Ryan White Helps Bring Clean Water to African Villages

When successful entrepreneur Ryan White thought he found a charity he really wanted to support, he did more than just ordinary due diligence. He performed an audit.

Looking over the books and operation of Drop in the Bucket—a nonprofit organization that funds the construction of wells that bring clean water and sanitation to villages in East Central Africa—White was impressed enough to not just get personally involved, but provide ongoing financial support through his rapidly growing business.

White ’99 MBA is founder, president and chief executive officer of INSIGHT2PROFIT, a pricing and profit consulting firm that serves business-to-business manufacturers and distributors.

“We help them drive profitability through pricing and other actions to improve their profits as a company,” says White, describing his company. “It’s a combination of ideas and strategy, but it’s mostly using data and algorithms to look for patterns and to drive behavior and measure results. It’s a topic that most companies don’t have expertise in.”

White founded the company as a solo consultant in 2006 after working 11 years and rising from production into the ranks of management at Avery Dennison, a manufacturer of specialty adhesive materials, labels, sensors and medical dressings. He joined the corporation after graduating from Lafayette College with a mechanical engineering degree. He attended MBA classes at Lehigh while working.

Bored with corporate life, White says he looked to move himself and his young family overseas and explored job opportunities in Italy, the Netherlands and Australia. But on a return flight from a job interview in Australia, White took an airplane napkin and jotted down ideas to start a new business of his own.  He quit his job after landing.

With his wife eight-months pregnant with their second child, it was a risky time to start a company. But he had been preparing for it.

“I had saved up for years and years and years,” he says. “I knew that I always wanted to start my own business, and I did some really smart things about paying off school debt and working hard and driving a 10-year-old car.”

Twelve years in, the risk and hard work has paid off. INSIGHT2PROFIT has grown at an average rate of 25 percent a year and boasts more than 100 employees who seem to appreciate their work environment. The company was named one of the Top Workplaces in Northeast Ohio in 2014 by The Plain Dealer based on a survey of employees.

But perhaps most remarkable about INSIGHT2PROFIT is that a dedicated percentage of its profits goes directly to Drop in the Bucket, which has built more than 350 wells for villages in Uganda and South Sudan. More than 100 of those are as a direct result of funding provided through the company White started.

The organization also builds flush latrines at schools and teaches villagers about proper sanitation and the prevention of diseases that spread through contaminated water. More than 844 million people lack even a basic source of drinking water, according to the World Health Organization, which estimates that more than 840,000 people, including 361,000 children under age 5, die each year because of unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene.

Drop in the Bucket also provides resources for children to attend school and employs local people who are tasked with drilling, monitoring and maintaining wells.

White says that when he was first drawn to the idea of donating to organizations that work on the clean drinking water issue, he did some research. “I wanted to engage with a small organization that I could really get my arms around and understand and trust,” he says. “So I found this little charity. When I called them, the founder answered.”

The founder, television producer Stacey Travis, was moved to start the organization after accompanying two doctors on a medical trip to a village in Uganda. One of the doctors told her that the worst part of the journey is knowing that everyone he helps will be just as sick the next time he goes back because of the water they are drinking.

Feeling an immediate connection, White decided to donate money. Then he got 50 friends to donate. Then he decided to ask if he could do an audit of the organization “to make sure I could trust the money and where it is going. And they let me,” he adds with some amazement. When it all checked out, he decided to go to Africa and see some of the work firsthand.

Now a member of its board of directors, White has since visited at least three more times.

“It’s emotionally grueling,” he says, “because you go and sit down with these kids and you live in these villages that have no water and no electricity. It’s hard—not hard physically; well, it is hard physically—but it’s hard emotionally.

“The funny thing is that often they are happier than we are. ... They’re less stressed, but they do have significant health problems. We’re not trying to bring our culture to them. We’re trying to give them more access to clean water and education.”

White downplays his commitment to the cause.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he says. “I started having success very early. I got a very good job coming out of Lehigh. I just started saving and not spending. So I had resources, and I just started realizing how fortunate I was and investing those resources.”

Later he adds: “I do it for selfish reasons. I’m doing it because it brings me peace and brings me happiness. Or else I’d feel guilty for what’s been brought to me. I’m lucky.”

Story by Daryl Nerl

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