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Jeff Church (born August 24, 1961) is the cofounder of NIKA Water Company, a social entrepreneurial model that donates its profits to alleviate poverty, and Suja Juice, an organic juice company in California.
Church graduated from Michigan State University in 1983 with a B.A. in accounting and was named one of the top twenty-five graduating seniors out of 8,000 students. He later attended Harvard Business School and graduated with a Masters in Business Administration in 1988.
Between graduating from Michigan State and attending Harvard, Church worked as a CPA for Ernst & Young.
Prior to cofounding NIKA, Church was CEO of Universal Building Products, a middle-market concrete forming and shoring company – and purchased, built and sold several companies through his private equity firm, Autus Capital including Aztec Concrete Accessories, Lynx Professional Grills and Pool Tables.
Church co-founded Suja Juice in 2012. He also founded Suja Elements, a refreshment line that uses cold-pressed organic juice, blended fruits and "superfoods", available exclusively at Whole Foods Market. In the summer of 2015, Suja announced an investment and distribution partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, as well as a minority investment from Goldman Sachs; Church played a key role in brokering these deals, which helped to expand Suja’s distribution to almost 50% more locations, including new venues such as college campuses and big grocery chains. In 2015, Suja was named #2 on the list of Forbes America’s Most Promising Companies.
Philanthropy, activism and humanitarian work
The combination of seeing the impact of the global clean water crisis first-hand during a 2008 visit to Kenya combined with the ideas of his children and the inspiration of Craig Kielburger of Free The Children, led Church to form NIKA with business school classmate Mike Stone in March 2009. NIKA translates from Zulu as “to give.”
After costs and taxes, NIKA Water Company directs 100 percent of its profits to alleviate water and sanitation needs in impoverished countries. It is the first bottled water company to donate all profits from sales to charity and be certified as carbon neutral by the Carbonfund.org. As the business model, Church used the example of Paul Newman’s company, Newman’s Own, and its charitable arm, Newman’s Own Foundation.
NIKA team members, along with San Diego-based Project Concern International, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), traveled to Nicaragua to bring clean water to more than 700 people, 100 homes, two schools and two health clinics to a local village outside the city of Jinotega for the first time. The engineering feat involved piping water out of the upper elevations of a 3,000-foot mountainside from previously inaccessible aquifers through a concrete channel and into large reservoir tanks. The water was then distributed through a PVC pipe system into the homes, schools and clinics. NIKA, Project Concern and the local community spent approximately $160,000 on the total project.
“We got into NIKA because we went to Ethiopia and Kenya and saw the water crisis first-hand,” Church said about his family’s 2007 trip to Africa. “I have four kids that are in middle school and high school and when we came back they were inspired and wanted to make a difference. The youth today are so much more socially- and environmentally-minded than my generation, and when I see their enthusiasm and energy, it really gives me hope for the future and confidence that we are in good hands, that our society’s kids are going to make a difference.”
NIKA has a multi-year donation project with Free the Children and built a K-8 school in Pimbinet, Kenya, for 500 students, brought in a clean water system and provided micro credit lending for the village mothers.
Church addresses business audiences worldwide on the topic and concept of social entrepreneurship.
An avid runner, Church also climbed five of the Seven Summits including mountains Kosciuszko (Australia), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Elbrus (Europe), Aconcagua (South America) and Vinson Massif (Antarctica).
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