20-year-old Student Leader tackles global crisis
At just 20-years old, Anaa Jibicho is tackling global issues. Anaa is the co-founder and CEO of Didómi, a startup that tackles the water crisis in developing countries with reusable water bottles. Minne Inno recently named Jibicho to their 2020 Inno Under 25 list. It’s just the latest honor Jibicho earned for his innovative solution to a problem close to his heart.
Jibicho was an infant when his family fled from persecution in Ethiopia to Kenya. They were poor and didn’t have secure access to water. That experience stayed with Jibicho after he moved to Minnesota with his family. He worked hard, earning a 4.6 GPA in high school, knowing he wanted to succeed and make a difference.
During the summer of 2018, he earned a spot in the Bank of America Student Leader program. That’s when Jibicho put together the pieces of how he wanted to make his mark on the world and help people in the community he is from. Jibicho was teamed up with fellow Minnesota high schoolers to tackle a group project, while being mentored by leaders at Bank of America and Hennepin Theatre Trust. He says seeing the longstanding partnership between the Trust and Bank of America helped him to realize the power of partnering commerce with nonprofits, and that you can work in the private sector while still being community minded. He also worked with the Trust education and Theatre District engagement staff at events where he met people in the community, including some who were experiencing homelessness.
“I realized you can be in the private sector and still do things that help people,” he says. “I always thought that theater was just for rich people, and I saw the work the Trust was doing to make this accessible for everyone. It was really cool seeing Bank of America and Hennepin Theatre Trust step up and try to do something about it.”
What he experienced that summer — along with Bank of America’s philosophy that they do better when the community does better — helped him cement a dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
And he wasn’t going to wait until he had a college degree. Jibicho is currently studying economics, media studies and politics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. In addition to studies, he teamed up with his business partner Lamah Bility to launch Didómi. They sell a targeted product — reusable water bottles — to hit the problem of water insecurity from two angles. They are working to replace plastic disposable water bottles that contribute to the pollution of water streams in Africa. Also, 50% of Didómi’s profits go to nonprofits that directly work to give people access to safe drinking water.
Jibicho and Bility launched Didómi in the summer of 2020, after seeing the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“Be the drop that sends ripple throughout the world,” he explained. “What happens when a bunch of drops comes together. Whatever you do, try to do it in a community. That’s one thing that the protests have taught us. It showed us the collective power.”
He also connected the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the water crisis.
“WHO is recommending people wash their hands, but people can’t do that if they don’t have access to clean safe water.”
The two simultaneous crises made the partners see it was urgent to act, saying the water crisis has global effects.
“Women and children spend 200 million hours every single day getting water,” Jibicho says, passionately listing off powerful statistics. “Four thousand kids die every day for not having access to water. I honestly think that the next Einstein is in Africa, but she’s probably collecting water every single day instead of studying. The cure for cancer could be in the brain of a kid who cannot afford education. We don’t even know what we’re missing out on.”
He’s already gaining traction, and has been featured on local media.
For people who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start, Jibicho advises to start with something you’re passionate about, and then look for community.
“I don’t think anyone can speak as passionate about the water issues as I can because I lived it. Don’t be scared to tell your story. You would be surprised at how many people in the world want to help you make change happen.”
And he offers advice for future students in the Bank of America Student Leader program (apply now), which also sent him to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and other students in the program from across the country. Even as a refugee who has lived in three countries and survived challenges many would find unimaginable, Jibicho says the people he met through Student Leaders opened his eyes to new ways of thinking.
“Everyone has gone through something, there’s something you can learn from every single person,” he says. “Take advantage of it. I owe a lot to the Student Leader program. Make sure you take risks, learn and be exposed to the world.”
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