Sabrina  Pourmand

We’ve been working in Nepal for nearly five years, and this community in particular has approximately 5,000 people living in it. When we arrived to start implementing clean water projects for local health clinics and communities in 2013, the number of typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea cases in children under the age of five exceeded 1,240. Two years later, those cases have dropped to just over 200. 

Location: New York, New York
Profession: Vice President, Key Relationships at charity:water
What inspired you to join the team at charity:water?
In a lot of ways, I view charity: water as a for-impact technology company, rather than a traditional non-for-profit organization. There are a lot of wonderful nonprofit and aid groups operating with good intent – and many of them accomplish great work that truly matters – but few are able to effectively leverage today’s technology to create real impact and drive lasting, sustainable solutions.
charity: water’s mission is to provide every person on the planet with life’s most basic human right, and we achieve this goal by applying innovative approaches to problem-solving. We root our work in the value of generosity; from the tech coding you see on our website to the GPS remote sensor we developed to test the efficacy of water flow, we strive to open source nearly everything. We’re not only working to change the status of the water crisis, but to encourage others to think differently – to do differently – when it comes to solving today’s problems in the world.
How are you using tech to make an impact?
This is a big question to answer, because it encompasses everything we do. During my 15 years in the sector, I’ve yet to be more impressed by an organization uniquely and effectively utilizing technology than charity: water.
Technology provides the link from donor directly to beneficiary, and it enables the platform for our remote sensor, which, in turn, allows us to understand through data the effect our work is having on people’s lives. The sensor itself uses iPhone touch technology to alert us whether water continues to flow post-implementation by testing the volume amount pumped per day at any given water point. It even practices machine-learning, understanding that if water is flowing Monday through Friday, but not on the the weekends, that said point must be at a school.
Produced at a low price point and again, all open sourced, we will be able to know if every single one of our 21,000 GPS coordinate-plotted projects continue to serve people with clean, safe water consistently over the course of time. What’s more, we’ll have access to study and quantify the longitudinal benefits of clean water in regard to improved community health and amount of time saved not spent walking or waiting in line for water.
Who is your philanthropic role model?
I would have to say Christiane Amanpour, the world-renowned journalist. People might not consider her work philanthropic, but she has spent so many years of her life shining a spotlight on issues that may never affect or even come into the sphere of many of our lives.
She hones a talent to beautifully humanize the experience of people around the world in a way that generates empathy from afar. That is the greatest gift to philanthropy, in my opinion; to be able to tell a story in a credible way creates a rare engine of empathy that gets people a world away to really feel..I think that’s the most important philanthropic initiative there is.
Can you share one specific story that shows the importance of your work?
One of my favorite charity: water success stories takes place in southeastern Nepal, in a community where we worked called Ambote.
We’ve been working in Nepal for nearly five years, and this community in particular has approximately 5,000 people living in it. When we arrived to start implementing clean water projects for local health clinics and communities in 2013, the number of typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea cases in children under the age of five exceeded 1,240. Two years later, those cases have dropped to just over 200.
Please put yourself in the shoes of a parent living in this community. In a village of 5,000 people, the odds are quite high that one of these 1,200 children afflicted by a terrifying, waterborne illness – a disease that often leads to severe sickness or death – could be yours.
Now try to imagine the amount of time a parent will spend making trips to the nearest clinic – time not spent with their family or at work. Think about the money required for treatments, and the constant worry they experience for the safety of their child. What’s more, the Ambote clinic statistic doesn’t tell you how many more children in the family are older than five years of age and affected…
The reality is that unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene practices kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war, and most of the victims are young children. When a community doesn’t have access to clean water, and lacks adequate sanitation, kids miss school because they’re sick, and parents don’t work because they must take care of their kids. The negative impacts of dirty water are endless, and the cycle of systematic poverty continues.That is, until clean water is introduced into a community for the first time.
In just two years, thousands of stories involving heartbreak in Ambote have transformed into stories of health and hope. Now, knowing that we can reduce the number of waterborne illness cases for communities like this one has allowed us to understand that clean water really does change everything.
What advice do you have for others who might want to enter the nonprofit world?
Don’t be myopic about social impact.
Government, business, and social impact sectors need to work together in order to advance society, which is why it’s so important to value and have exposure to all of those worlds. I spent time working for an established organization with over 75 years of experience training leaders at the intersection of public, private, and social impact. And I realized you are most useful and valuable when you can speak all of those languages. A great leader in the non-profit world needs to be proficient in the knowledge of the business world. Read everything, and never stop learning. When you can sit in a corporate boardroom negotiating with the head of the International Development Association, and then walk into the office of a start-up and understand their values without assuming the only thing important is the mission, you become a stronger candidate to make an impact.
Good intent is not good enough. The number one thing to know is that working in the social impact world requires a much higher EQ than anywhere else. You must be able to manage your emotions but still engage deep empathy. You must be flexible and competent in multicultural, new environments. You have to be comfortable electing yourself as an ambassador on behalf of other people. It takes a lot of ego to say “I know what’s right for this world,” and is therefore so important to be proximate to the very people you seek to serve.
Strive to work alongside them; you cannot make assumptions that you know what’s best. In our Western culture, we want to do a lot of good, but we forget how crucial it is for those who we serve to have the voice, power, and dignity to choose what they want and need most.


Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.

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