Paving Way to Clean Water by 2030

Leading nonprofit reflects on work behind its WASH initiative and the global water crisis.

© 2016 World Vision Inc, photo by Jon Warren

World Vision International (WVI) is a Christian nonprofit that builds humanitarian advocacy and aids people, especially children, living in poverty in nearly 100 countries. WVI has been working in water, sanitation and hygiene for more than 50 years, delivering clean water to children and families around the world. Though their Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) group is just one component of the work they do, it’s an instrumental one. In 2010, WVI invested heavily in WASH and has since then become the largest provider of clean drinking water in the world.
WASH started out in the 1960s and involved small water projects in individual communities, but has since gained significant traction with large-scale projects throughout Africa, Latin America, the Middle East (most recently Syria’s refugee response) and Asia. 

World Vision is composed of various national entities around the world and is supported through donations, grants and partnerships. Partners provide support through GIK (Gifts in Kind) and cash donations. The building of relationships over the years has allowed the organization to increase its reach and commitment. Currently, WVI is the leading NGO provider of access to clean water. 

Dr. Greg Allgood, vice president of World Vision U.S., works to help build relationships between corporations, foundations, high-network donors and overall strengthen awareness in the U.S.

“We currently provide access to clean drinking water to two million new people a year. That’s one more new person every 30 seconds. There’s still nearly 1000 children that die every day in the developing world because of the lack of clean of water, sanitation and hygiene,” Allgood explains. “In 2015, we made the commitment to reach a new person every 10 seconds by 2020. If we then continue at this rate for another 10 years, by 2030 we will provide access to clean drinking water to everyone in all the places we currently work.”

Hardware: Systems and professionals

Over 600 professionals, including plumbers, engineers, drill operators, technicians, geologists and more, are involved in these widespread global efforts of working on water supply systems that will provide clean water.

Brian Gower, senior director of funding strategy, serves as the bridge between the fieldwork and major donors, corporations and foundations around the U.S.

Gower has been with the organization for 10 years and has led the World Vision U.S. WASH team for the last three and a half years. 

“It’s our teams in the field — engineers, hydrologists, geologists and others — that are helping to design very specific water programs that will last,” Gower says. “And the key word here is ‘last.’”

Software: Water committees and community ownership

World Vision focuses on a specific community development approach, where aid providers who are invited into a community invest themselves for at least 15 years. They speak the language, build trust, live and work alongside the community members. They also assess needs, water and otherwise, and goals in order to create processes that works.

“Our teams don’t just go, drill a borehole and leave. They spend a good amount of time partnering with people in their communities. Community members are a part of the process from the very beginning,” Gower says.

Community members form water committees that own and manage water points going forward. The usage of water committees is a fundamental part of WASH. A scientific study (2014) done by the University of North Carolina Water Institute and Water Sanitation for Africa, revealed that not only do Water Vision’s water wells function at high levels, but so do the water committee members who continue to operate them. 

“This study was crucial because unfortunately the industry that provides clean water to the developing world oftentimes installs water points that stop working because there’s no supply chain in place for people to repair them,” Allgood explains. “It’s estimated that 30 to 50 percent of the water points in Africa no longer function after as little of two years.”

The UNC study was conducted in the Afram Plains of rural Ghana where World Vision has been providing wells since 1985. It found that World Vision’s water points functioned at high levels, even with points in operation for over 20 years. Even with wells that were over 20 years old, there was an 80 percent chance that they were still functioning. This statistical difference correlates to World Vision’s incorporation of a water committee and a fee system that allows for committee members to pay for broken parts and quickly repair water points. 

“This fee system that is managed by a locally-managed water committee is the secret sauce to the sustainability of water points,” Allgood says.
World Vision funded a follow-up study to the UNC study because they were interested in figuring out what else it was about these water points that made them successful. One of the key findings was that women were a focal point to a water point’s longevity.

 “Women are the ones in the communities who have had to carry the water long distances, so they know the value of not having to go back to that lifestyle,” Allgood says.

Another key finding of the follow-up study showed that a flexible payment system was important in water point longevity.

“The more a community was invested, the more likely they were to find a system that would allow to fix a water point. If they didn’t have cash, for example, community members would donate chickens to pay for the fix,” Allgood says.

Community-Led Total Sanitation

The other side of the WASH initiative, which is just as important, focuses on sanitation and hygiene. World Vision utilizes the approach Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) to carry out this work. Though World Vision was not the first group to implement an intervention tool that encourages communities to take ownership of their sanitation practices, it has harnessed it and made it widespread.  Local governments certify communities as Open Defecation Free (ODF). World Vision is up to six ODF certifications a day.

“CLTS is a process of involving a community and really understanding the impact of using latrines or toilets. We provide them for schools and health clinics, but communities build the latrines themselves. We reach over a million people a year.”


World Vision has teamed up with many leaders over the years, including some in the plumbing and HVAC industries who have common goals as World Vision who wish to assist with clean water and sanitation efforts. For example, in 2014 Grundfos announced its partnership with World Vision to provide clean water to two million people using solar-powered pumps in sub-Saharan Africa for five years. So, far World Vision is ahead of schedule and has already reached 300,000 people this year.

Through its relationship with World Vision, Kohler has also donated plumbing products for distribution. Last year it started providing Kohler Clarity as a not-for-profit effort. Kohler Clarity is a filtration system design aimed for those in remote areas who go without safe drinking water. Kohler has been recognized over the years for its commitment in providing affordable, sustainable solutions that reach a large amount of people.

“There are many corporations who are committed to solving the global water and sanitation crisis who are extremely supportive of our goals to finish the job everywhere we work by 2030,” Allgood says. “They look at their work with us as not only helping solve the global water crisis, which is critical to them in giving their employees purpose and meaning, but it’s also expanding their market.”

Challenges in the near future

World Vision is currently working on fine-tuning its water, sanitation and hygiene “wash machine.” They put together a business plan they’ve been able to execute and increase tenfold.

“We’re ahead of our goal in trying to reach one new person every ten seconds, thanks to Brian and his team,” Allgood says. “What we really need now is awareness of the global water crisis and funding. So efforts that raise awareness are really important.”

Cause marketing efforts are a good way for businesses to get involved in World Vision’s water outreach. One such supporter that exemplifies this is Denver Mattress. The family business owners had donated anonymously for many years, before being approached about tying some of their business success to a public donation. This has since become very important to employees, as well as customers of Denver Mattress.

“They began talking about their work and their legacy of giving for over 25 years. Then they tied the sales of their mattresses to donating to water for the developing world through World Vision. Every mattress that they sell donates one year of clean drinking water,” Allgood explains. 
There are various other ways that individuals and businesses can get involved in this snowball effect of change that World Vision has created. 

“People can sometimes get overwhelmed when they hear the words ‘global water crisis.’ The fact that there are over six million people who don’t have access to clean water is overwhelming,” Gower says. “But for the first time ever, every man, woman and child in all the places World Vision works will have access to clean water by 2030. For the first time ever, we truly believe that this is achievable through businesses, partners and individuals who come alongside us. I’d like to convey the sense of hope that we can actually do this.”

WASH, just one piece of the puzzle

WASH is only one element of the work World Vision provides when it steps into a community. World Vision is interested in what makes an entire community sustainable, which is where humanitarian aid comes full circle.

“We’ve been noted for saying poverty isn’t brain surgery, but it is rocket science. It’s a lot of work,” said Jack Laverty, director of corporate engagement. “We try to figure out how WASH ties into all the other factors, which includes maternal and child health, education, economic empowerment and development, and child protection. All of these pieces are important because we ultimately hope to leave communities self-sustained.” 

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