Kori Chilibeck

Top 40 Under 40 2011

Photography 3Ten/Aaron Pedersen

Age: 33

Job Title: Founder and CEO, Earth Water International and Earth Group

Why He’s Top 40: He created a first-world business to help third-world countries.

Key To Success: “If you really surround yourself with the best people, you’re guaranteed
to succeed.”

In 2005, Kori Chilibeck, then a University of Alberta political science major, was on the 12th day of climbing to the Mount Everest base camp, in -30 C weather, when a sideways glance changed his whole perspective.

He spotted an elderly man also climbing to the Everest base camp, but unlike Chilibeck, he was without shoes, gloves and a jacket. He hauled a giant basket filled with Coca-Cola on his back, for a job that paid him 25 cents a day.

“I wondered why couldn’t there be companies that compete against giants like Coca-Cola, pay everyone a fair wage, and give the rest to people who really needed it,” says Chilibeck. So, shortly after returning home from his trip, he created a business plan for a bottled water company that would give 100 per cent of net profits to impoverished people.

It was lofty goal, yes, and it came from a student without a business background. But after several months of “pure persistence,” he was invited to meet with United Nations officials for 10 minutes, provided he get off their backs. The UN agreed to a one-year trial partnership on Earth Water International, and later extended it to a multi-year partnership with the UN Refugee Agency.

Earth Water was a hit, but fell on hard times during the 2008 recession, when two U.S. manufacturers and a distributor he relied on went bankrupt. Chilibeck and his partner Matt Moreau, who ran the company with a van and laptop for a while, were forced to pull their product from the U.S. But in times like those, when the company would lose money, Chilibeck didn’t take a salary, and he continued to make donations to the UN.

Since then, the company has returned to the U.S., expanded into Europe, grown to include Earth Coffee and Earth Tea products and secured another three-year deal with the UN’s World Food Programme. To date, Chilibeck has helped feed and provide clean drinking water to approximately 250,000 people in some of the poorest nations on Earth, including Haiti, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Incredibly, the poli-sci major is still one class short of graduating. “[Earth Water] just consumed everything; I spent 12 hours a day on it and loved it, and still do.”

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