10/24/2013 02:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A New Mosh Pit in The Water Sector


Mosh pits are standard fare at punk rock shows. They are swirling masses of fans carving out space in a crowd, erupting as music spills from the stage. From the outside mosh pits look scary -- bodies flying and people falling, and no clear rules being followed.

As a social entrepreneur and a punk rock enthusiast, I see different kinds of mosh pits in my life -- particularly in the nonprofit sector where the chaos of people pushing through the crowd often results in failure. At the same time, I am also encouraged to see the potential for harnessing that chaos and energy for greater impact -- an opportunity to push against the crowd and change direction.

The water sector is a perfect example of a dangerous and ineffective mosh pit -- crowds of organizations, government agencies and private sector entities pushing and pulling but really not making any movement toward lasting change.

The songs are all the same. The story of a young girl making the long and dangerous trek to fetch water from polluted puddles and streams. A simple and compelling story that tugs at the heart strings but misses the point. It misses the verse of that same girl walking past broken water pumps: pumps you've probably seen in the annual report for an NGO thanking you for saving that girl's life.

Organizations continue to make the case that the solution to the water crisis is to just build more wells and all will be better. Unfortunately, we know this is not true and the developing world is littered with broken infrastructure and wasted investments. But without the creativity and courage to push in new ways, these short-term solutions continue to overpower the more nuanced and complex story that better reflects reality on the ground. The reality of what it really takes to keep water flowing forever.

Keeping water flowing is costly and many fear telling donors this reality because it is less attractive. So we write the lyrics to a story about how $25 saves a life -- even though financials tell a different tale. The math doesn't add up and yet almost every time the song is on repeat. People focused on celebrating big or effective, cheap over impactful. We worship charity rating systems that focus on overhead costs and only now are waking up to the reality that impact of investments are what matters, not how much we spend on a finance department.

It's a clumsy and ineffective mosh pit that leaves people behind and hurt.

We can do better! It's time we #ChangeThat.

Thankfully we are starting to see improvement in the social sector with new "mosh pits" emerging and pivoting against conventional practice that fail to deliver results.


At the heart of this new mosh pit are the social entrepreneurs -- a group of dynamic people committed to eradicating pressing social problems that have festered for decades despite billions of dollars being spent on "solutions."

These new entrants into the mosh pit are starting to push in a new direction and they are getting hit hard by big agencies who are threatened by their new and more effective moves.

But they are making progress. Local government officials around the world know that a failed water project is no longer acceptable and they are fighting for better results. New water and sanitation entrepreneurs like Sanergy, Clean Team, the Jalabandhu are showing that people will pay for reliable water and sanitation services that last. These entrepreneurs are creating jobs, increasing demand, and generating income by developing new non-charity-based funding flows that are a jolt to conventional practice.

And now the Everyone Forever movement is building force at local level and pushing other agencies to respond to the ambition and audacity of full coverage that lasts in practice, not in rhetoric. Monitoring for improvement is also taking off with customer feedback becoming a primary source of data. Agencies that are willing to show their strengths and weaknesses are standing out from the pack of those who refuse to look back.

This new mosh pit is aggressive. It's also bold, creative and pushing the water sector to find more effective solutions. We are intervening in people's lives and we have the responsibility to push back against conventional approaches that don't work.

The music is now building, the mosh pit is swerving and shifting directions, and the world will be a better place as a result.

I welcome your comments, please join the conversation @NedBreslin, and learn more about Water For People's Everyone Forever approach.

Also, a BIG thanks to Peter Durand of for the incredible illustration!

By Ned Breslin, CEO of Water For People