Despite corporate efforts, there are still nearly 800 million people living without safe water and 2.5 billion without adequate sanitation.
By Ben Mann, WASH Advocates
On May 21st, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) formally launched its first ever, five year (2013-2018) strategy on water.
Its two strategic objectives are to improve health outcomes through the provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and manage water for food security through sustainable agriculture. This dual approach meets the demands of many stakeholders in the WASH sector and provides a timely platform for donors, grantmakers, and corporations to leverage and increase their philanthropic and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.
Taking Account: Billions Without Sanitation & Safe Water
Despite corporate efforts, with nearly 800 million people living without safe water and 2.5 billion without adequate sanitation, USAID continues to be the global leader of funding for WASH issues in developing countries. By international development standards, its several hundred million dollar water budget is a mere fraction of what's needed to take proven solutions to scale.
Recognizing that, the Water Strategy focuses heavily on leveraging effective private-public partnerships while advancing technological innovations, and mobilizing market-based approaches.
WASH for Life: Sustaining Your Supply Chain
Take for example, WASH for Life, a partnership between USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) in the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances (IDEA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This multi-year collaboration at the forefront of aid effectiveness rigorously tests and scales cost-effective and evidence-based WASH technologies and services.
As DIV Director Jeff Brown put it, “WASH for Life is especially powerful because it is at the nexus of government and private philanthropy, helping improve the impacts of foreign aid and to stretch taxpayer dollars in a time of fiscal austerity."
Of course, the immensity of the role the corporate sector can play in tackling global water and sanitation issues is significant.
And companies with interests in the developing world are already engaging on WASH both as a corporate strategy as well as part of their efforts to sustain their supply chains – and business model. For example, Unilever aligns CSR work on hygiene to complement their soap manufacturing and sales. Also, CH2MHill works with organizations like Water for People as part of their strategy to navigate many governmental and civil society relationships.
Corporations are also drawing links to WASH issues through initiatives such as the CEO Water Mandate. Although few and far between, these types of coalitions are beginning to demonstrate that corporations recognize the importance and value of WASH outcomes, both from a sense of humanitarian need and corporate growth.
Streamlining Bureaucracy, Connecting Government & Corporate Efforts
But USAID’s Water Strategy also seeks to mobilize and leverage the financial and technical capacity of public and private entities through partnerships and the agency is working to streamline bureaucracy to provide better opportunities for private and corporate donors. Examples include the work of the Agency’s Office of Innovation and Development Alliances (IDEA), Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), and Development Credit Authority (DCA).
The Strategy also provides for broader, more simplified relationships across U.S. government agencies that look to form meaningful partnerships with corporations to reach their respective goals.
Early indications from the Strategy point to a multiplier effect that will maximize the financial, technical, and human resources of both the government and private sector. In addition, this platform will link related development challenges, e.g., water and health, water and nutrition, water and education, water and HIV/AIDS, truly proving the value of one integrated platform to focus on these interrelated social issues.
Perhaps the best example of how the Strategy will help corporations' CSR efforts become integrated and much more scalable is through the Global Development Alliance (GDA) program. In the past, this division of USAID has worked with Microsoft, Starbucks, The Coca-Cola Company, and other partners from a range of industries.
Together, the partners have helped influence a range of improvements including economic development throughout Africa with Western Union and assisting with fair trade opportunities in collaboration with Wal-mart in Brazil. The Water and Development Alliance (WADA), cofounded by Coca-Cola and USAID has helped funnel millions of dollars toward sustainable water work through USAID missions and Coca-Cola plants globally.
This unique initiative has provided nearly $30 million since 2005. In 2007, it was recognized as USAID’s “Alliance of the Year” and represents today what USAID and CSR operations can accomplish together.
Now, the Water Strategy wants to build upon this success and seek new, diverse partners in scaling the success we can have in WASH with the right balance of private involvement, public policy and local community enterprise.
It is the perfect time for corporations and private philanthropists to take advantage of this momentum for improvement in the global safe drinking water and sanitation sector – and USAID's Water Strategy couldn’t have come at a better time in our sustainability journey as a planet.
About the Author:
Ben Mann is Global Partnerships Director at WASH Advocates, a U.S.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy initiative funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Osprey Foundation, Wallace Genetic Foundation, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Mann works with corporations, faith/civic organizations, and private philanthropists on their giving and social responsibility strategies.