Water For People CEO challenges conventional wisdom in water, sanitation

Jan. 29, 2010
DENVER, CO, Jan. 29, 2010 -- Ned Breslin, the outspoken CEO of Water For People, is calling for transformative change in the water and sanitation sector, and he is starting with his own organization...

• Controversial observations and guidelines for success offered in new essay

DENVER, CO, Jan. 29, 2010 -- Ned Breslin, the outspoken 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 key steps that donors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), local governments and communities should take to create sustainable change with long term benefits.

Expanding upon controversial observations such as those by Nicholas Kristof and David Brooks of the New York Times, Breslin goes where few not-for-profit CEOs dare to go -- laying bare all 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 first-hand 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• New measurements should go beyond counting number of people served in a given year to include the percentage of projects that are fully functional and self-sufficient at 3, 6 and 10 years.

Please note: This essay focuses on the water and sanitation sector. Certainly, there are other sectors where this would not apply, such as advanced or complex health care. And there are situations, such as humanitarian relief (Eastern Congo) and failed states (Somalia) where this approach would not be appropriate even for the water and sanitation sector.

Read the full essay: http://www.waterforpeople.org/hydrophilanthropy
Follow Ned Breslin's Blog "Rising Tide": http://www.waterforpeople.org/nedbreslin

About Water For People
Founded in 1991, Water For People is a Denver-based private, nonprofit international humanitarian organization that supports the development of sustainable safe drinking water resources and improved sanitation facilities in developing countries. The nongovernmental organization is distinguished by its focus on local private-sector development, interorganizational collaboration, social entrepreneurship, and the engagement of stakeholders, which combine together to achieve sustainability. The organization has active water, sanitation, and hygiene education programs in 10 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Water For People is a charity of choice of the American water and wastewater community. For more information, visit www.waterforpeople.org.