Lessons Learned Providing Seven Billion Liters of Clean Drinking Water in the Developing World

Editors Note: This guest blog post was authored by Allison Tummon Kamphuis, program leader for the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program at P&G. In the post, Allison provides an overview of the company’s extensive engagement in the water sector and reveals how P&G’s approach to corporate philanthropy for WASH has responded to context and evolved in the decade since the initiative began.

Allison Tummon Kamphuis, program leader for the Children's Safe Drinking Water Program at P&G

More than 1,600 children still die every day from diseases caused by drinking unsafe water. At P&G, we believe we can help make a difference in the global water crisis. P&G is committed to the long-term, not-for-profit provision of clean water in the developing world and is engaged in the global drinking water crisis in four principle ways: as a technology supplier, water advocate, grant-maker, and program implementer.

The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW) is P&G’s signature philanthropic effort to bring clean water to children and families throughout the developing world. Established in 2004, the CSDW Program has grown over nearly a decade into an initiative that has provided clean water in
more than 75 countries and is now supplying 1.3 billion liters annually to global emergency relief and development organizations. In April 2014, P&G announced that the CSDW Program had reached the seven billion liter milestone — essentially the equivalent of a liter of clean water for every person on the planet.

Children's Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW)

The cornerstone of our non-profit initiative is the P&G water purification packet (formerly known as PUR Purifier of Water) that was invented by P&G scientists in the UK in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The powdered mixture in each small four gram sachet is like a mini-water treatment plant for 10 liters of water. With simple household implements — a bucket, a stick, and a cloth — each packet removes dirt, arsenic, and parasites and kills bacteria and viruses, making previously contaminated water clean and potable in only 30 minutes.

P&G water purification packet

Originally launched by P&G as a commercial product for consumers in developing countries, the product proved challenging to market with sufficient return on investment given the need for interpersonal education and health related behavior change among consumers who regularly consumed contaminated water. Instead of abandoning the innovative technology, P&G started a philanthropic effort around the packets and built strong partnerships with many leading non-profit organizations who became the lead distributors and educators of users of the P&G packets. The lesson: be flexible with the plan and change according to the needs of the local market.

These early challenges and lessons learned in the commercial market highlight the critical importance of partnerships. The rapid growth of the program to a cumulative total of more than 700 million water purification packets distributed has been achieved through a multi-focused strategy that includes: emergency response to major disasters; rural community, clinic, and school WASH educational programs; and integration with global health initiatives for the most vulnerable, including people living with HIV/AIDS and malnourished children. The lesson: identify where you or your technology is likely to have the most impact and build partnerships with experts in those implementation areas.

As a WASH funder and grantmaker, P&G has invested more than $50 million towards providing clean drinking water, including investments in additional plant capacity to provide more P&G packets as the program has expanded. Each year P&G grants also support community WASH education and capacity building projects, as well as emergency relief pre-positioning and training around the world. The CSDW Program continues to explore targeted grant programs for vulnerable groups and expand public-private partnerships with global donors who have the same objectives. While P&G’s grants are smaller than those of major international bilateral donors, they are intended to support the integration of clean drinking water, along with hygiene and sanitation education, into existing programs to make them more clinically and cost effective. Lesson learned: leveraging existing infrastructure to integrate health interventions can make already successful programs even more effective.

For the past decade, P&G has also worked with advocacy partners to raise awareness of the global water crisis while promoting a variety of solutions to help address the lack of safe drinking water. P&G was a founding member of the UNICEF/WHO Network for Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage and through the network has helped to establish household water treatment as a viable and practical means of improving access to clean drinking water in areas of the world where safe water infrastructure does not exist. P&G has also participated in the Global Water Challenge, the US Water Partnership, and has been a long-standing member of the Clinton Global InitiativeLesson learned: building awareness is a continuous effort and advocacy efforts are critical for local and international recognition and advancing the cause.

As the CSDW Program looks to its next decade, P&G continues to build on the lessons learned in the first 10 years of the initiative. The company is forging new partnerships with humanitarian organizations throughout the world and extending CSDW operations into more countries. The success of reaching the company’s 2020 goal is dependent on collaboration with governing entities and many public/private partners, complementary work with other technology solutions, and engagement with the P&G family of brands and employees.