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Charity: Water Ratchets Up Technology for Water Project Results and Transparency

Salem, who is featured in charity: water's VR documentary, with her father in Ethiopia. Photo credit: Scott Harrison

Salem, who is featured in charity: water’s VR documentary, watches her father use VR goggles in Ethiopia. Photo credit: Scott Harrison

Since its inception, charity: water, an Aid for Africa member, has made transparency to its donors of paramount importance. Donors receive photos and GPS coordinates of water projects they help fund along with stories from the field.

But charity: water’s founder Scott Harrison wanted to do more.  He wanted to ensure that the wells the organization drills continue to produce clean water long after the drilling equipment is removed, and he wanted to provide donors with a higher level of transparency.

In 2012 charity: water won a $5 million technology grant from Google.org to develop a sensor that would do just that. Sensors would monitor and transmit data on water flow from charity: water’s pumps, allowing for quick repair or replacement when the flow changed. The sensors would provide a solution to an ongoing problem associated with many development projects—ensuring sustainability over the long run.

The sensor data would also be shared with donors, who would receive information about the performance of the wells they funded. Ultimately, charity: water hoped that donors would be able to access the data themselves, according to the organization’s chief global water officer Christoph Gorder.

charity: water worked with PCH, a custom-design manufacturing company, to create the sensor, which transmits data through SIM cards and cell phone networks to the cloud. By the end of 2015, about one-third of the 3,500 sensors planned for pumps in rural Ethiopia had been installed. According to charity: water, sensors “learn” what is normal well and pump function and immediately report when water flow changes.

As charity: water worked to develop the sensor technology, Harrison began to explore virtual-reality technology as a tool for donors to experience life in the communities the organization serves.  At the charity: water’s annual gala in December, the organization released The Source—an eight-minute virtual-reality documentary about bringing clean water to a community in northern Ethiopia and how it changed the life of a teenage girl.

Films using virtual technology will help donors experience—almost first-hand—the impact of projects they support. With this experience, donors may better understand—and perhaps feel—the power of providing clean water.

The words tech savvy and charity are not often used in the same sentence. charity: water is changing that through innovative technologies that provide millions of people with sustainable access to clean water, monitor the results of water projects, and capture the reality of life before and after clean water .

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In The Media

Charity: water recently made The Source available as a 360-degree video on its Facebook page; it will be released as a free VR download soon.

Learn more about the development and design of charity: water’s sensor that monitors water flow or how to build your own.