“We believe very sincerely that this large, complex global [water] problem is solvable,” says CEO Kurt Soderlund.
Collaborative effort, shared learning and deliberation are critical to addressing the global water crisis, which affects as many as two billion people. That was the takeaway from a luncheon hosted by the New York-based Safe Water Network at the Cosmopolitan Club in the nation’s capital on October 24.
Among the dozens attendees were stakeholders from global agencies, think tanks, academia, philanthropic community and the private sector, many of them allies, friends and partners of Safe Water Network, which works with communities primarily in India and Ghana to develop locally owned and managed “safe water stations.”
Safe Water Network CEO Kurt Soderlund and two members of its board of directors, Dr. Rita Colwell and Vivek Sankaran, highlighted the work the organization is doing in these two countries, where it is working with 350 communities to implement locally owned and sustainable water system.
Colwell, a winner of the Stockholm and Singapore Water Prizes and former Director of the National Science Foundation, talked about the impact access to clean water has on communities’ public health, national security and economic strength.
“I have found in all the years of my work including in places like India and Bangladesh that people are very much the same – they love their families, they want their children to be healthy and educated, and they want to be able to contribute to society,” she said. “The fact is that when you purify the water that’s being distributed to the population, you immediately cut down on the waterborne disease… Safe Water Network is beginning to put together this web in various parts of the world through collaborations to address this huge problem.”
Indian American Sankaran, President and COO of Frito-Lay North America, Inc., spoke about how the nonprofit is leading advances in the sector with the help of strategic collaborations. “Safe water unleashes lives,” he said. “The big idea is to collaborate with others within and outside the sector to make a difference in the communities we serve. Partnerships with companies like PepsiCo, Pentair and Honeywell have helped us catalyze the sector.”
In his remarks, Soderlund spoke about the urgent need to tackle the water problem.
“Our work really is focused on the challenge of bringing safe water to two billion people in need,” he said. “We believe very sincerely that this large, complex global problem is solvable. The need of the hour is to encourage collaboration among implementers, tap into private sector capability, draw in development agencies and other stakeholders.”
Soderlund also talked about the upcoming “Beyond the Pipe Forum,” which it is convening in New Delhi next week to put the spotlight on innovations to find better solutions for safe water.
He said that the organization is addressing the water crisis in India through innovative ways, working closely with state governments such as Telangana and Maharashtra and policy groups such as Niti Aayog.
Safe Water Network currently operates more than 250 small water enterprises across four states in India.
The guests present included US-India Business Council President Nisha Biswal, prominent Indian American philanthropist Ranvir Trehan, Suez Global Affairs Leader Jon Freedman; Osprey Foundation Managing Director Louis Boorstin; Richard M. Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Director of India Initiative at Georgetown University Irfan Nooruddin and Director of FICCI USA Ridhika Batra, in addition to a number of officials from the World Bank, USAID, the US Department of State and several stakeholders from the water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.
Safe Water Network was co-founded in 2006 by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, along with prominent civic and business leaders.