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.