Kenyan Entrepreneur Works to Generate Clean Water From Air

The U.N. estimates that more than 1.8 billion people across the planet live in communities under drought conditions. The cost to the global economy measures in the tens of billions of dollars.

But despite the global nature of the problem, Beth Koigi, 33, knows that tackling drought will require local solutions.

In 2017, along with Canadian environmental scientist Anastasia Kaschenko and Oxford economist Clare Sewell, she founded the social-enterprise company Majik Water with the goal of making clean drinking water accessible in arid and semiarid regions across her native Kenya—where half the population lacks access to clean drinking water—and around the world. Instead of focusing on large infrastructure projects, Koigi’s organization gives local communities direct access to water in their backyard.

“The water-scarcity issue is becoming bigger and bigger,” says Koigi. “The world is looking for decentralized water sources.”

Majik, pronounced “magic,” relies on technology that at first blush does seem almost magical: a filtration system that pulls water from thin air. Her atmospheric water generators (AWGs) draw humidity from the air, condense it, filter out any bacteria and add essential minerals for drinking water. The system runs on solar power, allowing for installation in remote areas. And it works virtually anywhere, including places with relatively low humidity. “If you have air, you can have drinking water,” the group’s website states.

The approach isn’t entirely new. For centuries, humans have harvested water from fog. More recently, the U.S. military has explored devices like Majik Water’s to source water in challenging environments. Koigi emphasizes that Majik Water’s success isn’t just about the technology, but rather envisioning a variety of ways to apply it.

The company started by working with NGOs that bring Majik Water devices to communities after natural disasters to provide emergency services. Those function as essential sources of sanitary water for rural hospitals, while the company’s smallest devices can be used in households.

More recently, Majik Water has started working with local entrepreneurs on the ground in Kenya. Those individuals place the devices in busy shops and markets, providing access to everyday consumers who can pay to use the system. Working directly with people across Kenya not only allows the company to grow its footprint faster, but also supports the economies in these communities. “We are empowering a person to earn an extra income,” she says.

2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Beth Koigi in front of Majik Water’s Atmospheric Water Generator during the installation process in Kakuma refugee camp. (Eva Diallo—Rolex)

2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Beth Koigi in front of Majik Water’s Atmospheric Water Generator during the installation process in Kakuma refugee camp.

Eva Diallo—Rolex

Koigi’s work comes just as a startup ecosystem is burgeoning in Kenya. Combined with the severity of water issues in East Africa, Koigi sees a significant opportunity to expand.

“It’s a very big starting point,” she says.

Despite the inventiveness of Majik Water’s air-to-liquid technology, Koigi stresses that she isn’t running a technology company that will simply rapidly scale its core hardware. To grow in the long term, she says, the company will need to work with local communities to identify all of their local water challenges and help fix them.

“We want to become a company that offers holistic solutions,” says Koigi. “Water issues depend on the context.”

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