Published by Angus on 30 Nov 2009 at 05:30 am
In 2007, the Blue Planet Run Foundation set itself the audacious goal of providing 200 million people safe drinking water within 20 years. The challenge is how to deliver on this goal with such a small organization.
The typical rural village in the Global South has a population of 1,000 people. That means in order to reach 200 million people you would need to do 10,000 projects a year. Jin Zidell, founder and chairman of the Blue Planet Run Foundation, doesn’t want to fundraise and staff a huge organization to do this, instead they are going to rely on networks. As he explains: “If we can save 20% because we don’t have a large staff, that’s 20% more money going to the work on the ground.” The key to their plan is the Peer Water Exchange (PWX), a “unique participatory decision-making network of partners, [which] combines people, process, and technology to manage water and sanitation projects around the world – from application, selection, funding, implementation, and impact assessment.”
Here are the key elements of the system their organization has developed. They turn the typical nonprofit functions on their head:
- The community evaluates projects: If you want to apply for funding from the Exchange you have to agree to evaluate at least five other applications for each project you want PWX to fund. The platform automatically assigns five peer reviewers, often from completely different countries. You can see in the picture below that a project in Ghana is being reviewed by peers in the US, China and Thailand. Each reviewer scores projects on a 1 to 10 basis. If your project scores an average of 5, you get funding. Here is an example of a review.
- Their application is standardized and transparent: Any organization that wants to apply has to use the same form which details the need, the technology, the organization, government involvement, the budget and co-funding. It’s all there to see on the website. Here is an example of an application.
- Competitors collaborate: Traditionally it’s been very competitive in the nonprofit water sector. With the Exchange anyone can participate (presently there are 59 partners in 21 countires) and they have seen both large and small players review each other.
- Peer learning leads to improvements: Since peer reviews are from outside of an applicant’s existing network, it often results an exchange of learning. For example, one Indian peer was able to source a hand pump for $250 versus the $450 that an African applicant could access. In another case, a Bolivian applicant was able to find solutions from a Bangladesh peer on issues with arsenic.
- A network of volunteers monitor projects: Evaluating water projects is relatively simple – is there water coming out of the pump and what is the quality of that water? Jin envisions volunteers from a number of larger civic institutions like The Rotary Club (with its 33,000 local groups) going to the site, taking a picture of the system and measuring its quality using a cheap disposable device. Here is an example of an assessment visit.
One unexpected result has been that two medium-sized water nonprofits are migrating their projects (1,100 in total) on to the PWX site: Watershead Organization Trust and Gram Vikas. That’s another cost saving – they no longer need to invest in complex IT solutions. Jin is looking for partners in other sectors who might be interested in using the Exchange’s approach and software platform. If you are interested, feel free to contact him.
|Industrialist, philanthropist and environmentalist, Jin Zidell has been a principal in a number of businesses including scrap metal processing, steel forging/fabrication, film and television production, fish farming, real estate development and software development and marketing. In 1991, Jin and his wife Linda established a donor-advised philanthropic fund at Marin Community Foundation that focuses on environmental issues. Jin has served on the board and staff of numerous nonprofits over the past 35 years. Along with being a board member of The Natural Step, US, Jin serves on the board of the Predator Conservation Alliance and the Earth Trust Foundation. Since 1979, Jin has been affiliated with Dia Rosatsu Zendo Kongo-Il, a Zen Buddhist Monastery. Jin Zidell received a BS from the University of Colorado School of Business in 1960.|
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