Women Advancing Change for Women & Girls through Clean Water Access

Global Grassroots enables marginalized women to initiate their own water enterprises that serve as social innovation hubs for women's rights

Photo of Gretchen Steidle
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Global Grassroots

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $250k - $500k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 50,000 - 100,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Water

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Portsmouth, NH

Location(s) of impact

Rwanda: Kigali and surrounding rural areas



Facebook URL


Twitter URL

@consciouschange @globalgrassroot

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Rwandan women and girls walk an average 3.5 hours to a contaminated source daily to collect water. Women have limited time to generate income. Girls miss part of the school day, fall behind and drop out. Women are at risk of rape walking to remote sites and the long duration can trigger domestic violence at home. The disabled and elderly are sexually exploited by men who deliver water, spreading HIV. Yet women have little to no opportunity or funds to design & manage their own water access points and ideas for change.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Our 2-year social venture incubator trains teams of undereducated women to design, construct and operate a water access point (usually a 1km pipeline extension w/ a 10,000L tank & a brick housing for taps) serving 3000+ people in their community with water and social services for only $8 a beneficiary. This eliminates myriad social issues facing women and girls and generates sustainable income to advance other urgent social needs in the village. We target undereducated women, violence survivors and those living on $2 a day. We then invite teams into our intensive training blending mindfulness-based leadership and empathy skills, trauma-healing, and social entrepreneurship tools. Teams learn how to design an effective micro-NGO that systemically addresses the issue, is financially sustainable, and has a measurable impact. We guide them in venture development, provide 100% of start-up costs (grants up to $15,000) and offer high-engagement support for a year as they reach self-sufficiency

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Of the 16 water ventures launched since 2008, 100% are operating sustainably, directly serving 75,000 people with clean water and other social services. Within a year, our ventures have shown they can reduce diarrhea among children under five by 96%, reduce lost income due to water collection by 80%, reduce associated sexual violence by 80%, free up 1200 hours per woman / year for other economic pursuits, reduce school absenteeism due to water collection by 69% (75% of whom are girls), reduce homes without soap by 94%, and increase men's sharing of water collection duties from 8% to 42%. The majority of our teams begin to teach others, expand their work, and address other local issues using our tools. Women graduates experience a 101% improvement in economic status and 100% now speak out at local meetings; three women have run for Parliament. In every case, ventures become catalysts for community health, education, women's opportunity, gender equality, and children's wellbeing.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

While Global Grassroots is funded largely by grants (60-70%), individuals (15%) and corporate sponsorships (3-10%), we are now working to leverage our assets to generate revenue (13-15%), including training trainers and consulting with NGOs on our methods and tools. But the most important aspect of our model's sustainability is the water ventures themselves. We teach teams creative resourcing techniques drawn from global best practices, and each venture must be designed to operate sustainably on revenue from selling water at affordable market rates (some have even reduced per liter prices by 90%). Before launch, each venture must demonstrate it will provide team members with a livelihood and enough revenue to cover repairs or expansion, and generate income for other social change work.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Our unique model blends trauma-healing, mindful leadership skills and a social entrepreneurship incubator to help female war survivors rebuild their villages via nonprofit water enterprises. Our proven methodology enables disenfranchised women (most deeply affected by the issue) to become change leaders for life, with the tools and sustainable income for holistically solving other local issues. Our oldest venture, run by mostly illiterate women now serves 9000 people in its 10th year.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

In 2004, I traveled to South Africa to better understand the HIV/AIDS crisis and convince companies to invest in social entrepreneurs. When I was invited to visit a 25 year-old woman, Zolecka, in her shack in a Cape Town township, I saw how well grassroots women could create innovative change. She had neither formal education nor employment, yet was fearlessly working to fight the spread of HIV from sexual violence after a 12-yr old girl was raped by a group of boys. Zolecka sold beaded products to put herself through counseling training. She then convinced men to join her initiative as activists in order to help confront male offenders. Despite massive stigma, 6 months later she had 45 people (1/3 men) involved in her organization. Not computer literate, she had no way to apply for a grant. I started my work to support the ideas of the most underserved grassroots women.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Global Grassroots’ incubator involves 4 phases over 18-24 months. Self-organized teams of women (average participant: a 38 years old mother of 4 with 6 years of education) are selected from villages where there is no safe water access. We do not impose our solutions or "hand-over" what we have built. Our women design, build and lead their own water ventures from scratch. Phase 1 is a mindfulness-based leadership and social entrepreneurship training program that is held locally for 40 hours over 2 weeks. We start with mindfulness training and trauma healing to ensure war survivors have the foundation of wellbeing and confidence to lead with compassion. Then we teach all the skills needed to design their own nonprofit water venture: mission, vision, theory of change, budgets, program model, code of ethics, goals, monitoring & evaluation plan and feasibility study. In Phase 2 we provide weekly coaching for 3-6 months to help each team develop a venture plan that will have a social impact and be financially sustainable. In Phase 3, we fund 100% of all start up costs (up to $15,000) in 4-6 supervised tranches and train teams further in financial management. Once the venture is operating (Phase 4), another 12-months of high-engagement support ensures self-sufficiency by the end of year 1. We conduct monthly site visits and assist with water quality testing and data collection. Teams report on programs and finances quarterly, and conduct a 1 year impact assessment before graduating.

Focus area

  • Water

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

Each GG-trained, nonprofit, women-led venture delivers clean water to their local community via a publicly accessible standpipe extending the municipal pipeline into their rural village to serve 3000+ people daily. For long-term sustainability, teams employ diverse methods of collection and storage (rainwater catchment, back-up truck delivery, supplemental storage tanks) to ensure a consistent supply. By ensuring water quality meets WHO standards and teaching additional hygiene classes, each team is able to significantly reduce water-borne disease. Services include providing proper hand-washing instruction, household soap distribution, and training in sanitizing collection containers. Data shows a 96% reduction in child diarrhea and a 94% decrease in houses without soap in the first few months of operation. Each venture is also uniquely designed by local women to educate the community on other water related issues such as how to effectively irrigate small “kitchen gardens”, create compost fertilizer, and cook with more diverse plants for greater nutrition. In most cases, water sales underwrite the provision of free drinking water to the disabled, elderly, and orphan-headed households, as well as provide clean uniforms and the water contribution often required of children to attend school. Our water ventures can sometimes reduce water prices down to just 10% of previous market norms, and all ventures engage local experts to ensure proper resource and erosion management.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

Each GG venture is designed by local women most deeply affected by the issue. Their solutions deliver clean water access and reinvest gains to create even broader social value. Teams ensure clean water is accessible and safe, eliminating sexual violence at remote points and sexual exploitation of the disabled, elderly, HIV+ and pregnant unable to collect water alone. In a recent assessment, 98% now feel safe and none has experienced sexual violence collecting water. Our ventures save women 3.5 hours per day, resulting in an 80% decrease in lost income and a 69% decrease in school absenteeism. One team found a 57% increase in women’s financial contributions to the household, which more than doubled income. Gender rights training lead men to share in water duties 42% of the time, and our trainees are 33% more likely to have an equal relationship in their marriage. Plus, water sales fund microloans, school fees, health insurance, family planning workshops and water subsidies for the needy

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

Each GG venture is 100% financially sustainable. Water sales fund all operating expenses, build a reserve for repairs and allow savings for expansion as well as all social service activities unique to each team. Water prices are set to be competitive, if not significantly lower than existing rates to ensure market demand and viability over time. Each venture’s training and start-up budget is funded by a sponsor donor or corporation focused on building sustainable water infrastructure via GG’s incubator for local women. GG’s own operating expenses are 85% grant funded, but we are expanding our trainer’s certification program ($3000 ea) and hosting learning trips ($4500 ea) to generate revenue. We aim to reach 40% earned income in 5 years.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

We trust those most affected by a lack of safe water, and we enable them to build water enterprises that drive ongoing positive change. This sustainable model is not only one of the lowest cost at just $8 per beneficiary, but creates exponential ripple effects at no additional cost. We have been approached by other NGOs (our president is an advisor to Waterboys) to learn from our model, and we have helped influence The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s research on the link between women and water. The CSV Prize would catalyze our ability to train other NGOs in our method, validating the wisdom at the root of our success: empower local women with basic tools for social change, and watch them transform their communities from the grassroots.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

An investment from Nestle will allow us to train and launch 15 women-led water ventures in E. Africa, supplying 50,000+ people with clean water, while creating the engine for economic development, education, health, gender equity and the end of sexual violence associated with water collection. But we want go further and establish an NGO training program for peer organizations to learn our methodology. We envision collaborative initiatives where partners integrate our model of women’s leadership and wellbeing into new and existing programs. We also plan to work with municipalities to hand over water infrastructure development to local women, as they are already doing with our teams. Last, we aim to channel resources to teams ready to expand.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

When our water teams are clustered in nearby villages, they share their strengths and compound the benefits of safe water access, fostering a cumulative regional effect greater than the sum of its parts. Now, these regions are not only able to address the next priority issues collaboratively, but are being politically recognized for their leadership and resource management. Within 3-5 years, we hope to quadruple the number of ventures we launch annually to 36 (serving 108,000 people), spreading within Rwanda and N. Uganda, using this clustering method. Second, we will increase avenues for experienced ventures to mentor new ones, regional teams to work collectively on local issues, and seasoned teams to work with new partners. Third, we will share our methodologies and tools with other NGOs to support women’s grassroots leadership. Finally, certified practitioners who complete our 250 hour training program can establish their own franchises under GG fiscal sponsorship anywhere globally.

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

GG currently has 3 US staff (FT), 7 African staff (FT & PT), 6 board members, 5 Rwandese alumni advisors, 25 trainers, and 11 senior advisors. Our work is overseen by our President and Global Programs Officer, both MBAs. We have offices in Kigali, Rwanda and Gulu, Uganda. Both have a Senior Program Officer (1 with human rights law degree, 1 with M&E degree) who supervises junior staff. As we scale, we will add an E. Africa Regional Director, 2 Country Directors and a total of 8-10 Program Managers split between Rwanda and Uganda. Each PM will have a caseload of up to 8 teams (2 each quarter), and will work together to guide the process of training, venture development, construction and M&E. We will also add 3-5 board members, a Communications Director and Financial Director to grow revenue

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

GG: Semifinalist, Kyoto World Water Prize (2009); acknowledged in Half the Sky by Nick Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn. Our President: World Business Magazine and Shell: Top International 35 Women Under 35 (2007); New Hampshire Magazine: 7 Remarkable Women of the World (2011); CNN Haiti Hero (2010) for our trauma healing work in Haiti after the earthquake.

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

In conversations with The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, Global Environment and Technology Fund, Waterboys, Improve International and others, we have come to see that our approach to women-led water enterprise and women's empowerment drives sustainability through compassionate leaders, reliable income and the vested interests of the grassroots community. After a 2 year partnership with Coca-Cola, which brought clean water to 31,000 Rwandese, we are now a key party in their research on women and water across Africa. Other NGOs have asked us how to ensure competent, trustworthy local operators. And municipal governments are increasingly handing over water points for our teams to manage or asking them to advise on new infrastructure development.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018
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Attachments (4)


Details on our impact from our most recent water ventures concentrated in the Rwanda sector of Jali.


An overview of our incubator for women-led water enterprises


The story of our longest-operating water venture and its impact since 2008.


This infographic describes the ripples of impact of our water ventures


Join the conversation:

Photo of Maysoon Sharif

Hi! This seems cool, and I feel we can share a lot of lessons learned. Check out what we do at AguaClara Reach - empowering communities to own and operate gravity-powered water treatment plants 

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