Impact Economics: A Social Enterprise on a Humanitarian Mission

Written by Kelly Stincer.

Hundreds of organizations across the world work tirelessly to help those in need – feeding the hungry, giving people shelter and providing medical care. Many of these organizations work in areas that do not have regular access to safe water, forcing residents to rely on water that’s been transported from far away, hopefully in clean and uncontaminated containers. Impact Economics in Columbus, Ohio, works closely with humanitarian organizations to distribute collapsible backpacks to residents in areas without sanitary running water, allowing them to safely and easily transport up to 20 liters of liquid at a time.

“Sometimes people in these devastated areas are purely thinking of survival and may not realize how dangerous it is to drink contaminated water,” said Tony Somers, founder and COO of Impact Economics. “Our goal is to identify humanitarian efforts on the ground in these areas that can use the packs as an additional tool to help people.”

The specially-designed backpack is called the packH2O water backpack, and is available commercially for use when camping or hiking. More than 95% of the packs, however, are used for humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Some are deployed domestically to support areas in the US, but most are sent overseas to countries like Haiti, Kenya and India. The nonprofit organizations that partner with Impact Economics often raise funds for the packs through donations and grants.

“We have a social responsibility to measure our business’ impact not just in dollars and cents, but in lives impacted,” said Somers. “So far the pack has improved one million lives, with a goal of 20 million by the year 2020.”

Impact Economics was formed in partnership with Greif Inc., an industrial packaging manufacturer in Delaware, Ohio. After an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, Greif’s top executives travelled to the country to find a way to help, and designed and manufactured the packH2O by late 2012 as a result. To help capitalize the project, NCT Ventures, a central Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier, invested in Impact Economics to help the company identify organizations that would benefit from distributing the packs.

Impact Economics received additional funding from Ohio Third Frontier that helped the company build a business infrastructure around the packH2O water backpack initiative. The company’s priority is to build additional partnerships and distribute the pack to as many people as possible, but is also working to pair new products with the packs like water filters and solar lighting.

Somer says his company’s location in Ohio has been integral to its success. He’s partnered with a manufacturer in central Ohio to build the packH2O, and has tapped into the vast talent graduating from The Ohio State University each year to build a company that has a global impact right here in Ohio.

“We are able to take advantage of the resources and bright minds in central Ohio to make a difference,” said Somers. “We see the lives changed by our partner organizations every day, and we’re proud to say that we’re a part of that effort and are helping these noble causes to do more good.”

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