Sarah Evans’ co-workers often brag that she has a lot of Ubuntu, a Nguni word meaning “I am because we are” and “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. As a former lawyer turned philanthropist, Sarah is the founder and executive director of Well Aware, a Austin based nonprofit which funds and builds lasting clean water systems for impoverished communities in Africa. Her passion and dedication to running Well Aware with the utmost integrity and respect for the communities she is aiding along with her keen sense for creative fundraising has led to providing clean water to over 110,000 people and the recent honor of being named one of Toyota’s Mothers of Invention.
Her first venture into this world was through a friend who approached her to help out with a project in Kenya to replace dying livestock in a local village. As she learned more about the community and the different ways they were struggling an unexpected spark of passion lit within her. She suggested that they drill a water well instead because the village was not only suffering for their dying livestock, but the disease rate was high due to unsanitary water which was causing the children to die too. “I was becoming more and more passionate, slightly obsessed with this cause and this first water well.” While she had never done anything like this before, she was determined that not only could this well provide clean water to the village, but it could also serve as a foundation to to other development that the village could build on. “I remember being in the airplane flying to Africa on that trip thinking that I have lost my mind. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never seen a drilling rig before in my life.”
When she arrived in Kenya in January 2010, it took two days to drill the well and “when we hit water I could see in these women’s eyes that they had hoped for their futures at that moment.” After the water was deemed safe she filled a bottle of water for one of the little children and “I picked her up and she drank it what seemed like one big gulp. I was holding her and that was kinda incredible. I felt her relief.” That was the moment she knew that this was what she wanted to do.
This initial project and every project after was funded through a mix of creative and traditional fundraising. Their most success creative fundraising event is their annual Shower Strike where people can pledge that they aren’t going to shower until they raise a certain amount of money. Last year alone they raised almost $150,000 through this event because according to Sarah it’s “it’s weird, it’s easy, and the media loves it”. Given that there are thousands of nonprofits out there also asking for donations and attention, coming up with a creative and successful fundraiser can help break through the noise of the competitive non-profit world.
Through this mix of creative fundraising and smart scaling, Well Aware has aided thousands of people in need while having a reputation for project success (100%) and cost effectiveness (averaging $10 per person for decades). While the accolades and increasing interest from corporate sponsors are helping Well Aware grow, the passion of Sarah and the team have for helping others in need is what makes this organization successful. Sarah recalls a moment a few years back during the beginning of Well Aware where she was nursing her daughter in the middle of the night and was thinking “what would I do if I if I was not able to feed my child, or if I knew what I was giving her was going to make her sick?” This moment made her realize that “as a mother it seems that you could do anything to prevent that from happening to your child. I knew at that moment that I would never do anything but this work because I wanted to be apart of other mother’s having that security having that security, knowing that they can care for their children in the way they have to do.”
Author – Dana Summers EBW Studios