WaterAid is an international not-for-profit, determined to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere, within a generation. We caught up with WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Rosie Wheen to learn a little bit more about the organisation, and hear how members of the Australian water industry can get involved with their work.

Rosie Wheen Credit: WaterAid/Marcel Aucar.

Rosie Wheen Credit: WaterAid/Marcel Aucar.

Can you provide a bit of background to WaterAid – when and how was the organisation established, and what are your key aims?

We are resolutely focused on tackling the three essentials – clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene – that transform people’s lives.

Without all three, people can’t live dignified, healthy lives. With all three, they can unlock their potential, break free from poverty, and change their lives for good. Children grow up healthy and strong, women and men get to earn a living, whole communities start to thrive. It sounds normal and it should be.

By inspiring people and sparking chain reactions, we help deliver lasting change in what’s normal. By working closely with partners internationally and on the ground in some of the toughest places in the world, we help achieve widespread change. Millions of people have already taken control of their lives and built better futures.

Now we are working with our supporters and partners to get clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to everyone, everywhere, by 2030. It’s about more than installing taps, toilets, boreholes and wells. To make lasting change happen on a massive scale, we:

  • Convince governments to change laws
  • Link policy-makers with people on the ground
  • Change attitudes and behaviours
  • Pool knowledge and resources
  • Rally support from people and organisations around the world
  • WaterAid was started in the United Kingdom in 1981 and WaterAid Australia was founded in 2004 in collaboration between the water industry and the international aid sector.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal background in the water industry, and how you came to work in community development and advocacy?

I have worked at WaterAid Australia since its inception in 2004, and was Director of International Programs prior to becoming Chief Executive in 2016. I have worked in development for 20 years including six years living and working in Indonesia, working at the Australian Council of International Development, and in a range of education and community development projects in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

My interest in social justice and working across cultures came from my childhood and living in Hong Kong when my father worked for the Australian Department of Immigration. Every couple of years a new family was always enveloped into our family.

We have welcomed families from Vietnam, Myanmar and more recently Rwanda into our family. Throughout my childhood we travelled a lot and when I finished my teaching course I realised I didn’t want a linear career path and that I could do different things.

I applied to work with Australian Volunteers International as a teacher in West Timor in Indonesia.

At that time I was their youngest volunteer and it was the best thing I ever did. I had two years in Kupang, West Timor and then I moved to Rote, a village with no running water and no electricity in a household that  fluctuated from 15 to 20 people, for two years.

Those two years cemented my passion for community development and demonstrated to me the devastating impact of life without clean water, particularly for women and girls.

How can Australian utilities become involved with WaterAid? What services and/or expertise could utilities provide your organisation and its partners?

WaterAid’s cause of transforming lives through access to clean water and toilets excites and engages people. A company’s support for WaterAid’s work can positively impact on the company’s internal culture, get people working together across departments and resonate with discerning customers who want to support a company that has a social heart.

WaterAid has committed corporate supporters whose employees benefit from employee engagement programs, leadership challenges, water challenges, corporate in-country experiences, technical and human interest presentations and insights into different life challenges, alongside other initiatives to increase professional networks through their relationship with WaterAid.

Australian utilities can join a growing list of companies in Australia supporting WaterAid and our global vision to end extreme poverty by 2030 by becoming a WaterAid member. The membership structure has three levels, including a new opportunity for corporate supporters in Australia to participate in WaterAid’s annual employee engagement program, Water Innovators.

Cross-functional departmental company teams work together to learn new skills, fund our work and solve real WaterAid challenges.

WaterAids work in action. Credit: WaterAid/ Tom Greenwood

WaterAids work in action. Credit: WaterAid/ Tom Greenwood

What are the biggest challenges when it comes to global water supply at the moment? How can the industry work together to overcome these?

Currently over 650 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. This is roughly ten per cent of the world’s population.

Some countries right on our doorstep, such as Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, suffer from some of the worst water and sanitation coverage rates in the world. In some parts of the Pacific, more than one in two people don’t have easy access to clean water.

Accessing clean water is an everyday battle; one that involves mostly women and young girls walking vast distances a day to collect enough water to drink, cook and wash with. When women and children spend hours collecting water every day they do not have time to earn a living or get an education, entrenching them in a cycle of poverty.

Lack of clean water close to people’s homes affects their time, livelihood, health and quality of life. People are often collecting and drinking unsafe water which causes illness. Without clean water, people can’t have healthy lives.

Children regularly get diarrhoea and often die before the age of five. It’s estimated that 800 children die each day from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Climate change is also impacting global water supply. The impacts of climate change are mostly felt through water – droughts, floods and contamination of water sources. Simply having access to clean water and a toilet increases people’s resilience and makes them better able to adapt to the negative impacts of a changing climate.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are 17 goals which aim to transform our world by 2030. The goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all were adopted by countries in 2015, and each goal has specific targets to be achieved by 2030.

The goals outline a bold vision for a better world, and include a dedicated goal for water and sanitation. Goal 6 commits nations to delivering access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone, everywhere by 2030.

Addressing the global water crisis requires the collective energy and expenditure of governments, the private sector and individuals. We all have a role to play. Leading companies have gone from asking why global goal six matters to asking what their role is and playing their part.

Corporates are critical in bringing water and sanitation to all.

Can you tell us about some of your current policy directives?

We are always adapting and innovating the way we work. We work to highlight the rights of people with disabilities to access water, sanitation and hygiene across the world. We also work to support women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Through the power of sport we are finding new ways of enabling leadership of women and girls and talking about menstrual hygiene management and handwashing in Papua New Guinea.

In many parts of the world health care centres lack water, sanitation and good hygiene practices, increasing the likelihood of them becoming hotspots for untreatable infections. WaterAid is committed to improving hygiene, water, toilets and waste systems in health facilities to ensure everyone everywhere can enjoy dignified and quality healthcare services to improve their lives.

We work closely with local governments to support the development of strategic and operational plans that map out an approach to provide and maintain water, sanitation and hygiene services across a district. Establishing a clear district-wide plan encourages better sector coordination and sustainable services.

We also work in the area of climate change to enhance communities’ water security and their resilience to climate change.

How can our readers get involved with your organisation?

You can help communities in the world’s poorest countries to reach their full potential with access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene by getting involved in WaterAid’s work through activities such as participating in events, fundraising, donating, campaigning and corporate membership.

We’re keen to work with utilities that want to stand out from their competitors, inspire customers, make a difference and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. To find out more, head to or get in touch with our corporate team on 1300 858 022 or


Laura Harvey is a fifteen-year veteran of trade publishing in the energy and infrastructure sectors. Currently she’s the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Energy. During her time in the publishing sector, Laura has seen significant changes to the way the sector operates. What has remained constant throughout her career, whether she’s working on a magazine, a blog post, a video or an event, is her focus on connecting audiences with quality, engaging and thought-provoking content.

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