Rising Star Fernando Tamayo

By Seth Robinson

“Entrepreneurship is not about success on a daily basis. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about waiting and persevering, and suddenly all that hard work gives you a little bit of luck. That’s when you really start working. In that regard, it’s like raising a kid, you plan for them, when they’re born you don’t sleep, and even when they’re 18 you might have some problems. But you love them, and they’re always there.” – Fernando Tamayo, YAQUA Founder.

Fernando graduated from the Bachelor of Commerce in 2010. It was the end of an eventful university career, that marked the beginning of something much larger, YAQUA, a social enterprise that is providing remote Peruvian communities with access to clean, drinkable water.

YAQUA is a social enterprise that transforms the consumption of bottled water into a movement for change and solidarity. Launched in August 2013, it sells bottled water and transfers 100% of the profits towards implementing clean water projects in the most vulnerable communities of Peru.

“In many places in Peru, if you drink water from the tap you end up in hospital. For that reason, the bottled water market makes sense, it’s a growing market and it’s very profitable. Those profits also allow us to install clean water systems in remote areas, which has a huge flow-on effect in these communities. Peru is a place where the location of your birth defines the success you can have in life. Water is a necessity, being able to wake up and drink a clean glass of water changes things. We’ve found that in communities that have access to clean water versus those that don’t there’s a height difference of ten centimetres. If a mother doesn’t have access to clean water during pregnancy, there can be all sorts of developmental issues.

- Fernando Tamayo.

“Clean water also increases productivity. In some of these places, people – usually women and young girls – would have to walk three kilometres each way to collect clean water. By giving them access to water locally, this opens up time for other work and activities to take place, for young girls to go to school.”

The idea for YAQUA was seeded during Fernando's studies in the BCom, with the inspiration coming from local company, thankyou.

“I was invited to a Future Leaders event that was run by the Faculty, and young Australian humanitarian leader Hugh Evans came to speak with us. He worked with Kevin Rudd on the Global Poverty Project, and spoke about the millions of people who live in extreme poverty. I spoke with him afterwards, and he said something that stuck with me, ‘if there are eight million Peruvians who don’t have clean water, then you have eight million reasons to return to your country and do something about it’.

“After that, I learned about thankyou. I emailed Daniel Flynn, their Co-founder, and he agreed to meet with me. He gave me some tips and highlighted some of the challenges I’d face with the project. So, I returned to Peru, armed with a team of ten young people, and it took us three years from the idea to see that first bottle,” he says. “The first year was really difficult, because when you sell bottled water you compete against some of the biggest companies in the world. A major breakthrough for us was when CNN picked up our story and reported it across South America. At that point it went viral, the Peruvian media became involved and the supermarkets began to carry YAQUA. Even Gastón Acurio, a famous Peruvian chef, began stocking us in his restaurants. Now, I’ve hired someone else to take on operations and the role of CEO. I’m focusing on innovation projects, and what’s next for YAQUA.”

Now, Fernando has returned to Melbourne, where he is accepting the Faculty of Business and Economics Alumni of Distinction Rising Star for Young Alumni Award. He’s also speaking at a joint Faculty and Melbourne Microfinance Initiative (MMI) event. MMI is the first and largest student-run microfinance initiative in Australia, which Fernando founded in 2010, the final year of his BCom.

You can read about our other 2019 Alumni of Distinction Award recipients here.

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“We arrived at the airport yesterday, and I was like ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I’m back!’ It’s fantastic to be here, Melbourne is an incredible city, and getting to live and study here was such a privilege, one I know not many Peruvians have. That was kind of how MMI came about as well, I was on exchange at the University of Pennsylvania, and I joined the Pen Microfinance initiative. I took the students there to Peru to work on a microfinance initiative, and it had a huge impact on them. When I came back to Melbourne, I decided to set up MMI, because I wanted other students to have that experience. At the beginning we didn’t really know what we were doing, but the faculty and the students were really supportive, so we ran a few events and I think it’s just grown from there! Now they run projects all over the world.

“I think launching MMI was one of the best experiences of my life. It was where I learned what I really wanted to do, and what my capabilities are. It gave me a sense of possibility. Without MMI I wouldn’t have started YAQUA. I wouldn’t have made that decision and I don’t think I would have been able to convince myself I was capable of that. That’s the great thing about university, it’s making the most of the time you have there and discovering yourself, because those three years go really fast. Personally, I hope to come back here and study more.”