Access to clean, safe drinking water is a big problem for over 1 billion people in the developing world. These individuals must spend a great deal of time and energy simply collecting water that is often contaminated. This represents a huge opportunity cost for those struggling to better themselves economically. For example, in Africa over 40 billion hours a year are spent just hauling water from ponds, rivers or springs to villages where it is used.
Globally, diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Over 30,000 people die each week from diseases due to unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions. Tragically, 90% of these are children under the age of five. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.
One group that has done more than almost any other is charity:water, founded in 2006 by Scott Harrison, whose first gig was playing in a rock band. Dissatisfied with his life, Scott signed on as a photo journalist for Mercy Ships, a group of hospital ships operating along the western coast of Africa. During his time there, he saw firsthand the devastation wrought by diseases caused by unclean drinking water.
Water Changes Everything – charity:water
Determined to do something about it, he returned to New York and set about designing a new kind of charity focused on bringing clean drinking water to people throughout the developing world. The organization he founded, charity:water, has raised over $50,000,000 and invested in over 4,000 water projects serving over 2 million people worldwide. The approach taken by charity:water to accomplish this informs us about the new generation of social entrepreneurs.
Proof – Scott was disappointed to learn that many of his peers didn’t donate to charities because they weren’t sure how the money would be used. So he designed transparency and accountability into every water project undertaken by his organization. Charity:water provides GPS tracking and video cameras for every project so donors can see exactly how their money is being spent. Funding for the operation of the organization is raised separately – e.g., from grants and corporate sponsors.
Sustainability – The organization designed in sustainability to each project, so that it could be run by local water committees which oversee the management and maintenance of new wells.
Marketing – charity:water has been aggressive about teaming up with corporate partners and using a variety of publicity / marketing tools to recruit donors and volunteers. Go to their website and you’ll see merchandise and e-gift cards used to make it fun and easy to donate to water projects. The website is elegant and inviting, and packed with videos (versus walls of text). charity:water has also been very adept at using social media to promote its cause and engage donors.
Crowdsourcing – The organization has set up mycharity:water which provides a way for individuals to help it raise money through events.
Branding – charity:water has branded itself in a very intentional manner so that donors will associate it with the values and approach it has painstakingly developed since its founding to achieve its mission.
charity:water has ambitious goals. According to Scott Harrison, it wants to bring clean drinking water to 100,000,000 people by 2020. That is a goal we can all drink to.
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