Today’s post — the first of a two-part series — comes to us from Dr. Greg Allgood, founder and director of the Children’s Safe Drinking Water program at Procter & Gamble.
The global water crisis is a silent killer that takes the lives of more children every year than HIV and malaria combined. More than 2,000 children die every day because of unclean water, poor hygiene, and lack of sanitation. But there is great hope. This is a crisis that we know how to address.
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At Procter & Gamble (P&G), we like to think that we know a little bit about partnerships. There’s a case to be made that it’s in our DNA. James Gamble and William Procter started a partnership to make candles and soap on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati 175 years ago.
That partnership has now grown into the largest consumer products company in the world, serving approximately 4.6 billion people with some of the most trusted brands in the world, including Pampers, Tide, Crest, Always, Gillette, and Vicks.
From a personal standpoint, my 26 years at P&G have been all about partnerships, the last decade as the founder and director of our not-for-profit humanitarian effort called the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program. So I was thrilled when my friends at World Vision asked me to write a guest blog post on the occasion of World Water Day, March 22, whose theme this year is partnerships.
About 10 years ago, P&G developed a water purification packet technology that is amazing in its ability to take even heavily contaminated water and in a few minutes make it crystal clear and purified so that it’s safe to drink for the entire family.
When we tried to provide these water packets through our existing P&G infrastructure, the cost of getting them to the people who needed them was too high, and the effort was losing a lot of money. We also weren’t able to reach the people in deep rural areas where the product was needed the most. This was where humanitarian groups like World Vision saved the day.
Early in our program, I visited rural Malawi, a landlocked country where nearly everyone is a subsistence farmer and, at the time, had one of the highest child death rates of any country in the world. I wanted to see for myself whether people in deep rural areas would accept the P&G packets.
I was hosted in Malawi by a humanitarian group that works alongside World Vision; when they learned that I wanted to go into deep rural areas where the most vulnerable people live, they called upon a former preacher and former World Vision staff, Enoch Phiri, to guide me into some of the most remote areas of Malawi.
It was the dry season, so water was extremely scarce, and women were digging with their hands into a dried-up river to scoop out bowl after bowl of dirty and contaminated water. Enoch had never seen the demonstration of the product himself, so I showed everyone how to use it to make the water clear, and Enoch translated into the local language, Chechewa.
I’ll never forget his deep and calming voice as he translated for the small group of poor and proud farmers. It was a magical moment when the water turned crystal clear. As we enjoyed drinking purified water with the community, my questions about whether the community would accept this new product disappeared.
Not only did the people accept the new product, they prayed for us to provide them with more of these packets.
After my trip to Malawi and several similar experiences with World Vision in other countries, I began to understand the importance of partnering with humanitarian groups that invest the time to build deep trust with communities. I realized that the quick acceptance of our product was because of the trust that was developed over many years by World Vision staff like Enoch Phiri.
So instead of trying to provide the water purification packets through our own P&G infrastructure, we created a not-for-profit program to provide the product through humanitarian groups like World Vision. We call it the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program, and we put the name of our company on the P&G water purification packets.
By working with humanitarian groups, we’ve scaled up from providing about 1 million packets a year to more than 100 million each year — or more than 1 billion liters of clean drinking water each year.
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Part 2 of this series will be online tomorrow, so please check back!
Contribute to World Vision’s Clean Water Fund today! Your one-time gift or monthly contribution will help save children from the suffering caused by parasites, worms, dysentery, and diarrhea. Plus, they’ll be able to attend school, because they won’t have to spend their days sick in bed or walking long distances to collect water that may not even be safe to consume.