The last time Global Giving Matters caught up Jin Zidell was in January 2007 as he and his Blue Planet Run Foundation (www.blueplanetrun.org) prepared to launch Blue Planet Run 2007, the world’s first global relay run to raise awareness and funds for safe drinking water projects worldwide. (See Global Giving Matters #28)
The Run, with 20 elite runners representing 13 nationalities, and sponsored by Dow Chemical, was a tremendous success. It began in June 2007 at the United Nations in New York City and covered 15,200 miles through 16 countries over the next 95 days. The event generated 1,200 news stories, over 600 million impressions, and crowds around the globe, making it the single largest event ever focused on safe drinking water. National Geographic magazine concluded, “The Blue Planet Run demonstrates the triumph of humanity over complacency. Proper funding and collective commitment can make safe drinking water a universal reality.”
A 240-age book The Blue Planet Run Book, was published to continue the momentum. The book is filled with striking photography of worldwide water conditions, alarming statistics, profiles of Blue Planet Run 2007 participants, and inspirational stories of “water heroes.” Created by Rick Smolan with an introduction by Robert Redford, Blue Planet Run puts a human face on the water crisis and was the featured book at the Chicago Field Museum’s recent major water exhibit.
While the Blue Planet Run Foundation’s initial focus was on raising awareness for safe drinking water, Zidell realized that his organization could also play a role in helping connect and leverage the resources and ideas of the myriad groups and individuals working on the global water crisis.
The Peer Water Exchange (PWX – www.peerwater.org) – an online platform to foster collaboration, raise funding for high-potential projects, and share experience and project data – is Blue Planet Run’s answer to this challenge. This global online network aims to:
Connect people working on water and sanitation projects at the grassroots level to the other actors in order to empower their initiatives and increase capacity through a collaborative process of peer review and project monitoring.
Generate an open, growing database of sustainable water solutions, including project descriptions, challenges, impact, and lessons learned in order to promote replication, success, and increased funding.
Leverage information among funders, researchers, scientists, and service providers in order to increase the cost effectiveness and sustainability of providing safe water for all.
One initial example of PWX’s work is fostering a relationship between a water group in Nicaragua and a social development NGO in India about how to tackle arsenic water contamination. These sorts transparent information exchanges will enable participants to learn of pitfalls to avoid and of what approaches are most likely to have significant impact.
Since its inception, PWX has grown to 58 water funding and implementing members, ranging from small grassroots groups to some of the world’s largest water organizations. It has helped enable 214 sustainable water and sanitation projects, bringing safe drinking water to 250,000 people in rural areas of the developing world.
Originally funded only by Blue Planet Run, the network has recently opened up to other funders seeking a ready source of high quality water projects that have been vetted by experienced water groups. Organizations also may guide their funds to specific projects based on geography, water program type, or other criteria. Blue Planet Run has just implemented its first PWX partnership with a major charitable trust. It hopes to work with other organizations interested in leveraging the PWX network to further their own development strategies and speed the creation of sustainable safe drinking water worldwide.
Jin Zidell, a member of Synergos’ Global Philanthropists Circle, remains committed to working with the global community to create real, sustainably provided, safe drinking water and give people the ability to transform their lives. As he puts it, “Safe drinking water enables people to take their first step up the ladder out of poverty to community health, social and economic development.”