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Jan Lee headshot

Zynga and Water.org Bring Clean Water to Developing Communities

Words by Jan Lee

For many of us, getting our hands on a glass of water is a pretty simple thing: We go to the cupboard, pick out our favorite glass and fill it with running water from the tap or a bottle. Whether we’re in the midst of work, reading a good book or are engrossed in a game of Farmville2 or another social network game, the whole process of satisfying our thirst only takes about a minute to accomplish. And it’s probably the least taxing part of our day.

But, for approximately 783 million people across the globe, that glass of water presents huge challenges. That single drink may not come from a nearby source, and often takes hours to obtain. Getting water into the house means hauling it in on foot from a river or a lake – sometimes miles away –  and many times, using a source that can be unsafe to drink.

In fact, according to the advocacy organization, Water.org, some 200 million hours per day are spent in the collection of water. Most of that labor is done by women, and by hand. In some cases, those buckets of water come from a polluted source that’s been affected by a natural disaster or other catastrophe, but are the family’s only accessible means for life-sustaining water.

For the last month, Water.org has been partnering with Zynga, the manufacturer of the online game FarmVille2, to help raise awareness and raise money for communities that don’t have ready access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Zynga.com, which operates its own charity organization, Zynga.org, is donating 100 percent of its profits from sales it receives related to the freemium game.

“I don’t know many tech companies that go out and create a new product and give 100 percent of the revenue to a nonprofit,” says Water.org’s Chief Community Officer, Mike McCamon, who noted that Zynga has been instrumental in four other projects to raise money and awareness about the charity’s work throughout the world. “They have been overly generous and very, very eager to find ways to spread the word.”

McCamon says that a large part of the outreach is educating the public and that’s one of the benefits of partnering with Zynga. It also uses its social media connections to encourage people to become familiar with Water.org’s efforts and goals.

“They have reach, and we have programming,” he says.

Water.org was founded by actor Matt Damon and entrepreneur Gary White in 2009 when its predecessor, Water Partners International, merged with H2O Africa. Since that time, McCamon says, the organization has continued its effort to expand access to potable water and sanitation in developing nations. Most of its focus, at the moment, is in places like Haiti, Africa and India, where poverty and infant mortality are high.

One of the most innovative steps that the organization has taken is to facilitate loans for community members who have a nearby source for potable water, but don’t have the money to connect to it. McCamon gave the example of a family who lives near a water line, but doesn’t have the $75 to pay for the hook up. A local bank provides the loan (referred to by Water.org as WaterCredit), the hook up is established, and the family has clean, potable water. The loan paid back by the family is then used to provide loans to other individuals in their community.

“The thing that is revolutionary about (this idea) is that historically, microfinancing didn’t do that, because they only loaned for income producing activities,” says McCamon. But providing loans for projects like in-house water or a toilet or latrine, he explains, facilitates the family’s ability to actually raise its income level and thus pay back the loan.

“So it’s been wildly successful.”

McCamon added that this type of financing is actually less expensive because the funding is split between three sources: commercial capital, the government, which often handles the initial infrastructure (such as providing water lines for running water) and the community members who pay back the loans.

The FarmVille2 promotion through Zynga.org continues until December 8. Individuals can also support Water.org by logging onto its site and clicking the “Donate” link. A donation of $25 provides clean water for one person for life.

Images courtesy of Water.org and Zynga.org.

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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