3 Questions for… John Thomas of the Rockefeller Foundation

Editors Note: Leading up to the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH seminar at World Water Week next Wednesday, August 29th, in Stockholm, we decided to pose three questions to the panel’s esteemed group of foundation and NGO leaders to give you a preview of their conversation. We will post a new interview each day this week so check back daily or sign up for e-mail updates. In this post, John Thomas, fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, speaks about the role that philanthropic investment can play in cultivating innovative WASH solutions. In yesterday’s post, Braimah Apambire discussed the importance of advocacy for the WASH sector.

John Thomas, Fellow, The Rockefeller Foundation

1. Describe what your organization does and what your role is.

I’m currently a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, where I conduct research and work with our partners and grantees to support the strategic development of various initiatives ranging from climate smart agriculture to fisheries management to water service delivery for poor or vulnerable populations.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission to promote the well-being of people throughout the world has remained unchanged since its founding in 1913. Today, that mission is applied to an era of rapid globalization. Our vision is that this century will be one in which globalization’s benefits are more widely shared and its challenges are more easily weathered.

To realize this vision, the Foundation seeks to achieve two fundamental goals in our work. First, we seek to build resilience that enhances individual, community and institutional capacity to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of acute crises and chronic stresses. Second, we seek to promote growth with equity in which the poor and vulnerable have more access to opportunities that improve their lives. In order to achieve these goals, the Foundation constructs its work into time-bound initiatives that have defined objectives and strategies for impact. These initiatives address challenges that lie either within or at the intersections of five issue areas: basic survival safeguards, global health, environment and climate change, urbanization, and social and economic security. For more information, please visit our web site.

2. Tell us one provocative question or issue you hope to tackle on the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH panel, and why.

One theme of the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH panel is innovation, which is perhaps one of the most over-used words in the English language. While philanthropic funds are often viewed as ‘risk capital’ and in theory foundations should have greater latitude to support ideas, organizations, and people that are pushing the boundaries of accepted practice, in reality foundations often choose the sure bets over the promising new idea, resulting in a critical gap.

I’m excited to chat with Rockefeller Foundation’s partner, Mary Renwick from Winrock International, about her experience as an innovator in the field of water and sanitation, and to really push the foundation community to be clear about what it is we mean by innovation, and how we support innovation in the water, health, and sanitation field.

3. What are you most looking forward to about Stockholm and/or World Water Week?

While there certainly are an incredible array of panels, seminars, and speakers to hear, I’m most excited for the chance encounters in the hallway after the seminars, or the coffee shop conversations where I can learn about interesting new work, and meet people who I haven’t met before, to learn in an unfiltered and informal way about the state of the field.