How charity:water Builds Trust in The Digital Space
A Smart Social Summit Keynote Preview
In just a few short weeks, many of the brightest minds in social will gather in sunny Austin, Texas to swap strategies and secrets, and to soak up inspiration from speakers who have accomplished incredible things in the realms of digital, social, and social good. One of those speakers is Christoph Gorder, President and Chief Global Water Programs Officer for charity: water. Through Spredfast’s continued partnership with charity: water, we’ve gleaned inspiration from charity: water’s value of transparency, and its role in their digital presence. By opening the doors on where they send donated dollars and what exact difference they’re making, charity: water is building a compelling model for what the future of social giving and social good could look like. Last year, we launched our shared initiative, called #SpredWater. This year, we’ll be taking that initiative to the next level, and continuing our partnership with an organization we admire and that shares our values.
That continued partnership is just one reason we’re delighted to bring Christoph to our Summit stage. Ahead of the event—and for those who can’t make it to our sold out house—we sat down to talk with him about charity: water, the future of digital and social good, and how data can transform and infuse storytelling with humanity.
Spredfast: Could you start by explaining what first drew you to charity: water?
Christoph Gorder: I’d been working in the humanitarian aid field for about 15 years. When I saw what charity: water was doing, I thought, wow, these guys are taking a whole new approach that has the potential to completely revolutionize the sector with transparency and technology.
SF: What does your role as Chief Global Water Officer entail—what are your main responsibilities?
CG: I joined charity: water to lead our programs and help us maximize our efficiency and impact worldwide. In an average year, we’ll build water systems in 4,000 remote villages across a dozen countries in Africa and Asia. I manage the strategy and the execution of the system that needs to deliver those results. I spend a lot of time in the field, talking to the communities we serve, our partners on the ground, and local government officials.
SF: You mentioned in your keynote at The Collaborative in Boston that, generally speaking, Americans don’t trust charities (a full 42% of them). How does charity: water help bridge that trust gap using data?
CG: charity: water was built on the idea that radical transparency could help solve the water crisis. Since day one, we’ve sent 100% of public donations to the field. We call that our 100% model. We’re able to do that thanks to a small, generous group of individuals, families, and foundations we call The Well. They commit to covering all of our overhead expenses so that more money can reach those without clean water.
charity: water also proves every project. Once complete, we map each project on our website with GPS coordinates, photos, and information about the beneficiaries.
A few years ago, thanks to a grant from a Google Impact Award, we took transparency and sustainability one step further by developing a remote sensor that could tell us if water stops flowing from one of our projects. This allows for speedy repairs in the communities we serve and real-time data on water usage.
We do all of this because our mission is to reinvent charity. This transparency allows our supporters to have a more pure giving experience and bridge that trust gap.
charity: water’s mission is to reinvent charity.
SF: It seems like the remote sensors have dramatically changed how the charity: water team can track their progress. Could you explain how they work now, how they’ve changed your work, and any future plans for this new source of data?
CG: Sustainability has always been a priority for charity: water. When a community receives access to clean water, they also have to complete sanitation and hygiene training. A group of individuals from the community are tasked with forming a Water Committee to take on responsibility for the maintenance and finances of the project. The local partners we work with also conduct regular monitoring and repair visits.
Each of the 23,000 projects we’ve funded to date will be pumped an average of 5 million times a year. Breakdowns are inevitable and the systems we had in place weren’t easily scalable. More importantly, we couldn’t answer the question: is water flowing right now?
Each charity: water project is pumped an average of 5 million times per year.
But with every project already mapped, we had a huge opportunity in front of us.
In 2012, Google.org invested in our effort to create remote sensor technology that tells whether water is flowing at any project, at any given time, anywhere in the world. No physical visit required. Instead, sensor data is transmitted to a database once a week and that report is sent to local mechanics. Mechanics are dispatched to no-flow sites so that repairs can be made on an as-needed basis.
In 2016, we installed 3,000 pilot sensors on water projects in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The oldest sensors have been transmitting data for over 500 days now, and we now know that 89% of projects are functional.
We’re currently working on improvements to the first model and rolling out a new design for a pilot of 1,500 sensors in Nepal. This new remote sensor model is geared toward mountainous areas where, instead of drilling, mountain springs are capped and gravity-fed through pipes to a smaller network of community faucets.
These sensors have dramatically improved the sustainability and lifespan of our projects.
SF: How does charity: water use data in their storytelling efforts? What, in your opinion, can data do for the storytelling an organization (or a brand) needs in order to connect with their audience?
CG: We've been working in Nepal for nearly five years, and in a particular community called Ambote since 2013. When we began implementing clean water projects there, the number of typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea cases in children under the age of five exceeded 1,240. Two years later, those cases dropped to around 200.
We took that data and sent our team of storytellers to Ambote to uncover the stories of lives changed.
That’s where our team met Dr. Ram, who proudly showed us around the clinic pointing out every child he’s delivered along the way. It’s where we met Lila, who shared that even her four-year-old grandchild knows about the importance of cleanliness and clean water. And it’s also where Sanjita told us, “My children used to get sick all the time. Dirty water caused lots of diseases here. With clean water I am hoping the diseases won't come back.”
Thousands of stories involving heartbreak in Ambote were transformed into stories of health and hope. Knowing that we can reduce the number of waterborne illness cases for communities like this one confirms that clean water really does change everything.
SF: What excites you most about Spredfast’s continued partnership with charity: water?
CG: At the core, we’re aiming to accomplish many of the same things: to connect people to others around the world, to use storytelling to bring our values to life, and to build trust through generosity, empathy, and transparency in a world that often steps first with skepticism.
We look forward to increasing our impact together, and are grateful Spredfast has joined us in our mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person on the planet.