Josephine Wang, Founder of Clean Water Project, is Building Wells
*All photos featured in article belong to Josephine Wang.
Josephine, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
I’m the founder of Clean Water Project. I’m also a grad student. I went back to school for Social Entrepreneurship so I could gain more knowledge and experience. I wanted to equip myself to go into the social impact field, which is work that tackles social issues. My focus is on global issues surrounding poverty and health in developing countries. I have a heart for that.
How did you learn about the clean water crisis?
When I was a senior in college, during my senior seminar class, everybody had to choose a social issue for our semester project. I decided to unpack global issues, but that is such a broad topic, so I focused on the clean water crisis. I spent the entire semester learning about the water crisis, doing research, and studying statistics, all of which made me more passionate about the issue. I never thought I would really do anything about it when I started my senior seminar project, but as the semester continued, I knew that I couldn’t just research, do a final presentation, and never look back. I decided I needed to get some in-person experience and then maybe see what would happen from there. I started looking for trips to go build a well the summer after graduation and doing a lot of research on nonprofits that work to bring clean water to communities.
One day I was talking with a friend and he said that he was trying to go to Zimbabwe to build a well. I was like, “I’m coming with you.” That was June of 2019. At that point, I had just graduated and I didn’t know what I wanted to do apart from traveling and building a well. When I went on the trip, I realized how simple it was to supply clean water and I kept thinking, “Why aren’t there more people doing this?” I saw that the water crisis had a solution, it just needed the funding. African Development Mission Trust (ADMT) was our partner during the Zimbabwe trip. Through their efforts, they supplied the village with the resources to build the well: the machine to drill, the pipes to put under ground, and the people to build the well. Granted, all of this was made possible because of generous funding, but I came back and couldn’t stop thinking about how simple the solution really was.
I was thinking maybe in 5 or 10 years I’ll start a fundraiser to raise money for wells and bring it to Zimbabwe. Some things happened in my life, plans changed, and some friends asked, “Why don’t you just do it now? Stop talking about it and just do it.” It wasn’t until my initial life plans fell through that I was like, “I can do this.” That’s when I decided to go to graduate school, thinking that I would launch Clean Water Project in 2022, once I graduated and gained more knowledge and experience to be more credible. Most people don’t launch ventures during their first year of grad school. As time went on people were saying yeah, school can help, but you don't have to sit around waiting to do it. I kept making excuses to not launch and I wanted to stop doing that. I realized that I’m going to make mistakes and I’ll learn from them. The best time to make mistakes and fail is when you’re in school.
When you were doing research, what statistic really stood out to you about the clean water crisis?
There are so many shocking and heartbreaking stats. One that really got me is that dirty water is the number one cause of death worldwide. It kills more people than all wars, terrorism, and violence in the world combined. Additionally, as of 2018, 52% of illnesses in the developing world are caused by dirty water. That means more than half the people sick and in hospitals do not have to be sick if only they had access to sanitized water.
*(These statistics are found in Thirst by Scott Harrison of Charity Water)
For those who may not know, what is Clean Water Project?
CWP mainly exists right now as a tool for financing the wells, basically the financial backer for the organizations. As the founder of CWP, I want to expand it into an experience. I believe in spreading awareness of the water issue by building relationships between the people receiving the well and the donors. Other organizations don't give donors the opportunity to see what is being done in the field with their generous donations. That’s where CWP will differ. I will invite donors to come with me to these countries and they will be able to witness the impact their donation has. It is important to note that we are mindful to not swoop in as the hero of what is being done in these communities.
How many wells do you hope to build?
I hope to build as many as we can! In this first year I’m aiming for one because we just launched. The goal is to raise $7,000 for one well during Fall of 2020 and I’m looking at it as a test run- what worked, what didn’t work, how can we make this better. Hopefully, in the Summer of 2021, I can bring that money to Zimbabwe and build the well. After the first well of our first year, I'm hoping to fund more than one well per year. Each year I want to consistently grow, so in 10 years I hope that instead of flatlining, we are on an upward trajectory. My mindset can sometimes be numbers focused, so instead I'm trying to focus on the quality and the impact of the work that we’re doing.
Besides Zimbabwe, do you plan to build in other countries too, like for instance in India where the water crisis is profound?
Yes. I want to go as far and wide as God will take me. I definitely want to build wells in other countries like Kenya, Zambia, and so on. Right now we’re focusing on Zimbabwe since I’ve been there and done it, I know it works, and it’s our first CWP well. But in the future, I’d love to partner with as many organizations as I can in other countries to provide clean water. I would love to have a map and put a pin where we’ve built wells all over the world.
What’s the defining factor, the thing that sets Clean Water Project apart from other organizations?
Because we’re starting out so small, we are focused on being personal and flexible. We strive to have more personal interactions with people compared to a bigger organization. Plus, I don’t think most organizations are going to take you on a trip. They’re not going to do a lot of planning with donors to make those trips possible for them. With CWP that’s what we want to get into. We might even do that next year! CWP wants to bridge the gap between those receiving a well and those financially giving to help end the crisis. Building wells, building relationships.
Is CWP an affiliate or independent organization?
We are an independent organization, but we do have partners. Our first well will be partnered with ADMT because they will provide the location of the well and have connections to the necessary resources (drilling rig and supplies).
Can you talk a little bit about the organizations that you partner/ plan to partner with in order to bring wells to rural communities?
Logistically, the organizations we partner with are the ones who know exactly what resources are needed, which engineers to call, and the required protocols to follow. Organizations like Charity Water have built thousands of wells and each project works with an affiliate organization in the country. Additionally, a water well needs to be maintained. An organization like ADMT places people in the community to make sure that the well is still operating. That’s why it’s helpful to have the partner organization to place someone in the field to make sure the well is still providing for the community.
Do you envision CWP becoming a brand in the future?
That’s a good question. I would never call it a “brand,” but I do want to find a way to make it financially sustainable. So in 2020 we’re starting off by fundraising most of the money, but that’s not something we can do forever. I think one day maybe we’ll have products and other services.
No doubt there are differences in how communities in developing countries interact with water versus how we as Americans treat water, since most of us have a greater ease of access to it. Can you share any examples you’ve observed of how people treat water differently over there than in the U.S.?
Yes. In the city getting water is way easier than in rural villages, but it’s very expensive to buy. Another example is doing the dishes in those rural villages. It is not very sanitary because they only have one bowl of water. It starts out clean and clear, but as they continue doing the dishes the water gets more brown. Even if the last dish is cleaned in the murky water, it is considered clean. They are very conservative about water. Bathing? They give you a bucket of water. That’s how they’re used to living. They are very conservative, but they make it work. It’s incredible.
After learning more about the water crisis, has your lifestyle and/or interaction with water changed?
I’ve always been really into conserving resources and trying to be careful with how much water I use and to save as much as I can. Because of the values I grew up with, and my parent’s lack of resources, it was always about saving what we could. This made me more aware of what I was using and the water I was potentially wasting. That being said, my personal actions towards water haven’t changed too much for me.
This is funny, but whenever I see people with a pool, I tell them to get rid of it! It’s not just a waste of water, but also of energy. Secondly, this may sound simple, but there are a lot of people out there who leave the water running as they brush their teeth, wash their hands, and shower. When I wash my hands I make sure to turn the water off as I use soap. Thirdly, if you don’t want to drink the last few ounces of your water (hopefully not from a plastic bottle), instead of dumping the rest of it into the sink, pour it somewhere you may need it later or in a big gallon you might have around and use that water to water your plants, grass, or anything else. There are very simple ways to conserve water. It all comes down to just taking what you need and not more.
What advice would you give to someone who also wants to start an organization from the ground up?
I was making excuses to not launch Clean Water Project because I was afraid of failure. The biggest thing for me is even if I fail, at least I tried. I don’t want to be like, “Oh we’re all gonna fail,” but I think it’s a legitimate fear that might hold people back. So even if you fail, at least you tried!
What is the impact you hope CWP will have in the next 10-20 years?
I dream that in 10 years people that I don’t know will know about Clean Water Project. You say the word UNICEF or World Vision and people know what they do, what those organizations stand for. So I hope with Clean Water Project people will know the work that we do. I also want CWP to be sustainable, meaning we’re not bugging people for money and instead relying on the relationships we’ve built with our partners to build wells. This may be far-fetched, but in 20 years I hope that we would’ve raised 1 million dollars for building wells.
Lastly, because we are still battling with Covid-19, how has the pandemic impacted CWP?
During lock down I had the time to build the website, work on legal stuff, and think through CWP as a whole. A negative impact has been not being able to secure dates to travel to Zimbabwe to build the well, but I know everything will work out in the end. Additionally, raising money this year has been very different in comparison to previous years. We’ve had to strategize new ways of being resourceful when it comes to fundraising.
Overall though, it has positively impacted it. I wasn't planning on starting CWP until 2022, but when Covid happened, I was like you know what, so many people are dying out there because of Covid and other health related issues, we need to get on fixing the water crisis ASAP. It was a sense of urgency and if you don’t have that urgency, you’re never going to solve the world’s pressing issues.
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Zimbabwe- An Inside Look into Building a Water Well
Video by Josephine Wang.