Let’s Not Forget the Role of Philanthropy in Solving the Global Water Crisis

Editors Note: This guest post is authored by Greg Allgood, MSPH, PhD, Vice President at World Vision, where he helps lead their water, sanitation, and hygiene efforts. He is also the retired Founder of the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program. In his post, Dr. Allgood affirms that, despite recent focus on innovative business solutions in WASH, philanthropic institutions play a crucial role in solving the global water crisis. He also encourages implementing organizations to participate in a survey sponsored by World Vision that will generate aggregated estimates of the number of people reached with WASH. The survey can be accessed here.

Greg Allgood, MSPH, PhD, Vice President at World Vision

I applaud the work to create sustained business models providing clean drinking water; however, we need to remember that philanthropy has a critical role in reaching the poorest of the poor.

As a person who spent 27 years with the private sector, I know the power of brands and the resources that can be mobilized based on using a for-profit model. And I believe that everyone should have clean water as well as adequate sanitation and hygiene that is sustained. But, I also know that the base of the pyramid — the billions of people living in poverty — represent a diverse population. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of millions of people who do not have clean water and cannot currently afford to pay for access to water.

In my visits to villages in the developing world, I frequently meet with people who do not have the resources to invest in clean water. Women have told me that they’d gladly pay for water if they had the money, but they can’t even afford the few pennies it takes to buy salt. People like these are probably best served by a philanthropic model that builds up the capacity of the community instead of investment in a for-profit model that may quickly fail and discourage future private sector investment.

In the development community, it seems recently that the voice for innovative business solutions to solve the global water crisis is drowning out the legitimate role of philanthropy. Both are needed. My organization, World Vision, — like many other non-profit groups — reaches into the hardest to reach places to provide clean water. We are playing a role to help enable governments to serve their people with clean water and to lift communities out of poverty so that the private sector can function.

Through its WASH programming, World Vision reaches one new person with clean water every 30 seconds. Credit: World Vision

Through its WASH programming, World Vision reaches one new person with clean water every 30 seconds. Credit: World Vision

Furthermore, I frequently hear that charity isn’t going to solve the problem of the global water crisis. This is a misleading statement. Philanthropy or charity is playing a big and critical role in solving the global water crisis. But, I agree that philanthropy alone will not solve the crisis. We need philanthropic and private sector investment as well as governments all playing their role.

The good news is that there’s growing confidence that we can solve the global water crisis by 2030. The scale of current efforts is estimated to reach 50,000 people a day in Sub-Saharan Africa with clean water. For perspective, World Vision, one of the largest providers of clean water, is reaching one new person with clean water every 30 seconds. And, we have plans to do even more.

While it’s true that there is still a gap that we need to fill to make sure that everyone has clean water, dignified sanitation, and proper hygiene, isn’t it best that we give adequate voice to the role of charity in solving the global water crisis?

In order to better quantify the role of philanthropy in doing their share to help solve the global water crisis, World Vision has commissioned a survey by KPMG. We are asking WASH implementing organizations to participate in a brief survey. It should take less than 20 minutes to complete. The survey results from all responding organizations will be used by KPMG to generate an aggregated estimate of the people who will be reached this year and next year with WASH. The overall purpose is to show the progress being made and the gaps needed to fill in order to solve the global water crisis. We anticipate that the combined tally of people being reached will be significant and help give a stronger voice to the legitimate and critical role of philanthropy.

Here is a link to the survey: KPMG World Vision survey