Water For People CEO Calls for Change

Observations and guidelines for success offered in new essay

Ned Breslin, the CEO of Water For People, is calling for transformative change in the water and sanitation sector, and he is starting with his own organization.

In his January 2010 essay, “Rethinking Hydro‐Philanthropy: Smart Money for Transformative Impact,” Breslin outlines steps that donors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), local governments and communities can take to create sustainable change with long term benefits.

Expanding upon observations such as those by Nicholas Kristof and David Brooks of the New York Times, Breslin addresses what he called the secrets and shortcomings of today’s charity-based approach in the water and sanitation sector, as well as suggesting guidelines for transformative change.

The essay focuses on his own organization’s shortcomings, providing a firsthand account on what works and what doesn’t work--both short-term and long-term. Breslin shows how a well meaning nonprofit like Water For People can move from feel-good, simplistic interpretations and communications on success to a more profound and thoughtful organization that challenges itself by asking far harder, long-term impact questions.

Key points of the report include:
• Currently, the overriding approach in the sector is of welfare and charity rather than development. This approach leads to poor project implementation which leads to high rates of failure, Breslin said;
• NGOs must develop the time, patience and understanding of community development to establish the foundation for success;
• Until now, “sweat equity” has been considered sufficient contribution from communities. But it is not enough to create a sense of ownership to ensure long term success of projects;
• New philanthropic giving strategies could play a significant role in eliminating water and sanitation poverty by basing themselves on a robust set of sustainability metrics;
• A new partnership between philanthropists and development agencies needs to focus on leveraging creative philanthropic giving to instill financial responsibilities on communities and governments in developing countries, he said;
• A new culture of accountability and transparency that transcends what currently masquerades as “reporting” in the sector must emerge;
• Investors, who employ stringent due diligence when selecting for-profit ventures, should use those same requirements when considering their philanthropic donations; and
• New measurements should go beyond counting number of people served in a given year to including the percentage of projects that are fully functional and self-sufficient at three, six and 10 years.

Water For People