Toms to make Water for People's monitoring 'cooler'

A child washes her hands under a faucet in Buena Vista, Honduras, where Water for People works to improve people's access to water and sanitation facilities. The organization has partnered up with Toms to scale up WASH efforts in the developing world. Photo by: Marei Burnfield / Water for People

Gourmet coffee… to power water and sanitation efforts in the developing world.

Toms and nonprofit Water for People launched last week a new partnership to support long-term water access and communicating those results to a wider public.

So what’s it all about?

The partnership, said Water for People CEO Ned Breslin, will not only benefit the nonprofit’s “Everyone, Forever” effort to bring together local entrepreneurs, civil society and governments to invest in their own sustainable safe water and sanitation systems — but also allow Water for People to tell the story to a nontechnical audience in “a much less techy and geeky way” than normal, he joked.

“We’re excited because we’re going to develop a strategy around it that makes the monitoring work we already do more interesting to the general public,” Breslin told Devex.

Toms — known around the world for making cheap footwear inspired by Argentinian farmer’s shoes and glasses, and matching each sale with an equal gift to a poor child — is entering the coffee market with Toms Roasting Co., which will offer six premium coffee varieties with beans sourced from around the globe.

According to the World Health Organization, 20 liters of clean water per day is the recommended daily requirement for adequate health and hygiene. So each bag of Toms coffee – currently priced at $12.99 – guarantees 140 liters to a person in need. Cups of coffee, which will be sold in a string of Toms cafe-stores, could each provide a day of clean water for someone who truly needs it in the developing world.

That’s where Water for People comes in: Toms Roasting Co. will work with the nonprofit to provide sustainable water systems to the countries from which the beans are sourced — and in districts that Water for People already has a presence — like Rwanda, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala and Malawi.

Breslin noted there’s much more to each purchase than just a week’s supply of water, because the proceeds will go toward supporting the sustainable initiatives Water for People has already established, and each water solution is designed to provide access to safe water to every family, school and clinic in a community. This means using the financing from the Toms coffee venture, for instance, to build tanks to collect rainwater or develop piping systems to get water from hard-to-reach places.

Water ‘ownership’

For too long, the water sector has struggled to create lasting change, “so we want to model and show that vision of what sustainable, full water coverage looks like,” Breslin said.

In Honduras, for example, Water for People started in three districts, then formed partnerships with other NGOs as well as the national and department governments, so “Everyone, Forever” will roll out in another 40 districts. In Rwanda, the NGO works in two districts, with the government already asking how to roll it out in the remaining 17 to be the first country in Africa with full water coverage.

Guaranteeing 10 years of monitoring — with responsibility embedded within communities and government — after a district is at full coverage is then crucial in order to track and effectively respond to results, such as how long it took to repair a situation where water was off, and what can be changed for a better response time.

“Toms wanted to be part of a program that is transcending individual villages, that has a monitoring program in place that we can track results and that has transformational potential,” said the Water for People CEO.

The goal is to allow people to build and maintain their own reliable safe water and sanitation systems, eventually independent of outside aid. And because of the way the partnership is structured, every bag of coffee is building into the overall program, backing “Everyone, Forever” in a way that conventional donors have struggled to back long-term in the past, according to Breslin.

“It gets away from quick hits,” he concluded. “This process takes time and patience. And it takes a little buzz.”

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See more:

Turning the post-2015 trickle into a flood
WASH 'not sexy' but must be addressed — WaterAid
WASH: A spearhead for development in fragile states

About the author

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.