Jonas Umbrellas Startup Crowdfunds Wells For African Schools

“Stay Dry. Give Water. Make a Difference.” The motto epitomizes the core mission of Jonas Umbrellas, a company founded by Josh Pavano, BC ’10. Jonas Umbrellas sells a limited-edition designer line of umbrellas. Once 3,000 Jonas Umbrellas have been sold, a well will be funded in sub-Saharan Africa through the company’s third-party non-profit, Drop in the Bucket.

“Unlike Toms, with its one-for-one model … we have a crowd-funding model,” Pavano said. “Everyone contributes to one big item that makes a huge difference.” Jonas Umbrellas gives everyone the opportunity to become a piece of the puzzle that will save thousands of lives.

“I came up with the idea about eight months ago when I was in Uganda and Rwanda,” Pavano said of his visit to Africa as part of his MBA program at George Washington University. “I was really just kind of changed by that experience.” Pavano went on to describe how humbling it was to see the limited resources there, compared to the excess present in the U.S.

Upon returning to the U.S., Pavano got in touch with various non-profits, and he created a startup in Plainville, Conn. Jonas Umbrellas soon partnered with Drop in the Bucket, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles that builds wells and sanitation systems at Sub-Saharan African schools.

According to the Jonas Umbrellas website, 4,500 children die from not having access to clean water everyday. Each day, mothers and daughters in Sub-Saharan Africa have to walk 3.75 miles to collect dirty water for their families. This usually takes anywhere from four to six hours per day.

Pavano explained that with every 3,000 Jonas Umbrellas sold and every well built, 1,000 school children and 6,000 people overall will have access to clean water. “Girls will get to go to school instead of searching for water sources,” Pavano said.

Jonas Umbrellas chooses which schools will receive wells through Drop in the Bucket’s systematic process. The company chooses a large area of schools and stack ranks those schools based on need, considering resources available, the number of children, family size, and access to water.

“We’ll be choosing the most needy schools based on the information Drop in the Bucket provides us,” Pavano said. By working on implementing wells in general areas, the companies make sure that water is distributed fairly based on need and is eventually accessible to everyone in the community.

Pavano described Jonas Umbrellas as “a for-profit social venture.” The company keeps some of the profits in order to start the next projects. “We don’t want it to be a one-time thing,” Pavano said.

Instead, the company wants to create a sustainable model and continue to put in more wells. About 15% of the profits is needed for well installation, maintenance, upkeep, and supervision. Some of the profits also go toward microfinancing to help people maintain the well on their own, according to Pavano.

“It’s been a learning process,” Pavano said. He started Jonas Umbrellas on his own, and he currently  has only three interns from George Washington University and a creative director to help him run the company.

“There’s been a lot of trial and error, reaching out to different networks, trying to get as many people involved as I can, and creating great partnerships,” he said. Pavano described trying to find people who want to make a difference, and how Jonas Umbrellas’ mission is key to the future success of the projects.

Jonas Umbrellas has recently started a campaign with Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money and awareness for various projects. “It’s super, super important for us,” Pavano said. The Indiegogo campaign has allowed Jonas Umbrellas to try preorders for the first time, and it is allowing people to make solid contributions to get the company moving.

“We’re just trying to get as much traffic to this website,” Pavano said. “We want people to get awareness of clean water and issues, and what we’re trying to do to mitigate these issues.” The campaign will be running until May 2. As of April 12, the campaign has raised $6,263 of its $18,000 goal, which equals about 140 to 145 umbrellas sold.

“BC was super influential for me,” Pavano said. “It’s definitely a service-based community, and it set me on the right path for getting back.” Pavano emphasized how grateful he is for his time at BC and the fierce pride he has for the University. “At the end of the day, this project will hopefully save a lot of people’s lives. That’s why I’m doing this,” he said.

In a video posted on Jonas Umbrellas’ website, Pavano said, “Imagine you’re walking down the street, and you see someone with the same umbrella pattern as you. You’d know that both you and them helped fund a well that gave clean water to over 6,000 people. To me that’s special. It creates a network-a network of people, who are willing to give back to others.”

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