In Your Words: Water Thinking

By Rajesh Shah, MBA 97
Winner of the 2010 Intel Environment Award


Students always.
Confidence without attitude.
Question the status quo.
Beyond yourself.


With an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I took advantage of my time at Berkeley, taking classes in 19 different buildings while earning my MBA—classes on city planning, Gandhi, and oceanography, among others. But it was my Leadership class with Terry Pearce that defined my experience at Berkeley Haas. Terry took me under his wing and taught me that leadership is about inner convictions. The experience gave me courage to explore and share what was most important to me.


Solving the world's water crisis became my life's passion after I realized that the problem was so big that no one silver bullet was going to work and that our society had practically abandoned the issue.


The facts point to a universally acknowledged crisis: About 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water;
6,000 children under 5 die every day from water-related diseases; 2.7 billion people lack access to hygienic sanitation facilities.


Successful solutions to rural water problems require not only technology but also community organization, education, behavior change, transfer of ownership, and long-term monitoring. These components create a complexity that has hampered our ability to take any solution to scale. Despite billions of dollars spent over decades, we have not reduced the size of the water crisis.


I refuse to accept this status quo. The drinking water crisis can be solved; if we cannot solve it, which problems are we worthy of solving? The Peer Water Exchange (PWX)—a combination of people, process, and technology that I conceived and built for Blue Planet Network—uses a decentralized network approach to facilitate sharing successful practices and failures; to use peer review to share, learn and simplify decision-making; and finally to connect and engage with donors and the public. Over six years, 73 small and large organizationsaround the world have proved that the PWX idea works.


PWX can help make a real dent in the global water crisis. My hope is that it will also energize our society to make a long-term commitment to ensure every person
gets safe drinking water.


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