Making an Impact: Wes Meier, EOS International

Wes Meier is the CEO and co-founder of EOS International. EOS stands for Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability and EOS’s mission is to empower rural families in Central America with access to safe drinking water and opportunities to generate income through simple technology solutions and education. 

Since their founding in 2008, EOS has accomplished 2,325 installations of simple, inexpensive, and locally serviceable technologies and have helped over 534,167 Central Americans access safe drinking water and opportunities to generate income.

We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Wes about his inspiring work and here is what he had to say.

How did you get into this line of work?

I grew up in Iowa and studied Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University. After I graduated I was scared to jump right into a 9-5 job so I looked into other opportunities. I love travel and wanted to explore a new area and learn Spanish so I decided to join the Peace Corps. 

In the Peace Corps, I served in the Agricultural and Food Security sector in Nicaragua. I lived in a rural community near El Sauce, Leon, and it was a truly life-changing experience. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and I realized that I was extremely passionate about this kind of work. 

I initially started working with local farmers to incorporate sustainable farming practices such as live erosion barriers, improved fertilization strategies, and planting nutritious family vegetable gardens. My work quickly morphed into technology design and implementation where I implemented several of our early-stage technology solutions in the community. This work quickly grew to other Peace Corps volunteer sites throughout the country.

The journey has kind of been a slow process but I'm really happy that I had the opportunity as a Peace Corps Volunteer to test out models and technology solutions, and to really understand some of the needs and resources available. It was during this time that I met our co-founder and current country director Alvaro Rodriguez, and we founded EOS International. That was back in 2008 and we have been learning and growing ever since.

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What is the mission of EOS International?

EOS International empowers rural families in Central America with access to safe drinking water and opportunities to generate income through simple technology solutions and education. EOS promotes, manufactures, installs, tracks, and educates its users on life-changing technology projects that allow access to clean water and create economic opportunities for individuals to break the cycle of poverty and improve their quality of life.

Nicaragua and Honduras, where EOS primarily operates, are some of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with fifty percent of the rural population living below the national poverty line. A large majority of the impoverished population lives in rural areas, where access to basic services is limited and to where businesses and NGOs rarely travel. In addition to living in remote areas and possessing little purchasing power, most rural families continue to live without access to clean drinking water and have little opportunity to generate income.

How does EOS provide safe water?

First, we target water quality. Most Central America communities are developed enough where they have some type of a water system. Generally it is a gravity fed system where water is gathered from a stream or in the mountains and piped into an elevated tank to the community. The community tank has pipes that provide each home with running water. However, over 90% of the water is contaminated with bacteria. Therefore, our first step is to test the water systems in each community to understand what they are drinking.

The second step is water treatment which is done via water chlorinators. Chlorine tablets are the most effective way to treat unsafe water and remove the bacteria that is making people sick.

The third step is ongoing monitoring, evaluation and distribution of the chlorine tablets. We use a market-based model to distribute the chlorine tablets to community distribution points throughout the country.

Since we are targeting a community water system as a whole, we are able to directly target the source of the problem and provide treatment to entire communities at once. It is the best system to guarantee success.

What kind of impact has EOS made?

We have provided clean water services including training, education, and support for 1169 communities impacting 526,742 people. Our 50 chlorine distribution centers have created income generating opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

For our fuel-efficient ovens, over 40% of oven beneficiaries, which are mostly women, were able to start their own businesses. The ovens are safe to use and eco-friendly, using approximately 80% less firewood than traditional wood-burning ovens. By baking and selling goods, users were able to increase their annual income by 65%.

What is an average day like for you on the job? 

I work remotely here in Minneapolis and oversee our operations in Nicaragua and Honduras along with our co-founder and country director Alvaro Rodriguez. We have a total of twenty on-the-ground staff in Nicaragua and Honduras. Our locally managed team works to ensure the successful implementation of technology solutions through tracking, evaluating, and revisiting community installations to ensure a long-term, positive impact.

A lot of my day is spent communicating via Skype or WhatsApp calls with our staff, and overseeing some alliances and partnerships that we're creating. However, I also work to build relationships here in the US with partners and donors.

What is the benefit of working at the Impact Hub?

The Impact Hub is not just a local network but a global network with hubs across the United States and around the world. This has been wonderful as I’ve been able to tap into different hubs both across the US and internationally and use the co-working space during my travels. What has been so beneficial for me is that I get to meet like-minded people in the social impact space all going through the same challenges.

Why do you do the work you do?

By school and training I’m an engineer so I have a really common passion for technology and technical solutions. During my time in the Peace Corps and running EOS International, my passion has morphed into solutions for scaling in business, all within the realm of of social impact. 

It is thrilling to make a positive impact in the countries and communities that we’re serving. I am very fortunate to be able to travel into these countries and get to witness firsthand the impact we’re making. I’ve also enjoyed all the new challenges of growing a business from the ground up.   

EOS doesn’t donate their technologies but instead ensures that local communities are making their own investments. Why did you choose this model?

I think this idea stemmed from coming as a Peace Corps volunteer and seeing firsthand what development looks like. In my opinion, the Peace Corps model is one of the best models out there. By sending a volunteer into a community, we were paid a stipend that was just above the local living wage, so I was paid about six dollars a day. This is critical because you're living with the community members and living with the same resources and challenges as everyone else.  This meant that I had to come up with solutions from within and that was much more difficult but more sustainable in the long term. 

We used this same model with EOS, realizing that we are not giving out handouts and instead we are making sure people are investing and have some skin in the game. By investing in technologies, the community is investing in their own future. We tweaked the model a little bit to take it where we can grow and expand. This model also allows the communities to hold us accountable so if we're not providing the right solution, they will let us know and we can fix it.  

How are you funded?

About 50% comes from the US (individual donors, foundations and grants), and about 30% of the investment comes from the actual community, and the remaining 20% comes from a local government. Our goal is to find the resources from within so currently about 50% comes from within country and 50% comes from our US base. 

EOS is very people-focused. Why did you go this direction? 

Over the years, we have evolved as an organization. Starting off with a technical background, I was always counting and paying attention to the numbers but then I realized that it is just a headcount and that wasn’t what mattered. What matters is the people we are impacting and how we are impacting them and improving their lives. Our job is to communicate and educate our investors and donors on what kind of impact they are making on the community level. Together we are making a difference and that is what matters. 

Want to learn more?

Visit www.eosinternational.org

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