring Clean Water Systems To Thousands of Impoverished People

Social Impact Heroes: How Megan Hayes and Kimberly Reilly Are Helping To Bring Clean Water Systems To Thousands of Impoverished People

The story of Gloria from La Canada, Honduras is one that is close to our hearts. We visited her in person with Water1st International, who was about to embark on a water project in her community — one of the many 3,000 projects they have completed, and none of them have failed to date. Gloria was 64 years old, but looked a lot older from a hard life of carrying water from a distant unclean water hole to provide for her family of 14 children. She fought hard to bring clean running water and sanitation to her village. A year later upon the completion of the project, with tears in her eyes, she said, “I am so happy because now when I wake up I can have a cup of coffee, and be clean.” She went on to explain that, “before there was water, there was no school, no kindergarten, nothing…and now everything has changed. It’s a completely new environment.”

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Hayes and Kimberly Reilly, Co-Founders of Everybody Water, an emerging social impact company based in Cohasset, MA.

Megan Hayes brings decades of professional experience in growing industry leading companies, specializing in talent management, budgets, and operations. Megan lived abroad in the Middle East and Europe for much of her life, and spent 20 years as a recruiting manager for companies like Microsoft and Digitas. After relocating to Cohasset, MA, Megan shifted her attention to Everybody Water where she applies her consulting skills to secure business partnerships, and also manages strategy and operations. Between traveling for clean water projects and spending time with her husband, daughters, and their Bernese Mountain dog, Lexi, Megan serves as a mentor for EmpowerHER — a nonprofit organization that provides support for girls who lost their mother at an early age.

Kimberly Reilly is Co-Founder of Everybody Water, with a background in expert appraising and designing high-end design and architecture. Kimberly spent 10 years as the Founder and Creative Director for Louis Di Calla LLC, a custom lighting design company that created pieces for leading architects and designers in Brooklyn, NY, Portugal, Paris, and the Philippines. Kimberly was inspired to continue her entrepreneurial journey via Everybody Water, where she manages branding from product conception to strategic launch and beyond. When Kimberly isn’t traveling to developing countries or educating herself on clean water system implementation, you can find her with her husband and two daughters skiing in Vermont or on their way to lacrosse, hip-hop, and guitar lessons.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Megan and Kimberly! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

We are neighbors and friends who had our own successful businesses completely unrelated to water. Over the course of a few years, countless walks, and time together on the sidelines of our children’s soccer games, we often discussed what was next in our careers. We both knew that we wanted to bring more meaning to our work, to do something bigger than us, and to set an example for our children of making a positive difference in the world. We wanted to affect positive change in a big way and were capable and determined, and fortunate enough to have found inspired, hardworking partners in each other, living just across the street!

Giving people in developing countries access to clean water in their homes became our passion, knowing that with clean water we could help people have their most basic needs met, and give them a springboard to accomplish so many other things. Every day, 200 million women and girls carry every drop of water their families use, and 100 million children, mostly girls, receive no education because they are carrying water. Women and girls are traditionally responsible for water collection, walking miles to the nearest sources, according to Water1st International. Health, education, literacy for girls and the ability for women to earn incomes are all enabled when people have access to clean, running water. Water is the first building block for communities to thrive.

Water is our most fundamental need, but 20% of people on the planet don’t have clean water in their homes. Five thousand people die every day from water-borne illnesses. Our challenge was determining how to tackle an issue so big with a solution that makes a measurable dent.

The answer became obvious and simple. First, engage and educate consumers about the powerful impact they can make in the world with water at the very moment they purchase water. Second, transform buying water from just another transaction into a positive impact experience that makes real change for real people. Third, partner with Water1st International, a nonprofit organization with experts in the field who are implementing sustainable in-home clean water and sanitation solutions, working with local people to bring people running water, a toilet and a shower directly into their homes for the first time in their lives. By purchasing Everybody Water, consumers are part of a community of people who are actively participating in the solution to build clean water systems that change lives, while reducing plastic bottle waste with a 100% recyclable carton alternative.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Starting out, we knew nothing about putting water in a sustainable carton, so from inception, we had a lot of research to do and wouldn’t let anything discourage us. Among the many cold calls we made trying to figure out the beverage world, which is largely male-dominated, one in particular stands out. The man on the other end dismissed us pretty quickly and indignantly asked, “Who do you two ladies think you are going up against, Coke and Pepsi?”

Clearly, he didn’t understand the opportunity. Although technically, we are selling great water next to giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others, we are mobilizing change and building a community ready to make amazing things happen by addressing the global water crisis. We are all human and deserve equal dignity. Who doesn’t want that? When people buy Everybody Water they are not just buying water, they are making a statement about what matters.

Fortunately, the next call was with our exclusive nonprofit partner, Water1st International, reminded us of our motivation, and inspired us by example of how individuals are capable of enormous change in the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There is one mistake that clearly stands out, and we can’t listen to Mama Mia songs without laughing! Everybody Water had launched a few months prior, and a very well-renowned yacht club invited us to be their water sponsor for one of the most recognized sailing races in the Northeast. It was a huge visibility opportunity, and we wanted it to be perfect — it was one of our first events, and we had only a couple of weeks to prepare!

So, we got to work. We planned for 100+ cases of Everybody Water to line the entrance, with our cartons available at the bars, on all the tables, and provided a case for each boat. We even had a white spinnaker sail designed with our dark blue logo in huge beautiful letters, an entire sailing crew wearing Everybody Water shirts, and a branded flag. It was amazing, and you would have thought that was enough, right?

Wrong. There was one final touch, as a carton of Everybody Water would also be in each sailor’s fancy gift tote to bring home. We have kids, so we know from experience that when you have a gift tote (not just a paper bag), your kids are equally as pumped for the free stuff that spills out. It was important that we conveyed to both the sailors and their families that we are more than just another water — that the clean water projects that we back change the lives of women and girls. We also wanted to share that Everybody Water is for sale on our website by the case or subscription for your boat, home or office — but how could we market all of that easily and quickly?

We thought of putting a 4×6 postcard in each tote but then we agreed that those would get lost. We decided to string cap tags with our messaging instead, and our designer got to work. There was a lot of back and forth to get it right, but we finally had our 250 tags printed with less than 24 hours to deliver the water for the gift totes.

So, we grabbed a glass of wine, cranked some music, and rolled up our sleeves to get the job done. Of course, we had forgotten to have the tags hole punched at the printers, so that required a trip to Michael’s which took far too long to find the right size, as we take our branding very seriously and every detail matters! Then, of course each string had to be the same length with the holes in just the right place, and the string tied on nicely with each carton put back into the case for transport. The first case took us over an hour and we were starting to panic at the unrealistic turnaround time for 250 cartons…

The solution? We are neighbors, each with young girls who live on a dead-end street full of their friends! It was early evening on a Friday night, and our urgent text inspired 8 girls (ages 6–11) to come help in one of our garages with Mama Mia playing to make it more fun. An assembly line was formed and we trained each pair on their designated task. Our amazing designer Andrew even stopped in to help, and we put our husbands on snack and drink duty, while we focused on hang tag quality control. 250 Everybody Waters needed to be completed with hang tags looking just right.

Our project started on a positive note, but then some of the girls didn’t like their task, so we had to keep spirits up which meant switching tasks and re-training. Almost 3 hours later, we were done, it was dark outside, and many of the girls went home exhausted. We had listened to both Mama Mia soundtracks and still had about two dozen cartons left to do. So, we sat on the floor of the garage, laughing and singing away until we finished, and by then, it was very late. Thanks to our tight-knit community, the hang tags turned out as beautifully as we had hoped for, but we were beyond relieved when it was all over! We landed a few subscriptions but was the juice really worth the squeeze?

When you are building a startup from ground level, some of the details have to slip and some just don’t matter. We still have a hard time looking at hang tags with a straight face, and each time we hear Mama Mia songs, we have a good laugh.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Women’s Empowerment has been a focus for most countries around the world for the past twenty years, with slow progress as culture is difficult to transform. We recognize that the scale of our work with Water1st International, our exclusive non-profit partner, is not large enough to make an impact on an entire country, but we are helping to move the needle forward for women’s rights through clean water system implementations.

For example in Honduras, one segment of the training program is on gender issues. An exercise they go through with everyone present is a description of each person’s activities during the day. Men learn that women are working 25–33% more hours a day than men. It leads to a greater appreciation for the challenges facing women, and more investment in their needs and priorities. Of course, a water project is at the top of women’s list of priorities, so the men have an obvious action they can commit to in an effort to balance that daily division of labor. When a water committee is selected, at least half of the committee members are women.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, women are entrusted with leadership roles in the process of mobilizing the community to take action. In every neighborhood where our partner is implementing a project, a local committee leads those activities. There are roughly 60 neighborhood committees and 95% of the committee members are women. While women continue to face challenges around the world, they are gradually gaining influence and breaking down barriers to equality.

We are focusing our support in countries where Water1st International works because of the high-quality and sustainability of their projects. Water1st provides full solutions (not just pumps in villages) so that women and girls are freed from the task of carrying water and can gain back the most valuable resource — time.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

The story of Gloria from La Canada, Honduras is one that is close to our hearts. We visited her in person with Water1st International, who was about to embark on a water project in her community — one of the many 3,000 projects they have completed, and none of them have failed to date.

Gloria was 64 years old, but looked a lot older from a hard life of carrying water from a distant unclean water hole to provide for her family of 14 children. She fought hard to bring clean running water and sanitation to her village. A year later upon the completion of the project, with tears in her eyes, she said, “I am so happy because now when I wake up I can have a cup of coffee, and be clean.” She went on to explain that, “before there was water, there was no school, no kindergarten, nothing…and now everything has changed. It’s a completely new environment.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Join us in fighting for women’s rights with the most basic first step — ensuring they have running water and sanitation in their homes, and are not tasked with the burden of transporting water instead of attending school and earning incomes. Help us raise awareness and funds with the water you choose at your home, offices, and shops, and make the statement: Everybody Water. Stand up and share this message across social media and be part of the solution for what is ultimately a more equitable, healthy, and more peaceful society.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership inspires and brings people together to move in a new direction and inspire change. Great leadership can change the world for the better. Everybody Water hopes to join the leaders of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #6: Accessible Clean Water and Sanitation for All, and be leaders in business, raising awareness of the critical nature of accessible clean water and sanitation for the health and happiness of all, and the advancement of women and girls globally. We hope to mobilize other businesses and individuals to come together and make amazing change happen, while becoming leaders in their own right amongst their own spheres of influence with the statement they make in the water they choose.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Selling water is highly regulated. We were surprised when we discovered that water is so regulated and many beverages that contain mostly water but are not 100 percent water do not require the same tests and permits. It took a lot of time to work through a web of federal and state regulations.
  2. You can fit 60 cases of Everybody Water in the back of the Subaru, but you can’t see out the back window! We experienced this first-hand and on our first deliveries of Everybody Water to local restaurants and stores when we worked as the sole delivery team! No matter how many distributors we take on, we still have cars full of water at all times!
  3. It would take almost two and a half years to bring Everybody Water to fruition. While we wouldn’t have wanted to know just how long it would take, we did know that we had to do things right and it was worth it. Now that we are selling, we are stronger for it.
  4. Our genuine passion would be our biggest sales tool. Selling water would be as simple as pouring our hearts out and connecting with people who feel the importance and excitement of being part of solutions that change real people’s lives.
  5. We would meet so many inspiring people on this journey. Along the way, we have met incredible people, from those involved in the water projects, to passionate high school and college students who believe in Everybody Water, to friends and business owners who have helped us spread the word. If we knew we would have been so fortunate to be around so many inspiring people, we would have started on this meaningful path sooner!

You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everybody Water is water in a carton, but it’s actually a movement with the product as its vehicle. It’s a movement of people who recognize change is possible and want to be part of it. The momentum is strong and palpable.

We hope individuals and businesses alike will spread the word about the collective impact we can make together. There’s no doubt that with increased awareness, the world will get behind Everybody Water. We don’t need to wait for governments or powerful people to make change. Everybody in our everyday lives can come together to make it happen. A contribution to widespread adoption and ultimately, major impact is made every time a store owner gives us extra shelf space and chooses Everybody Water over a competitor, and every time a consumer chooses our water over another, or posts a picture on social media channels. When a hotel, corporation or institution selects Everybody Water they are making a statement that has a ripple effect.

We are contacted every week by high school and college students who ask, “How can I help spread the word?” Everybody Water is setting up an ambassador program to harness this amazing swell of support, and we welcome students to contact us at [email protected] if they are interested. Meanwhile, we are grateful for the incredibly creative photography of our cartons that people post and share on social media with our hashtags #waterwithaheart.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Listen to your instincts.” Tuning in to our instincts has been the most impactful piece of advice for both of us. Our intuition has been a guiding and powerful force. It is something that we’ve all been told since a young age, but have learned to harness only over time. Gut feelings are the cumulation of lots of life experience and data points, valuable points of reference that can help inform and guide.

As we are faced with more and more decisions that need to be made quickly in life and in business, listening to our instincts had made choices easier and ultimately builds our confidence over time.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Matt Damon. Also a Boston-native, Matt Damon has brought the global water crisis to the attention of the general public like never before. People are always asking, “Have you talked to Matt Damon?” And we reply, “No, but we’d love to if you know him!” We share the goal of building sustainable smart solutions, discerning in approach, and have different but similarly huge ambitions in bringing support for solutions to accessible clean water and sanitation to the forefront of popular culture.

To have lunch with Matt would be an exciting opportunity to share visions for igniting enormous change. In addition, being about the same age with identical Boston accents, I bet there’s a few other funny things about our childhoods and life experiences that we could laugh about.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow us on Instagram @everybodywater and Facebook@everybodywater using the #waterwithaheart hashtag. Watch videos of the impact and meet the people from the communities we support. Help us spread the word.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!