Keep It Flowing: A Funder That's Quietly Sticking With Water and Sanitation

Another World Water Day has come and gone. Generally at this time, we see a flurry of activity and funding for WASH initiatives around the world. But that’s not the case so much this year. To be honest, the WASH funding arena has been relatively quiet lately. Of course, there are a few funders making some noise here, one of them being the Ikea Foundation.

Ikea celebrated World Water Day in a big way with the €12.4 million grant to support and expand Water.org’s WaterCredit program in India and Indonesia. When all is said and done, Water.org’s expansion efforts will provide safe water and sanitation to an estimated 1 million people.

The WaterCredit program provides small loans for the purpose of household water and sanitation connections. According to Water.org, as of June 2015, the program has “empowered more than 2.6 million people in nine countries with access to safe water and sanitation.” Ikea’s 2016 support of Water.org is nearly double that of last year.

That big jump is yet another example of the momentum that Water.org has achieved with its WaterCredit program, which has attracted a number of large grants in recent years. (For example, we wrote last year about a $1 million gift by Bank of America for this program.)

Related: Water.org’s Funding Hot Streak Continues With a $1 Million Score. What's Its Secret Weapon?

One reason the WaterCredit program is hot is that it has a strong gender angle, playing into a major area of interest among funders right now. As we wrote previously:

Women represent over 90 percent of WaterCredit borrowers around the globe, and that's captured the attention of deep-pocketed funders. The less time women and girls spend walking hours each day to fetch water, the more time they have to dedicate to economic opportunities and education. Among other things, this means maximizing a huge reservoir of human capital that, in many places, is now sidelined. That's a win in everybody’s book.

Despite its multi-million dollar grants, the Ikea Foundation doesn’t name WASH as one of its funding priorities, so it couldn’t really be considered a WASH funder. But the foundation is incredibly dialed in to the alleviation of human suffering around the world. And the lack of clean water and sanitation causes so much suffering. So Ikea's high-dollar grants in this space make sense.

Related: Keep an Eye on the Ikea Foundation. It’s Getting Bigger and Goes Where the Pain Is

Then there’s the fact that Ikea has ramped up its giving over the past few years toward combating child labor, supporting refugees, empowering women and girls, and disaster relief. Per Heggenes, CEO of the Ikea Foundation, explains further:

We provided €120 million in grants to our 49 partners in 2015, part of our €1 billion commitment through 2020. By addressing children’s fundamental needs—for home, health, education and a sustainable family income—we are helping them to create better futures for themselves and their families, while helping their communities overcome the impacts of climate change.

With a €1 billion commitment and less than a handful of years to spend it, it really doesn’t matter if a particular global health and development challenge isn’t in Ikea’s giving sweet spot. This is a funding powerhouse that is on a tear to ease human misery in any way it can.