Manna Energy Limited: A Business Model from Heaven?

Posted by on September 8, 2009 in Africa, Featured, Videos

This past February, at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in Austin, Texas, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Evan Thomas, Executive Vice President of Manna Energy Limited, an organization committed to bringing clean water to communities in Rwanda. We ran into each other on the first evening, and as it would go, we began a conversation about effective community development. This 26-year-old NASA engineer and recent PhD graduate began to share with me (quite passionately, might I add) about some of the challenges of the non-profit sector. He spoke of the difficulty in ensuring proper training, accountability, and economic sustainability with donor dollars. We covered it all. But rather than just submitting a cynical point of view, Thomas told me about this award-winning for-profit clean water company, Manna Energy Limited, that harnesses the power of the Kyoto Protocol and a private sector business structure to transform communities with access to sustainable clean water systems.

rwanda water

Learning How to Last

Thomas first went to Rwanda with the University of Colorado chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA). The group invented and installed a patent-pending surface water system, which uses clean energy to purify disease-saturated water. “The model of groups like this is great,” Thomas said, “you have trained engineers who are willing to give their time to work with, set up and fix water treatment systems. You have the human resources.”

Manna was born from EWB. As planning began, the founding team ran into a couple obstacles while trying to implement the traditional community development model. First, Thomas explained, you need an identifiable community. Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, making it difficult to find these structured communities with leaders and governments that would help to maintain the water treatment systems.

Second, simply training local technicians without paying them was not working. Even when they found the community technician and explained simple ways to maintain the systems, the systems would sometimes fail, as the individual(s) could not afford to volunteer time away from income-earning opportunities. The Manna team knew they needed consistent finances to maintain the systems. And from this problem, their business model was born.

Manna Energy Limited is a for-profit, service-providing company, offering equity to stockholders, operating through investors, working with a non-profit foundation, and participation in the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Rather than operating on a project-by-project basis, they are a service provider, installing and maintaining water treatment systems operated with clean energy.

The Carbon Credit Market

To maintain the water systems, Manna operates in a partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Millennium Development Goal Carbon Facility, allowing them to sell carbon credits through the CDM.In summary, the carbon credit market is designed to lower global carbon dioxideemissions through market-based mechanisms. Each carbon credit represents one ton of carbon dioxide not emitted to the atmosphere.

Thomas explained that the CDM executive board proclaimed two rights of nations: the right to develop and the subsequent appropriateness of suppressing the demand for carbon emissions through alternative technologies. Manna is the first clean water project to combine both. When they are approved for CDM registration (expected in early 2010, according to Thomas), Manna will be the first clean water organization to participate in the market as well as the first method to successfully suppress the need for rare firewood in the water purification process. Through the CDM carbon credit market, the water treatment system will generate self-sustaining income for a period of ten years.

Currently, Manna employs six Rwandans to manage the existing projects. At full roll out, Manna will operate 400 water treatment systems (over the next four years), employing over 300 local and remote staff, and through the CDM carbon credit market, net over $102 million in revenue over 14 years. The money will be used to not only to operate and maintain these systems, but also to expand this model worldwide.

The fourteen-year plan also allows for appropriate time to sufficiently train local communities to own these systems as their own. “I’m an engineer,” Thomas said, “and it has taken me years of education to learn how to be one. It will take even more time for me to become a really good engineer. Why should we expect any different from the local Rwandan technicians?” Over the years, Manna’s time frame will allow for comprehensive training and relationship building, which are vital to the maintenance of clean water systems in developing cultures.


What’s in a Name?

In the Ancient Jewish history, manna is a type of food that divinely came from heaven to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. It represents protection and timely provision. And I personally do not find it a coincidence that this clean water company bears this in its name. The innovative method of Manna Energy Limited ensures sustainability through a marriage of cause-impassioned efforts, preserving Rwanda’s right to develop through a for-profit leverage of its right to emissions.

Before we ended our conversation, Thomas told me the story of Primus, a Rwandan orphan who drank the first clean glass of water that the Mugonero orphanage had ever seen. “We are constantly talking with major investors and powerful governments,” Thomas said, “but it is through stories like that of Primus that we find our purpose.”


Amy comes from a background of strategic cause marketing, fundraising, event planning, public relations, service provision and program development. With an MPA in Non-Profit Management from Indiana University, she has worked for a variety of humanitarian development organizations and companies including Opportunity International, TOMS, Disaster Psychiatry Outreach, among others. She has successfully led fundraising and marketing initiatives that deploy integrated media, engage and grow special interest group involvement, and support major and planned giving programs. Currently, she works at as an Account Supervisor for a non-profit marketing and fundraising agency.

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