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Rothschild and the “Dilemmas of a Water Funder”

In a piece this week, David Rothschild, a Principal of the Portfolio Team at the Skoll Foundation, started a dialogue about the “Dilemmas of a Water Funder”, posing questions about the challenges in setting long-term, ambitious, and aggressive goals.  Of his six questions, the most relevant to our Community of Practice are the last two:

  • How can we improve access to water and sanitation while also improving water scarcity situations?
  • Why aren’t more linkages made between the agricultural and WASH sectors? How can agricultural water use planning incorporate WASH planning?

Rothschild suggests that the singular focus on water and sanitation, and the feel good feeling of building one more well or connecting one more house to a sanitation system, has limited the ambitious nature of the goals the WASH sector should be setting and kept funders from looking for “institutions that are shifting the paradigm, opening new markets, changing systems and demonstrating success at scale”.

In an op-ed piece published last week in the NY Times, Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffet and chairman of the NoVo Foundation, echoed some of Rothschild’s concerns, criticizing the philanthropic industry as a whole for focusing on incremental goals, but failing to re-imagine the bigger picture and support systemic change.

  • What do you think?
  • How has the focus on water and sanitation affected water resources management in your region?
  • How do our projects succeed in making these missing linkages between upstream and downstream users, agricultural and consumer users, environment and industry?

Read David Rothschild’s full article and comment on it here.

Read Peter Buffet’s New York Times op-ed here.