Water For People's Breslin Calls for Transformative Change

In Ned Breslin's January 2010 essay “Rethinking Hydro-Philanthropy: Smart Money for Transformative Impact,” the Water For People chief executive officer outlines key steps that donors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), local governments, and communities should take to create sustainable change with long-term benefits.

The essay focuses on his own organization’s shortcomings, providing a first-hand account on what works and what doesn’t work—both short- and long- term. Breslin shows how a well meaning nonprofit like Water For People can move from feel-good, simplistic interpretations and communications on success to a more profound and thoughtful organization that challenges itself by asking far harder, long-term impact questions.

Key points of the report include:

  • The overriding approach in the sector is of welfare and charity rather than development, which leads to poor project implementation and ultimately high rates of failure.
  • NGOs must develop the time, patience, and understanding of community development to establish the foundation for success.
  • “Sweat equity” has been considered sufficient contribution from communities, but it is not enough to create a sense of ownership to ensure long-term project success.
  • New philanthropic giving strategies could play a significant role in eliminating water and sanitation poverty by basing themselves on a robust set of sustainability metrics.
  • A new partnership between philanthropists and development agencies needs to focus on leveraging creative philanthropic giving to instill financial responsibilities on communities and governments in developing countries.
  • A new culture of accountability and transparency that transcends what currently masquerades as “reporting” in the sector must emerge.
  • Investors, who employ stringent due diligence when selecting for-profit ventures, should use those same requirements when considering their philanthropic donations.
  • New measurements should go beyond counting number of people served in a given year to include the percentage of projects that are fully functional and self-sufficient at three, six and ten years.

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