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Combatting the global water crisis with charity: water

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By Antony Wolfe-Cowen, Two-Year MBA ’18

Today, more than 660 million people worldwide do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. The damage and suffering caused by unsafe water is immense and has untold consequences, particularly for those in the developing world. Access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation has the incredible power to step change health conditions, keep children in school, empower women, boost economies, and fundamentally, give hope to those who need it most. Put simply, clean water changes everything.

charity: water is a non-profit organization leading the charge to solve the global water crisis while reinventing charity for a new generation. Based out of New York City, charity: water operates in partnership with expert solution providers out in the field, to deliver a range of both traditional and technology-led water projects to poverty-stricken countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Rwanda. These projects range from drilled wells to hand-dug wells, rainwater catchments to bio-sand filters, and water sensor technology, which was made possible by a $5 million grant from Google. The water projects and technology that are funded depend on the region, water availability and economic circumstances.

charity: water is at the intersection of social entrepreneurship and technology

charity: water differentiates itself from other non-profit organizations in three central ways:

First: Its 100 percent model

Private donors such as Sir Richard Branson, Apple’s Angela Ahrendts, and entrepreneurs Michael & Xochi Birch fund charity: water’s operating costs so that 100 percent of donations go straight to the field.

Second: Proving it

charity: water believes in total transparency and works hard to be crystal clear on where every dollar is going.

Third: Brand and culture

charity: water fosters a culture of hope and inspiration, with an incessant emphasis on storytelling via emotive content, underpinned by beautifully designed digital artifacts. In terms of partnerships, this encourages ideation around innovative and impactful ways to fundraise beyond traditional giving methods. Since its 2006 inception, charity: water has helped fund 23,000 water projects in 22 countries directly serving seven million people.

Interning with the Brand Partnerships team

During the summer of 2017, I was offered the unique opportunity to be charity: water’s first MBA intern,  working within their Brand Partnerships team. Excitingly for me, I was given permission to co-create and structure the new position alongside the director of Partnerships. I was inspired by charity: water’s bold mission and was struck by the way they have revolutionized the traditional non-profit model and are leveraging cutting-edge technology across the organization to make their impact sustainable and quantifiable.

The goal of the Brand Partnerships team is to align with organizations that share charity: water’s passion for solving the water crisis and collaboratively want to push the boundaries of innovation. The crafting of holistic, multi-year partnerships with large corporations plays a huge role in ensuring awareness and increasing the impact of charity: water’s efforts. This approach is buoyed by companies making a concerted effort to choose non-profit partners that align with their corporate social responsibility objectives. Strategic brand partners that charity: water currently works with include organizations such as eBay, Pfizer, Caterpillar, Google, Amazon, and Nautica.

One of my main projects over the summer was to formulate a growth strategy for a new strategic alliance that we formed with a leading international restaurant group. I spent time defining the second phase of this newly forged partnership, projecting commercial and field impact through anticipated growth scenarios, and laid out how charity: water could better enable future partners. Additionally, I led the reevaluation of POS (point-of-sale) giving approaches across a variety of markets, understood corporation pain points, and formulated a best-in-class approach for our partners that will be more conducive to charitable giving.

Given the entrepreneurial nature of the organization, I chose to spend roughly 20 percent of my time helping the Water Sensors team formulate their commercialization strategy for sensor technology—developed by Google to test the efficacy of water flow—due to market appetite for both the product and its data. In addition to this, I was also able to personally source and ideate innovative new partnership opportunities alongside a global ridesharing app and a national sports league.

An internship made possible with the Social Impact Internship Fund

Contributing to an organization that is bettering the lives of millions of people around the developing world was, of course, hugely rewarding. I greatly enjoyed working alongside smart, creative, and driven colleagues who not only care deeply about the mission of charity: water, but work exceptionally hard to move the needle.

I am grateful for the support received from the Social Impact Internship Fund through the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Johnson. This funding was made possible due to the generosity of fellow Johnson students and alumni in order to support students with a passion and desire for non-traditional internship experiences that drive social or environmental impact.

Link to learn more about Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise


About Antony Wolfe-Cowen, Two-Year MBA ’18

Headshot of Antony CowenAntony Wolfe-Cowen is a Johnson Leadership Fellow and founder of Ground Floor, a digital creative consultancy startup that partners with early stage brands to drive business growth through marketing. Antony is from London, UK, and has a Bachelor’s degree in business from the University of the West of England.


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