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Water with a Heart: Empowering Women with Everybody Water

Water is something that none of us can survive without. It keeps us hydrated, it helps us cook, it keeps us clean. Yet there are more than 2 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to this basic necessity of clean water. And due to this lack of access, women and girls across the world spend hours each day walking and carrying water, leading to lower rates of participation in school.

To confront this issue, Kimberly Reilly and Megan Hayes co-founded Everybody Water, a business that promotes both sustainability in its product design and women’s empowerment with its broader impact. 

Their product, water in a paperboard carton with a cap made with sugarcane, is 100% recyclable, and a portion of their proceeds go to support clean water projects in countries including Honduras, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and many more. Their tagline, “Water with a Heart,” encompasses their goal to bring together a community that supports women and girls by supporting clean water projects. We caught up with Reilly and Hayes to learn more about their journey.

Megan Hayes and Kimberly Reilly

YHM: Tell us the story behind how Everybody Water started. Why did you start this company, and what did you hope to achieve?

Megan Hayes: It wasn’t about starting Everybody Water or a brand. We both had careers. We both have girls. We had gotten to that point where we wanted to do something bigger, something that gives back. The give-back component was super important to both of us. Something with a social impact beyond us, as well as an initiative, focused on the inequality of women and girls around the world. And then we thought, how do we solve the problem of what’s holding back women and girls? Initially, we thought it was education holding them back. That’s what I had always heard. But when we learned that the number one thing is water, we were just floored.

1 in 5 people in the world are walking all day for water. How do people not know about this? And if they knew about it, we know they would want to do something about it. So, there was no name for our company, there was no product. It came from the goal of solving the problem for women and girls and making a difference in their lives so they wouldn’t have to walk for water. So they can go to school, earn an income, and really thrive and have a future. 

And then we thought, how do we do this? We brainstormed. We knew we wanted it to be a product. We knew we wanted it to be something that people used every day, and they didn’t even think about it. We knew we wanted to tie people together, to bring together a community. And we finally realized, oh yeah! Water for water! So next, it was coming up with the branding and finding the best packaging. We did extensive research for a year, trying to find out if this was viable. It was about finding the co-packer and learning about permitting. But most importantly of all, it was finding the right non-profit to work with. Because a portion of our sales fund clean water projects. 

YHM: What nonprofit organization did you decide to partner with? Why did you choose them?

Kimberly Reilly: We chose Water 1st International. The biggest reason we chose them was because of the quality of the projects they support and the impact those projects have on women and girls. The projects that Water 1st completes are projects that bring water directly into the home, as well as all of the sanitation, showers, toilets, and sinks in each household. It’s this in-home solution—a permanent solution—that impacts the women and girls. So they don’t have to walk, carry water, or wait in lines.

Hayes and Reilly visiting Honduras

Even when there is clean water in a village, it is still left to women and girls to get the water, to carry it, and to wait for it. It isn’t an adequate solution. We knew that women were affected by the lack of access to clean water, but it wasn’t until we got into the details of these initiatives that we realized that projects that built pumps in villages still leave a heavy burden on women and girls. So it’s remarkable, really, the difference that in-home solutions make in their lives. It gives them 5 or 7 hours a day back, where they can do more productive things with their lives. They can go to school. They can work and earn incomes. 

Not to mention the physical burden that is relieved from these projects. This is tough on the body. These women are carrying heavy containers of water on terrain that is sometimes steep, and it takes a toll on their bodies. There is a safety component for women too. With water at home, they’re not out in the middle of the night getting water, which is not always safe. There is a sanitation piece too. When they’re menstruating, that’s yet another reason that prevents girls from attending school because they can’t stay clean without water. 

MH: We also chose Water 1st International because we could travel with them to see the projects. It was really important for us to meet the communities being impacted. Water 1st has an organization on the ground in each of the countries they support, which works with the people in these communities. We went to Honduras twice and Bangladesh once so far. We were able to bring filmmakers and come back and tell these stories of the people we were helping. 

YHM: Why is it important for you to empower women? Why did you want to incorporate that at the forefront of your business?

KR: Entering the food and beverage industry is not that common for women. Not so much on the business side where we sell the water, but the manufacturing side, the packaging side, and the distribution side are largely male-run. And sometimes, they can be intimidating. When we first started, Megan and I were doing all kinds of research, and we had this one very memorable call. This guy said, “Who do you think you are, going against Coke and Pepsi?” In our journey, we’ve just had to tune that stuff out. And we’ve found enormous support from women. Support for both our mission and also support for us, as two women with big ambitions for our company and for changing the lives of other women and girls. So we, in turn, try to be equally supportive to businesses, organizations, and events that are supporting women. 

MH: Kim touched on it perfectly. The one thing that I would say is that it’s also about empowering our girls, and having them see that Kim and I have grown something from nothing. We knew nothing about the beverage business when we started. We went into, as Kim noted, a very male-dominated space. But our focus was on giving back. And that’s what drives us every day. We know that we’re changing lives, and we know that our community is making a difference. The people who are behind Everybody Water, from the shop owners to the individuals who buy our water, to the events that we attend, everyone believes in giving back at their core. And for our girls to see that we, as women, can make a difference in the lives of other women and girls around the world, was super important to us. 

YHM: Tell us more about your experience as two women starting a business. Why does it make what you do so much more important?

MH: I think being a woman has helped us. We are in a space that is not traditionally focused on women. We started Everybody Water to uplift women and girls, and we are two women who are doing that and who have daughters as well. Women are incredible when it comes to supporting one another. I think I always knew that, but I hadn’t ever experienced it to this level. The number of women, and men too, who have gone out of their way to help us along the journey, help us in making connections, help us learn about different sectors. It has been incredible. Many of them didn’t know us at all, but they believed in Everybody Water, and they wanted to be a part of it. I think there have been far more positives than negatives in being a women-owned organization in this situation.

KR: I would add that at this particular point in our lives, it’s a great time. We’ve had a lot of experience, we have the confidence, and we’re not afraid to do something that we haven’t done before. We’re not afraid to ask questions and put ourselves out there. Listening to our instincts and our hearts and letting that guide a lot of our decisions, was important for us to do. I think that sometimes women, especially early in their careers, tend to not lean in as much as they can or should. But I feel, at this point in my life, I am going to lean in. I wished that I leaned into other things earlier in my life, but I’m doing it now, and I feel like that is a strength.

Everybody Water cartons are fully recyclable, made of FSC certified paperboard, and use renewable materials

YHM: For women who are interested in starting a business with a positive social impact like yours, what advice do you two have?

KR: When choosing what it is you want to impact, understand it well, and be as close to it as possible. Our ability to travel to see the clean water projects, to meet the people firsthand, has been incredibly motivating. It gives us the passion to make a difference that really comes through in everything we do. In our sales, when we’re talking to people at our events, when we’re connecting with others, I think that you can feel our passion. That passion comes with truly believing in the cause we are supporting, understanding it in detail, and knowing the people we’re impacting.

MH: I think finding something at your core that you believe in, helps you move forward. Specifically for women, I would say, it’s hard to be fearless. But if you believe in something, don’t let anybody get in your way. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and are going to uplift you.

Also, not having experience in the food and beverage industry worked to our benefit because we don’t do things in the same way. I’m not saying to purposely focus on something you know nothing about, but don’t let that hold you back. There is not a one-size fit all road map. You can create your road map. It may look different from everybody else, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a recipe for success.


Photos: courtesy of Everybody Water

Elisa Xu

Elisa is a student at Washington University in St. Louis with a passion for highlighting social issues and the importance of mental health and wellness. When not writing, she enjoys playing with her corgi, taking photos, and eating good food with friends.