Opinion: Marketing can’t solve the global water crisis


Water. We all need it. However, the world is in a water crisis from the villages in India to the plains of the United States. Recently, causes and online giving sites have sprung up to “provide” clean water and “solve the global water crisis.” It is a very needed and noble idea. However, in an excellent piece on the New York Times Opinionator Blog titled “The Real Future of Clean Water,” David Bornstein argues that claims that one can solve the global water crisis by giving or raising money online are overly idealistic.

We encourage all social entrepreneur to read this post because it is not just about two different approaches to the water crisis – that of Scott Harrison, founder of charity : water and Gary White, co-founder of Water.org – but it talks about the allure and danger of great branding and how it can reduce very complex global issues into compelling marketing campaigns that make promises to consumers that cannot be kept.

Read the excerpt from David’s post below and you can read the full article on the New York Times Opinionator blog at http://nyti.ms/15xTZ0O.

“Charity: Water aims to show through the growth of its philanthropic work that the world’s water crisis is solvable. The message it effectively conveys is: if enough affluent people in the West were generous enough to pay for water projects in poor countries, we could fix the problem. This message is misleading — and it doesn’t serve the interests of the organization’s donors, other water organizations, or people who are beyond the reach of Charity: Water.

“Let’s put this problem in perspective. The World Health Organization has estimated that it would require investments totaling $535 billion between 2011 and 2015 to provide universal access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This problem cannot be solved by scaling philanthropy. It’s like using an “adopt-a-highway” approach to solve the world’s transportation problems. To fix this problem, governments and businesses must take the lead.

“Philanthropists have a vital role to play in the solution, just as they have played key roles advancing many movements — from abolition to women’s suffrage to gay rights. But when the problem is vast and grant resources are relatively scarce, philanthropy needs to be used catalytically. By promising its donors a good experience — short-term results and heart-warming photos — Charity: Water limits the range of activities it can support.

“One person who has thought long and hard about what it would take to make a dent in the world’s water crisis is Gary White, a co-founder with Matt Damon of Water.org. White has spent the past 30 years addressing this problem and he has gone through a personal learning process that mirrors the world’s learning process. It’s an instructive story…”

Read the full post at http://nyti.ms/15xTZ0O.

Enjoy David’s perspective on social entrepreneurship? Come listen to him speak at the Irish Impact Social Entrepreneurship Conference at the University of Notre Dame on October 2-4, 2013. Registration is open at: https://irishimpact.eventbrite.com/

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.indoscopy.com/2010/05/water-crisis-in-india.html#.Uh9WUWRgbvc

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