CINCINNATI — Last summer, Allison Tummon Kamphuis stood alongside former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, at a school in Kigali, Rwanda, and showed them how to purify buckets of dirty water with a pocket-sized packet.
Yet that high-profile moment wasn’t the one the Cincinnati transplant highlighted when she described her work as manager of Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW) , a non-profit the company runs.
Instead, she recalled a visit to a remote village in northern Ghana where villagers had tried to build a water well at least a dozen times, but to no avail.
“They had no choice but to drink out of dirty ponds we wouldn’t want to walk through,” she said.
She remembered the villagers’ reactions as they saw each hand-sized packet clean 10 liters of even the most contaminated water. One gallon equals 3.78 liters, so that one packet provided nearly three gallons of clean water for the villagers.
“It’s pretty miraculous to see that look on their faces,” said the 41-year-old former nurse. “It makes you know we’re doing an important thing.”
For Tummon Kamphuis, those villagers represent the nearly 800 million people around the world with no access to clean water. They also represent an opportunity to make a life-saving difference.
This Earth Day, CSDW announced their 7 billionth liter of water cleaned , one liter for every person on the planet, since 2004. That includes supplies to rural villages like the one in Ghana as well as emergency deliveries to disaster sites like post-earthquake Haiti and post-tsunami Burma.
Since Tummon Kamphuis joined CSDW in 2008, the group’s output has increased from about 500 million liters of water a year to 1.5 billion liters a year.
While she’s encouraged, she’s far from satisfied.
“It’s a drop in the bucket of what’s needed,” said Tummon Kamphuis, who took on the manager role of CSDW last summer.
An Accidental Innovation
So how does the world’s largest consumer goods company wind up running a non-profit that offers products to the world’s most overlooked populations? By accident.
While looking for a way to clean used laundry water, a P&G scientist stumbled upon a combination that purified water , according to Lisa Popyk, who works in Global Sustainability and P&G Brand Communications.
Using that in-house innovation to fuel a non-commercial venture turned out to benefit more than people thirsty for clean water.
“Employees really respect the fact that the company is giving back in such a meaningful way,” Popyk said.
Tummon Kamphuis is a perfect example.
Even before she started working for CSDW, Tummon Kamphuis, as both a nurse and a mother, took pride in the initiative that the company supports through a fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation .
Though she started her P&G career more than 17 years ago doing clinical research in her native Canada and then continued that work in Mason, she watched CSDW’s progress closely. When she got the chance to apply for an internal switch, she did.
“I was always interested in that work,” said the mother of two.
She sees her background as a nurse as an advantage when she travels to sites that use the purifying packets. “In many of the communities we work, a nurse is the only health care practitioner available,” she said.
Her years of experience at P&G, though, prepared her to navigate manufacturing processes and procedures, implement training programs and manage distribution networks, all at P&G scale. She likens her job to running a small NGO within a large corporation.
“I’m kind of like the shepherd,” she said.
Building Partnerships With Passion
Popyk calls Tummon Kamphuis “tenacious,” a trait essential to sustaining a network of more than 140 partners around the world that help deliver billions of purifying packets into the right hands.
“It’s not a simple supply chain,” Popyk said.
It may not be a simple journey, but it is a meaningful one. Each four-gram packet provides enough clean water to supply two liters of clean drinking water to five people per day.
Partners who help with advocacy, funding and program implementation include heavy hitters like the World Health Organization , UNICEF , World Vision , Save the Children and the Clinton Global Initiative , Tummon Kamphuis said. Others are first responders at unimaginable scenes. “We deal with disasters all the time,” she said.
The success of CSDW depends on these collaborations, Popyk said, and Tummon Kamphuis works hard to expand existing networks and build new ones.
“She’s tremendous at building partnerships,” Popyk said. “Her passion is contagious.”
For Tummon Kamphuis, making the right connections means bridging more than physical barriers.
“The partnerships are as innovative as the technology,” Tummon Kamphuis said.
Those partnerships vary depending on the location and cause of the water contamination. For example, when emergency clean water supplies are needed after a disaster, CSDW can tap into existing relief networks to provide packets.
But in rural villages around the
world with no piped water systems, introducing clean water can be a more delicate and challenging process.
Once relief partners have made it to villages, neighbors who have never seen clean water need to know more than how to purify what they drink. They also need to know why clean water matters.
“It’s an educational challenge,” Popyk said. “We’re not just there leaving packets.”
The consequences of dirty water are dire. The World Health Organization estimates that 2,000 children die every day from illnesses related to contaminated drinking water. That’s more than die from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.
That number, though staggering, represents a significant drop since CSDW’s inception, when the daily death toll stood near 4,000, Tummon Kamphuis said.
“It’s still unspeakable, but to see that progress is encouraging,” she said.
Popyk put CSDW’s goal for 2020—supplying 2 billion liters of clean water every year—into a human perspective.
“We estimate that’s enough water to save one life every hour,” she said.
Tummon Kamphuis also views it from the production perspective. To reach the 2020 goal, CSDW must increase production and distribution by one-third in the next six years.
“We have a little ways to grow,” Tummon Kamphuis said.
Public Awareness Efforts Reach Retail World
While Tummon Kamphuis sees clean drinking water’s impact first-hand, she understands it’s a hard concept for the general public to grasp.
“I don’t think North Americans can really recognize what it’s like for a mother to walk for hours to collect contaminated water,” she said.
In an effort to bridge that gap of understanding, Tummon Kamphuis has been piloting a new kind of partnership with ASDA retail stores, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart, in the U.K.
In-store displays show how the purifying packets work and provide information about the global need for safe drinking water.
When customers buy a P&G product, the company donates the equivalent of one liter of clean water to the CSDW cause. (Though P&G donates the production costs of the packets, Tummon Kamphuis estimates each one can cost end-users about 10 cents.)
Tummon Kamphuis said it’s more than a way to educate consumers. It’s a way to empower them.
“Often it’s hard to think about how you can really help,” she said.
Making An Impact On The Future
Though her job requires extensive travel, Tummon Kamphuis tries to keep trips as short as she can to maximize her time with her husband and 6- and 9-year-old daughters.
“They know about the clean water issue,” she said. “They actually can do the demonstration themselves—the dirty water magic trick .”
Tummon Kamphuis, a hit at “Take Your Parent to Work” day, said her job gives her daughters benefits she didn’t expect.
“It helps them to have a much broader view of the world,” she said.
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