Put on your own life mask first before assisting others. It’s sound (airplane safety) advice, but it’s also the template for Edwin Broni-Mensah’s life. The Londoner started his company GiveMeTap because he believes that everyone deserves access to clean water. A portion of the profits from the sales of his reusable bottles supports clean water projects in Africa. But GiveMeTap is not a charity. Edwin built his company on a simple philosophy: You don’t need to compromise your lifestyle for your cause.
That cause — clean water for everyone — wasn’t even on Edwin’s radar just 10 years ago. At the time, having just earned his first college degree, Edwin set a personal goal: six-pack abs. “For me, turning 25 was such a pivotal year,” he says, “I thought, as a guy, you needed to have certain things spiritually, emotionally, and really importantly, be in great shape.” Little did he know at the time, the pursuit of his own body ideals would take him down a very different path.
They want us to consume [water] out of an unsustainable form … plastic bottles.
He signed up for P90X, a workout program touting results in 90 days. Consequently, his food and water intake increased significantly. “That level of water consumption just had me always guzzling, always having a bottle with me, trying to stay hydrated,” he says. By now, Edwin was back in school, racing between home, campus, and the gym. On his way, he’d try to refill his water bottle at local restaurants. But water was for paying customers only.
Edwin was incredulous. In contrast to Ghana, where his father grew up, he says, “Here [in the UK] we have some of the best water in the world. People deny us access to it because they want us to consume it out of an unsustainable form … plastic bottles.” In that moment of realization, just shy of his 25th birthday, GiveMeTap was born.
Edwin didn’t think he’d ever own his own business — that wasn’t the plan. The computer science major was interested in game design and had his post-graduation sights on investment banking. He even interned at Goldman Sachs. It was a friend who initially introduced him to small business, and the two started a venture, entering the idea in a university business competition. “We ended up in the top three,” he says, “and that gave me this excitement that, wow, you can create something from your own vision, put it out into the world and [have] it be well-received.”
So when he launched GiveMeTap, he was able to use the experience — along with killer coding skills — to create the website in five days. Back then, he was building it from scratch, though he later switched to Shopify to give him time to focus on growing the business.
An estimated 844 million people globally don’t have access to safe water.
GiveMeTap’s mission is to make water accessible to everyone, no matter where you live in the world. Yet, an estimated 844 million people globally don’t have access to safe water. Edwin is attacking the problem from many angles. First, the website sells reusable stainless steel bottles direct to customers, aiming to reduce plastic bottle waste. His customers then have access to his free crowdsourced water refill app that partners with more than 800 restaurants and businesses in over 157 cities. Lastly, proceeds from bottle sales help select charity partners build wells in Ghana and other parts of Africa.
The cause hits close to home for the first-generation Brit. “I'm fortunate that I was born here for education, access to health care and all these opportunities,” he says. “I thought, well, now I can do something to empower and help other people.” Though the money he donates is clearly making an impact — GiveMeTap proceeds have, to date, provided clean water to over 22,000 people — Edwin says education is equally important. His own memories of visiting Ghana as a child differ greatly from the Africa depicted in charity ads. “The imagery they showed of Africa was one of lack of hope, desolate. It was abandoned places, kids with bellies and flies,” he says. “I wanted to show another side, a joyous side.”
By 2012, the business was gaining traction. He had joined an investment firm while still finishing his Ph.D. thesis and running the growing company on the side. “I was up super early in the morning and I was up super late at night,” he says. The day in April 2013 that he decided to finally dedicate himself full time to GiveMeTap, Edwin broke his leg. “That was such a good moment because it allowed me to have a hard reset,” he says.
He hasn’t slowed down since. GiveMeTap has created custom products for over 300 corporate partners including Google and Uber. Edwin switched manufacturers four times, hired five employees, and made two trips to Africa to participate in well-building ceremonies — all while tirelessly sharing his message through events and public speaking gigs.
[It’s] actually not helpful for us to say to people that if you do something noble, you should do it for penance, you should do it for nothing.
When I spoke to Edwin, he was traveling Asia, for business — developing new products for GiveMeTap — but also for pleasure. It’s the balance, he says, that keeps him motivated: “[It’s] actually not helpful for us to say to people that if you do something noble, you should do it for penance, you should do it for nothing.” If he had pursued a corporate career, luxury cars and vacations would be the expected lifestyle. Yet, in the social good space, it’s frowned upon. It’s backward, he says, and that’s a perception he’s trying to shift: “I want this to be a huge company that generates a lot of revenue, because that means we can impact so many people's lives.”
On the day that I’m writing his story, Edwin’s Instagram is packed with shots of Muay Thai training — he’s working on chasing that six-pack again — and bright pink beach sunsets. He’s living the life he hopes will attract people to pursue meaningful work and join his cause: “You can empower more people to do good if they're still able to live a good life as well.”
Illustrations by Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo