Philip Berber, co-founder of our partner in Ethiopia, A Glimmer of Hope Foundation (AGOH), came by the office to give us the background on his organization and an update on their recent work.
Philip was a tech entrepreneur for 20 years before he sold his company at its prime (right before the dot-com bubble burst). He and his wife, Donna, started hearing about the famines in Ethiopia on the news in the mid 80s while living in London, at the time of Band Aid. The issue especially struck a cord with Donna, and years later in 1999, she found a way to travel to the country to get more perspective. When she came back home to Austin, Texas, she was a changed woman, in a state of shock from witnessing the living conditions and aftermath of the famine among the rural poor. She wouldn’t leave the house for six weeks; when she showed her husband footage from her trip, he understood why. Philip then embarked to Ethiopia on his own and visited a village called Dembi Dollo. “That’s where my heart opened,” he told us.
Donna and Philip knew something had to be done — something different than sending aid to entire countries or districts. They formed A Glimmer of Hope Foundation and formed a strategy: “to help Ethiopians help themselves” in specific regions. First, they listened — after identifying villages to work in, the Glimmer staff asked each village what their greatest needs were. The primary concern was safe drinking water, followed by health care and education. Glimmer vowed to help provide all three. And they decided to go with what they knew best: an entrepreneurial approach, “combined with passion and heart.”
The Austin-based foundation opened an office in Addis Ababa, hired local Ethiopian experts and teamed up with a local NGO and a self-help organization to start implementing projects throughout Ethiopia. From their local office in Addis, Glimmer ensures each project is financed carefully and constructed responsibly while involving community members as much as possible.
Glimmer operates like a business in that they measure success with profit — “social profit.” They focus on three main elements:
Enterprise — refers to work and microfinance programs. These are mostly for farmers, women and budding small-business entrepreneurs.
Development — refers to health care and education programs. Glimmer now has more than 150 health clinics and 300 education projects in Ethiopian schools.
Humanitarian — refers to life’s most basic need: water. Glimmer uses three water technologies: deep boreholes (drilled wells), hand-dug wells and spring protection systems.
In less than a decade, Glimmer has helped more than 3.3 million people in Ethiopia by creating programs, building projects and engaging the community in their success. Their prototype is Dembi Dollo, the village Philip and Donna first visited in 2001. Here, freshwater projects have brought safe drinking water nearby. Health care and primary education reform have changed the residents’ way of life. The community used to worry about life-threatening diseases and not having enough food or any clean water; now, they are working to build a teachers’ training college, a university, a job training center and to provide loans to small and medium-sized businesses in the area.
“It’s about integrated community development. Water is a fundamental building block. The energy that used to be focused towards getting water, etc., is now put towards education and bettering themselves.”
Business prospects really pave the way for the future, said Philip. “Financial empowerment creates personal empowerment,” he explained. “Aid is sometimes seen as a huge Band-Aid, but micro-financing is key. The way out of poverty is to make money.” He added that this is especially true with women seeking to provide for their families; and for farmers needing to irrigate dry Ethiopian land.
charity: water is Glimmer’s largest partner and supporter. Glimmer implements charity: water projects using two Ethiopian organizations on the ground: the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and the Organization for Relief and Development in Amhara (ORDA). Both REST and ORDA have a history of comprehensive and community-centered work. We realized early on how effective these partnerships are and view Ethiopia as the perfect place for charity: water to invest big and move the needle on the world water crisis. Since 2007, we’ve funded new projects and rehabs here almost every quarter. Overall, 35% of all charity: water projects ever funded have been for Ethiopia.
We’re often asked why we choose some partners who work on other development projects beyond water. How does water work alongside education, micro-financing and other areas that seem completely separate? Phillip summed it up for us pretty well: “It’s about integrated community development. There’s a clear synergy with water, education and health care — doing all of these creates a holistic effect within the villages. We look at how people are caring for themselves… and water is a fundamental building block. The energy that used to be focused towards getting water, etc., is now put towards education and bettering themselves.”
“Eliminate poverty. Illuminate lives.” That’s Glimmer’s tagline. And they’re heavily involved in community-level progress, scaling with the help of charity: water and local partners, but their long-term vision is to make themselves unnecessary in the areas they work — this happens when the communities have taken full ownership of their projects. In the mean time, Philip says he’s grateful for charity: water’s standards of proof for each project. Our requiring GPS coordinates and photos of each completed water projects brings accountability to the forefront.
Learn more about A Glimmer of Hope Foundation here.