Charity: Water Updates RSA Conference on Growing Nepal Efforts

At this year’s RSA Conference in San Francisco, we joined the charity: water mission asking our attendees to participate in a Waterwalk. In exchange for their participation, RSA Conference vowed to make a donation that would help fund two water projects for schools in Nepal. Join me for a chat with charity: water Growth Associate, Makena Cunningham, as we check in on the progress.

At this year’s RSA Conference in San Francisco, many attendees were lucky enough to hear founder Scott Harrison’s emotional keynote on the charity: water story. For those who missed it, can you give a brief background of Scott’s journey and charity: water’s origins?

Scott spent almost 10 years as a nightclub promoter in New York City before leaving to volunteer on a hospital ship off the coast of Liberia, West Africa as a photojournalist. Returning home to New York City two years later, he founded charity: water in 2006. Turning his full attention to the global water crisis and the world's 800 million people without clean water to drink, he created public installations and innovative online fundraising platforms to spread international awareness of the issue. 

The amazing thing is how charity: water has transformed over the years. As the organization has grown, we've seen that Scott's story -- and our story -- has truly become the stories of the people that we serve and of our incredible supporters. With the help of about half a million donors worldwide, we've funded 11,927 water projects in 22 countries. When completed, those projects will provide over 4.2 million people with clean, safe drinking water. There's something really beautiful about that.

To raise awareness the RSA Conference participated in the charity: water Challenge. Can you explain what that entails? 

Millions of people around the world walk hours each day to collect dirty water. In the developing world it's usually the job of women and children. 

RSA Conference's challenge was to complete a Waterwalk. We asked conference attendees to walk a fraction of the distance to experience it for themselves. This involves carrying two Jerry Cans -- containers often used to transport water -- down a short runway. They weigh in at about 40 pounds each when full, so it's no easy feat.

As part of this community effort, we at RSA Conference agreed that if 500 of our attendees participated in that challenge we would make a donation in order to build a well in an area in need. Our team was very excited to meet this goal during conference week! I know these projects won’t be completed for 18 months, but can you give us a quick update on where we are in the process and what can we expect to see once they’re completed?

Using estimates and surveys from our local partner, we know that RSA Conferences's actions will provide approximately 800 people in Nepal with clean, safe drinking water -- that's incredible!

In the beginning of April, we began the process of sending RSA Conference's donations to the field. Over the next few months, our local partner will receive those funds and begin work. This includes obtaining permits and supplies, picking the exact sites, and beginning to engage communities.

A lot will happen over the 18 months that will allow for the completion of the project. Not only will a physical water point be constructed, but our partners have also engaged with the community for about a year to ensure they have a sense of ownership in a project. Local water committees and maintenance teams are put in place and trained to own and manage their own water point. Field teams spend months building skills, as well as establishing hygiene and sanitation programs.

So the RSA Conference community will be making a direct impact on “Refills for Everyone.” Can you tell us a little background on this Nepal location?

Nepal is stunning, but an abundance of water isn’t a reality for many. Water and sanitation systems are highly overburdened or non-existent. With the lack of clean water, hygiene and sanitation at schools in particular, children increasingly miss class and often abandon their education altogether. 

Splash is one of our amazing local partners in Nepal. A few years ago, they set out with a goal of bringing clean water to every public school in Kathmandu. Water has the power to transform the lives of children around the world, and the story of Shramik Shanti School is a great example of the kind of impact RSA Conference will be making.   

I know there are many initiatives encouraging individuals to pitch in, like the “Pledge Your Birthday” campaign. How do these individual initiatives make a difference?

On September 7, 2006, Scott Harrison launched charity: water by throwing a birthday party, charging people $20 to attend and sending 100% of the money to build six wells in Uganda. Then, he proved the work by sending photos and GPS coordinates to every guest. 

We still send 100% of every donation to the field to fund projects and provide proof, but as we thought about how we could scale we realized that we can't grow one birthday party that much. However, we can grow a movement of birthdays. 

This started by asking our supporters pledge their birthdays -- to ask for donations instead of presents. Since then, over 55,000 people have pledged their birthdays to bring clean, safe drinking water to the people that need it most. Join us at charitywater.org/birthdays.  

Is there anything else about your organization you wish the infosec community knew about?

Every water project needs maintenance to keep water flowing. We’ve always trained communities to make minor repairs when basic issues arise, but sometimes the problem is too complex for the community to fix on their own. 

On World Water Day we launched Pipeline, an exciting new program to keep water flowing. It will allow us to invest in our partners and local entrepreneurs to monitor and service complex repairs of charity: water’s projects around the world.

Pipeline will also help us invent new technologies that increase transparency and solve the water crisis. At the end of 2012, we were awarded a $5 million Google Impact Award to develop remote sensors that we can fit on most of our projects around the world. They'll help us answer the question: "Did water pump today?" Once we have that data, we hope to use that information to transform how we approach sustainability and work with our partners in the field. 

To find out more and learn how you can contribute, visit charitywater.org.

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