What does “it it for life” mean? It means that Water1st International believes in sustainable giving and community improvements. This is the key to their success.

A common theme in our Give Stories Series is contagious optimism. From start-up organizations to enterprise-scale nonprofits, every person we speak with has a gleam in their eye, passion in their voice, and hope in their hearts. They realize that with a sound plan, donation funds, and a small team that they can change the world. And they are.

We recently interviewed Zoe Barker-Aderem, Development and Community Engagement for Water1st International. Her role is in developing relationships with the community and working with the Water1st Youth Boards.

“Young people look at a problem and say, ‘Oh, that’s wrong! How can I help?’” Zoe Barker-Aderem

Written about often, compassion fatigue is a common challenge with adults. As we age and become more aware, we are reminded daily of the injustice and hardships that so many of us face. As I was writing this article, a friend messaged me about a dog that needs to be fostered to avoid a kill shelter. There are real problems that need help — everywhere.

And yet, people like Marla Smith-Nilson, Founder and Executive Director of Water1st International, and Zoe, haven’t let that stop them from following their passion and calling in life. It’s that drive and determination that makes Water1st an impactful organization.


About Water1st International

Water1st is in it for the long term with their partners. They provide pipe-based water systems and expertise which enables the infrastructure to sustain a community for a lifetime.

“Worldwide, 35-50% of water projects fail within the first 5 years. 2,050 projects completed. And not one has failed. Our projects are successful because we empower communities and fund solutions based on their priorities.” Water1st


Why is there a need?

As Water1st International states, almost half of all water projects fail. This is because of two reasons: the common approach using hand pumps and the lack of ongoing monitoring and communication.

Water1st believes that a community should be empowered and educated. Once a community has been found and a feasible piping project can occur (with a tap, not hand pump) along with a toilet system, they will begin improvement projects.

What makes Water1st International different is their long-term commitment to both the project and the community.

“Marla has remained steadfast to her mission to advocate for and support effective international development — supporting local, long-lasting solutions to the water and sanitation crisis — the first step out of poverty toward transformation.” Water1st

How do long-term partnerships affect donations?

Water1st goes beyond a short-term installation of a handpump and the feel-good emotions that go with it. Their donors agree. Zoe explains,

“I think with the people who know us best, it’s a really big factor in why they decided to support us. The long-term relationship with a local partner is the only way you can build water projects that last forever. You need the local expertise.” Zoe Barker-Aderem

Donors are assured that the projects that begin are not only completed but will be monitored and maintained. They have over ten years’ of relationships so far and no failed projects. It’s because of their vision to empower local people while ensuring parts are also available locally.

“If you have to source the part from far away, it’s putting a problem in the middle of the original problem.” Zoe Barker-Aderem

These projects have been well-engineered both in strategy and tactics; donors understand that they’re making a lasting impact on these communities. It’s about their often-used and tested sustainability equation. You can read more about their work on their website.

How they use Give

Marla doesn’t just stop at her civil engineering background or scouting trips to find communities to support. She also built and maintains their WordPress website as well.

Being an engineer, it’s no surprise that Marla taught herself the coding necessary to be successful with WordPress and Give.

“WordPress does most of it for you but not all of it.” Zoe Barker-Aderem

Water1st International uses Give for their Donation Form.
Water1st International uses Give for their Donation Form.

Before implementing Give, Water1st was sending people to PayPal or to Classy (which they still use for events). Now they use Give to save on platform fees and more easily generate donations directly on their website.

“You have a pretty unique product out there. It’s been so helpful.” Zoe Barker-Aderem

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Bridget Willard

Bridget is co-host of WPblab, co-organizer of Women Who WP Meetup, and Team Rep for the Marketing Team for WordPress.org.

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