Changing the way we change the world

Coffee talk: Diana Isac of 2 Water

This is part of an occasional series that I’m calling “Coffee Talk” (in homage to a Saturday Night Live skit). I get to talk to many people about their organization’s water and sanitation models, their experiences with monitoring, and what they happen to be thinking about right now, and I thought I would share those conversations. These blogs are intended to reflect the nature of my conversations as I remember them (since I’m usually scribbling notes on a napkin), and are not intended to be direct quotes.  These blogs are not meant to be endorsements or full profiles of any organization, person, or company.

Diana Isac of 2 Water
October 18, 2011 via Skype

Susan (New York): Diana, it’s nice to talk to you since we found each other on Twitter.  Tell me about why you started 2 Water.

Diana (London):  I was working for a major financial institution and knew that I wanted to work on development issues instead.  In April 2010 I was in Bordeaux with friends at the release of the Grand Crus.  Some of the bottles were going for £500 to £1000  each ($790 – $1580).  We realized that many of the chateaus are not participating in corporate social responsibility efforts.   It was over a glass of wine with friends that “wine to water” came to mind.  Water relates to poverty, health, and malnourishment.  We decided to use wine to raise awareness about the importance of access to water.

In May 2010 I resigned and co-founded 2 Water with a couple of friends.  By the end of the summer I was working on this full time, learning about water and doing research on partners.

Susan: So how did you decide where to work and which partners to choose?

Diana:  We selected Nepal because it seems to be neglected, and Malawi.  We chose partners with a track record of longer than 5 years.  We ask for testimonials from the village, photos, and GPS coordinates.  All of our projects can be tracked on our website.

We ask for monitoring six months and one year after the well was built. We want to know if fewer children are dying, if there is less waterborne disease.  We are also trying to figure out if we can build the capacity of the organization to monitor for decades.  Lots of organizations will build many wells in 2011, but in five years many of the wells will be polluted, or not functioning.  The NGO is no way obliged to fix it. We want to be accountable for that.

Susan: How many partners do you have now?

Diana:  We have two partners right now.  We are very small, and trying to get it right rather than taking on too much.  We raise about £20,000 ($31,500) for a project and that project builds about 8-10 wells.

Susan:  Where do you see the organization in five years?

Diana:  We will continue to fight the battle against water poverty.  I hope that 2 Water can reach out to at least 1 million people without access to water. Since right now each water project reaches 50 – 200 people, this will be a lengthy process.  To get there we are using social media to let people know about the need for safe water and a team of dedicated people who believe in the cause.

Susan: How do you get people’s attention for this issue in a noisy environment?

Diana:  We plan some events ourselves, and others are planned by wine bars and individuals.  At our events we tell people that it takes 120 liters to make one glass of wine.  This is usually a shock and it helps put the need for drinking water in perspective.

We also have a program with children in schools that involve competitions. We are starting to work with Vapur on making that possible  In the UK, children are required to do community service so we have something that is educational and helps them learn about water issues. We reward the teachers and parents with a wine tasting.

Susan:  Sounds like good incentive! How do the wine events work?

Diana:  We have themes.  For example, we had “The Italian Job” part 1 tasting which started with Campari and continued with northern Italian wines.  “The Italian Job” part 2 will feature southern Italian wines.  We have competitions and auction off special bottles.  On November 7 we’ll be having our first official wine and chocolate event with our partners in the United States, Brix, a company that makes chocolate to go with wine.

Susan: So what’s coming up for 2 Water?

Diana:  We are hoping to launch officially in the US in February or April.  We have good networks in Miami or New York and are looking for individuals and organisations to partner up with us.

Susan:  I definitely have some friends in New York who like wine. What’s your favorite wine these days?

Diana: I like Old World reds like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Susan:  Sounds like wine might come in handy when you are working this hard.

Diana:  I have a full time paying job but still manage to work 40 hours per week on 2 Water. We have about 25 staff including interns and volunteers.  All of us work pro bono for now. We debate whether we should use our funds to employ people or to wait.  It takes a lot of time to build something amazing.

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