His brilliant use of technology to supplement the science behind providing inhabitants of safe drinking water earned him a Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2011.
Contributions Made through Water For People
"Globally 884 million people lack access to clean water and 2.6 billion to sanitation." (Source: Skoll Foundation)
Ned Breslin, unlike most of us, has not only read the figures, he’s experienced it for real. He lived in Africa for 16 years and even raised his family there. In his speaking engagements, he has spoken about the times when his adorable daughters needed to fetch water for themselves when the tap refused to yield water.
Ned joined Water For People, a non-profit organization that “helps people in developing countries improve quality of life by supporting the development of locally sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities, and hygiene education programs” (source: Water for People) in 1996.
In just a matter of three years, Ned was appointed CEO of the organization. Leading the team towards unorthodox means of bringing lasting change to the society they help transform, he has introduced sustainable method of monitoring projects they have started in a community. While most NGOs would only focus on the number of beneficiaries as the end all and be all of their philanthropic work, Ned introduced an approach that scratches more than just the surface of issues they are trying to address.
Water being a universal need, Ned has seen the worst of what the lack of it could do to a person, a family, a community, a country. As far as help is concerned, Africa has been the most publicized continent in terms of philanthropic drives and projects. Celebrities and well-known organizations flock the country to bring aid and enable African people to cope with “global progress,” so to speak. But why hasn’t Africa risen from its state of poverty and water scarcity?
Having lived alongside Africans and sharing a good part of his life with them, Ned could do more than just empathize. He feels what they feel, and sees what they see. What they lack, he lacks. What they have, he has. Safe drinking water is something that’s been lacking in Africa. Kids die due to cholera and dehydration. They don’t go to school because they spend the whole day looking for water. The things is, after walking for several hours, they get to a brook or “muddy hole.” They bring that polluted water home and that’s what the whole family drinks.
Of course, they get sick. The younger the patient is, the more likely he or she won’t be able to survive. What makes it even worse is that help already came and handpumps litter the town. It’s just that they are no longer working. Broken, abandoned handpumps lie decaying on what used to be the spot where organizations took a happy snapshot of people celebrating the triumph of making safe drinking water accessible.
That is what Ned wants addressed. If help comes, then installing handpumps does not mean time to pack up and leave. What Water For People does is give people access to safe drinking water by providing them with handpumps and well-engineered water system. Then they educate the people how to be hygienic. Ned took it from there and came up with a cool and novel way of monitoring handpumps organizations have installed all over the country.
In 2010, Ned wrote “Rethinking Hydro-Philanthropy” where he tackled "Smart Money for Transformative Impact." He presented data of projects already done by NGOs that have tried to help African people in their quest for safe drinking water. It's a bold piece coming from someone who has seen water scarcity up close and the failure of broken handpumps and infrastructure to solve the issue.
In a blog, he condensed his thoughts on hydro-philanthropy saying:
- Water and sanitation sector agencies need to improve their work in the field or the goodwill that the sector currently enjoys will erode.
- 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. Success will require less single-minded focus on the absolute number of people without access to water and sanitation facilities and more focus on the serious questions around long-term impact and sustainability. So that years after the cameras have left, the donor reports have been filed, and the press release circulated, the community is not forgotten.
- A new partnership between philanthropists and development agencies would focus less on how much money the sector supposedly needs to solve global water challenges and more on how creative philanthropic giving can be used as leverage to instill financial responsibilities for improved water supply and sanitation on communities and governments in developing countries … sector agencies need to be pushed considerably harder so that African, Asian and Latin American women never need to walk past that broken handpump, rightly grumbling, on their way to collect unsafe water. This can be done in creative and constructive ways through new partnerships between philanthropists and nonprofits. (Source: Case Foundation)
The Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) Application
In one of his talks, Ned shared the story of a three–year–old boy whose life was cut short after drinking unsafe water. The boy was lucky to be born at a time when a handpump was made available in his community. Ned has known the boy since he was born and practically witnessed his growth. When the handpump broke, his family was forced to again drink polluted water. The boy’s body wasn’t able to cope with the “pathogens” in the water and he had to be brought to the hospital. Unfortunately, his town’s clinic could only do so much for him and the boy succumbed to death.
Where is the organization that put that handpump there? It led to Ned’s realization that implementation is just as important as follow-up. In order to make monitoring less cumbersome for organizations, Water For People has created FLOW or Field Level Operations Watch with the help of Gallatin Systems. What does FLOW exactly do?
It’s an Android mobile application that enables people to send feedback if a water pump breaks. The information gets routed to a central server, which then disseminates information. So organizations can monitor their projects and holds them accountable for at least 10 years after installing handpumps in a certain area. The only challenge that Ned foresees in making FLOW effective is the need for an Android-supported handset. They are currently testing FLOW in more expensive smart phones and are looking into making it possible to work for more affordable brands.
As of 2013, FLOW has made the following impact:
- In less than three years, FLOW has gained traction in the water sector, having been used in dozens of countries, with tens of thousands of surveys completed and water points mapped. Water For People field-tested it widely in eight countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Notably, in Liberia, Water For People and Gallatin Systems (the codeveloper of FLOW) enabled Water and Sanitation Program Africa at the World Bank, the Liberian government, and other partners to deploy FLOW so they could map water points and school sanitation conditions. In the field, 120 enumerators, in 40 days, mapped over 7,000 water points and close to 1,300 schools.
- Water For People currently works in 10 countries around the world.
- At the end of 2011, Chinda, Honduras was the first municipality to reach every family, every school, and every clinic with safe drinking water. Everyone Forever is a unique effort to provide water and sanitation to Everyone in targeted districts and municipalities, Forever. It provides a model for greater replication, leading to a push for national full water and sanitation coverage.
- They mobilize volunteers through their World Water Corps®, an innovative program that serves the needs of local communities, Water For People, and its local partners and builds up a cadre of dedicated, caring ambassadors to the world water and sanitation crisis. Established in 2007, the World Water Corps monitors the work that happens in the field. Through observation and interviews with people on the ground in homes, clinics, schools, and community water points, World Water Corps is on the front lines of determining what is happening and what is needed by the people who need it the most. (Source: Skoll Foundation)
Winning a Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship
In 2011, Skoll Foundation awarded Ned for his work in Water For People. He was honored for providing scalable solutions to problems that aggravate poverty and injustice around the world. What most organizations fail to see, Ned aims to address so that their efforts and the money people give for funding do not go to waste.
When he accepted the award, he did not act as if he had already accomplished anything. His speech was about the work that has just begun:
“There are no beneficiaries here. These are active agents of change who want to spark a revolution. We are so honored to be part of this process but we know we can't do it alone. We feel the wind behind our back and we now feel the fresh push coming from the Skoll Foundation. We're going to push the frontiers of monitoring and try to give voice to those people, not through the intermediary of some NGO speaking on behalf of them. But let's hear them, let's hear that roar, let's get behind behind it, everyone. It's powerful. We're going to take, we're going to try and do away with the 60-page reports that nobody reads. That is a justification for funding, that is a way to ask for more funding, but doesn't transform lives. We're going to try to harness the power of visual data of music, of art to drive this movement forward.” (Source: Skoll Foundation)
He ended his speech with a note of encouragement that holds each of the listeners accountable:
“But I know we can't do it, if we do it ourselves and I know we can't do it if we don't hear my friend's voice. So Water for People embraces this challenge on the part of many who are in this fight. Join us. We are excited, we're going to find a way to tell this story, we're going to hear the voices of people. And not only people of Rwanda, or Honduras, or India will hold us accountable. Everyone will hold us accountable.” (Source: Skoll Foundation)
Featured in Forbes
Ned has been very vocal about his disdain for the word “beneficiaries.” He has gotten enough of NGOs claiming large number of “beneficiaries” helped in order to get more people to help their cause without even looking back and checking on what they have started in a community. This controversial stand that he has taken makes Ned different from other people who are into philanthropy.
When he was interviewed by Forbes contributor, Rahim Kanani, he explained Water For People’s advocacy in terms of providing sanitary water for people not only in Africa but also in some parts of Latin America and Asia where safe drinking water is scarce. He spoke about the initiative they call Everyone Forever. It is governed by five principles:
- We will reach every single person, even in the hardest to reach places and situations, in all 30 districts.
- The local government and community contribute financially to their development. Water For People’s funds are catalytic but are never offered alone; this creates accountability and less dependence on international assistance.
- Success is defined when these districts no longer need the external support of NGOs like Water For People. You can’t just say your work is “sustainable.” You have to create the conditions for these districts to never need additional external support again.
- We will monitor the water system for 10 years to verify results and address challenges as they emerge. This is unprecedented in the water and sanitation sector.
- Replication; success means that other districts in the countries where we work adopt the principles of Everyone Forever and this initiative spreads without Water For People’s direct financial support for further implementation. We have to show how our work can be applied by others to achieve scale so that entire nations have water and sanitation services that reach everyone and are poised to last forever. (Source: Forbes)
Simply put, what Ned and Water For People really wants to achieve is lasting change. They teach African people to fend for themselves and not to get too dependent on foreign aid. Water For People gets the “beneficiaries” to take part by putting in their own money and resources to help address issues concerning them and their community. It’s not a one-way effort but a mutual commitment to put a stop to the water crisis that has plagued their country for years and years. Ned hopes, along with Water For People, that by 2014 they get everybody committed to be more vigilant and sincerely concerned about transforming people’s lives by enabling them to stand on their own feet and inspire other nations to follow suit.
Ned does philanthropy along with being a husband to his AIDS activist wife, Lindsey, and a father to two adorable daughters.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Water For People
- University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide
- Everyone Forever
- World Water Corps
- Skoll Foundation
- The American Water Works Association
- Water Environment Federation
- Water Quality Association
- National Association of Water Companies
- National Association of Clean Water Agencies
- Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
- Re-imagine Reporting
- World Water Day
- A Child's Right
- El Porvenir
Awards and Achievements
- 2006: Became Director of International Programs of Water for People
- 2009: Appointed CEO of Water for People
- 2011: Received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship
- Championed the Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) application