When the world’s largest retailer announced that it would be holding a Get on the Shelf contest for consumer product companies, TJ Foltz knew that he had found a way to catapult his business – and his mission – into the limelight.
But Foltz’s story doesn’t begin with Walmart. (It doesn’t end there, either.) It begins in Philadelphia, where Foltz was born and where he grew up. Christmas in Philly was a melancholy holiday for the young Foltz, whose heart ached for a Christmas gift of surpassing perfection that would satisfy all his inarticulate longings. Of course, no such Christmas gift was forthcoming. Later, Foltz came to understand that it was a spiritual longing he had been experiencing, and as a teenager, he found faith.
After going to school and studying to be a sportscaster, Foltz changed the trajectory of his life by entering the youth ministry instead. On mission trips, this youth pastor saw children drinking water that was visibly impure. The reason was easy to understand: if dirty water was the only water around, you would be drinking it, too. That is the situation for about 1 in 7 people on earth today.
Foltz was heartbroken to see the illness and death caused by unclean drinking water in developing countries. He learned that dirty water was claiming more human lives than violence was, war included. Like many entrepreneurs-in-the-making, he saw a need that wasn’t being met, and he vowed to meet it. It just so happened that the need was for clean drinking water for nearly 800 million people.
Though the job may have seemed daunting, Foltz never looked back. During a time of prayer, he hit upon the idea to use a bottled water company to fund clean water projects in developing countries. A bit of research turned up a staggering figure: one beverage brand had $1 billion in sales every year. Most of its sales came from single serve beverages bought one at a time. What a difference even a fraction of those dollars could make in developing countries!
In 2010 Foltz founded Humankind Water, a bottled water company with a mission – and a promise: 100% of net profits funds access to clean water in areas of the world that need it. For those who prefer tap water to bottled but still want to help, there is kindHuman, a non-profit organization that accepts donations.
Foltz had a product, a mission, and a story. What he needed was to get the word out. That was where Walmart’s Get on the Shelf contest came in. With a little help from social media, Humankind Water was able to break through the noise of the thousands of other contestants vying for space on Walmart’s shelves. Humankind won the competition.
Of course, not even a deal with Walmart can end the world’s problems, especially when the problem is as widespread as the drinking water crisis. But it went a long way in raising awareness around a simple fact: clean drinking water isn’t a luxury but a necessity, and many human beings don’t have it.
One person who heard the message loud and clear was Meg. She had worked as a critical care nurse in Haiti during a cholera outbreak. Cholera is often contracted from contaminated water supplies. Meg had seen firsthand the suffering and death caused by lack of clean drinking water. When she met TJ Foltz in 2012, she found someone who shared her passion for saving lives through clean water projects. So they teamed up – and later fell in love. Today, TJ and Meg Foltz are working together toward ending the world’s water crisis, expanding Humankind’s product line and funding clean water projects that save lives.
The best stories are the ones that aren’t over yet. You can visit www.humankindwater.com to see how Humankind continues to reach communities all over the world.