The Well: Alleviating Water Scarcity in Africa Through Coffee Profits


SEATTLE, Washington — The Well is a nonprofit coffeehouse located in Nashville, Tennessee, that transforms coffee profits into wells in impoverished countries. Chris Soper and Rob Touchstone co-founded the coffeehouse in 2012 with a craving for social impact and a vision to reduce water scarcity. Coffee is comically referred to as a “life source” for some, but water is the one true life source for all. Unfortunately, water is not readily available around the world and is especially scarce in certain parts of Africa, a problem The Well is set on solving.

Water Scarcity in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2012 analysis of global accessibility to improved drinking water sources, ranked the top 25 countries with the worst water scarcity. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Chad were among the worst-ranked countries, followed by Kenya and Togo.

Water scarcity in the DRC is likely due to military conflict in the Ituri province, and Chad is still recovering from the 2016 cholera outbreak. Additionally, the World Data Lab’s Water Scarcity Clock showcases concerning water scarcity statistics in Senegal and Malawi.

Sixty-two percent of Senegal’s population, or nearly 10.2 million people, live in water-scarce areas. In Malawi, 5.4 million people also cope with inconsistent water access.

Senegal’s proximity to the Sahara Desert is problematic for its population simply due to the extreme heat while the challenges facing the Togolese population primarily stem from disconnected and disadvantaged rural areas. The Well has chosen these countries for its mission of providing clean water assistance and water well systems.

The Well’s Initiatives

As a missional coffeehouse, The Well focuses on providing sustainable solutions to poverty and making a difference in local and global communities. To the organization, building wells seemed the most impactful to positive change because water affects health, education and agriculture, all areas that developing nations need to become independent and successful.

The Well’s vision began by crafting a cozy, comfortable coffeehouse environment where diverse groups can come together to conquer water insecurity in Africa. After enjoying their coffeehouse experience, every Well coffeehouse-goer has the opportunity to visit wishing wells on the exterior walls of the shop that showcase motivational quotes, prayer requests and messages of support. After permeating positivity locally, the co-founders, Soper and Touchstone, concentrated on amplifying their mission globally by transforming coffee profits into water.

A Shot of Success and Lasting Achievements

Each construction project costs between $1,000 and $18,000, depending on the location and potential complications, which is a daunting feat to overcome with nothing but coffee.

However, after piloting shops, the co-founders pocketed enough profit to begin their water well construction plan in Africa. They quickly noticed water scarcity-stricken areas and labeled them as communities where their coffee profits could maximize social impact. After only eight years, The Well has donated more than $40,000 and built 23 wells in seven countries in partnership with the Living Water Project who performs the on-site construction.

Since its creation, The Well has been able to:

  • Construct 10 wells in Togo, providing water to over 700 people in rural communities.
  • Aid 1,500 people, including 200 orphans, through newly constructed wells in Lizulu, Malawi.
  • Provide 1,200 people with access to clean drinking water in Kenya after its five years of drought.
  • Help 400 displaced, war-torn families in the DRC with supplied wells in partnership with Exile International.
  • Construct two wells in Senegal that deliver water to communities near the Sahara Desert struggling with extreme weather conditions.
  • Provide 900 people in three villages in Chad with clean drinking water after their survival of the 2016 cholera outbreak.
  • Aid 500 people in the Central African Republic with a well that delivers clean, quality water.

Staying Grounded

After initial setbacks, The Well achieved popularity and expanded rapidly, gaining five locations in eight years like its Nashville coffeehouse counterparts. Although The Well has experienced immense success, CEO Mike Lenda recognizes the importance of impact over expansion. Core retention is one of the Board of Directors’ primary goals as it fueled the coffeehouse’s initial creation, and additional locations could threaten their focus. After all, the mission is about building essential wells for impoverished communities in Africa, not building a brand.

Although water scarcity remains a prevalent issue in certain parts of Africa, companies like The Well are easing people obstacles to accessing water. Without clean water access, it is nearly impossible to escape poverty and achieve progress. Water well construction ensures stability and security, which both have the potential to stabilize developing countries’ local and national economies by improving quality of life, creating community growth, preventing water-borne diseases and boosting economic strength.

—Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr


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