Robert O'Shaughnessy

Robert O'Shaughnessy has written 1 posts for Take Five

Clean water should be a priority for the State Department


Pictured is a Darfurian woman using a water roller to bring water back to her household from a well Courtesy of UNAMID ©️2011

We all know that water is essential for life. Living in a developed country, many may forget how challenging it is for some to obtain sufficient amounts of water daily. In states in sub-Saharan Africa, access to clean water is limited. Trekking out to a clean water source is a job passed onto women and children, especially young girls, leading to a gap in education. According to the State Department, 800 million people globally, approximately two and one half times the population of the United States, are lacking accesses to clean water. The Department of State is not doing enough to promote programs that fund clean water initiatives and should be doing more. The advantages of doing so would help promote American interests abroad in states that are currently not receptive to western influence. In this blog, I will lay out a public diplomacy strategy that the State Department should take to promote clean water programs, and how said clean water programs will help the State Department build relations with states negati
vely affected by the water crisis.

Currently, the State Department has one active clean water program listed on its website, and it is with the People’s Republic of China. The program is run interdepartmentally with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Manufacturing Engineering Partnership, which is a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The ten-year project is meant to be a mutually beneficial learning experience for both the United States andChina; to learn how to keep water sources clean and deliver it to communities effectively. This program is not enough, however.


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest players in the clean water game is the Coca-Cola Company. Through their initiative, they have 248 projects in 71 countries. But have you e
ver heard about these accomplishments? Probably not. But now, aren’t you more likely to purchase a Coca-Cola product after learning that? Executives at Coca-Cola must have decided that their domestic marketing money is better spent advertising their products rather than their philanthropic accomplishments.

The programs that Coca-Cola have in place generate good will both locally and globally.  Coco-Cola even posted a self-critical article on their blog, Unbottled. The mere fact that the company posted about how they are viewed critically on a website designed to be viewed by investors signals that they are interested in helping the issue.

The State Department needs to think of itself the way Coca-Cola does, focus on building good will and being at the front of the mind when one thinks “helping other states.” How could the United States government go about doing this? Securing funding would be difficult, especially given the fact that soft power initiatives have always been relatively unpopular in the U.S. The best way to go about promulgating clean water initiatives is to reach out to the biggest player and offer them what they don’t have, access and . The State Department has the ability to work in concert with foreign governments to get programs—like clean water—off the ground.

Coca-Cola does not have the power of the United States government behind them, even though they are a very large company. But they do have the money ad ability to spend that the State Department does not have. The match is seemingly perfect.


Courtesy of Jay-P ©2007

What does the Coca-Cola Company stand to gain from a partnership with the State Department? Publicity and positive messaging for their corporation. The State Department should hold competitions domestically to come up with ideas for names for this clean water initiative, and while doing so, make the Coca-Cola brand front and center. Many people will be exposed to this advertising, giving Coca-Cola an incentive to play ball. Plus, Coca-Cola has partnered with institutions on public diplomacy programs in the past, like this one inviting several Chinese students to learn U.S. foreign policy.

What programs can result from a partnership between Coca-Cola and the State Department? The State Department offers convening power while a large corporation like Coca-Cola offers money. One program that the two could partner on would be a multiplatform marketing campaign internationally urging people to donate to clean water funds. Coca-Cola would be able to fund such an effort while the State Department would be able to reach a wide audience internationally through its embassies and connections abroad. This program would signal to a foreign audience that the United States cares about those who face water insecurity.

Another possible program could be a competition among university students in the United States to come up with infrastructure solutions to the water crisis abroad. The incentive for the student to participate would be a scholarship provided by Coca-Cola or another large corporation. The State Department would judge the contest and implement the best solution from it based on which entry would be the most viable. This program would crowdsource some of the best minds in the United States to work on a solution. It would also promote the United States abroad by showing that young people are invested in helping the world.

Lastly, the State Department and Coca-Cola could take Coca-Cola’s money and distribute it to various clean water charities and NGOs to help fight the water crisis. This solution would offer Coca-Cola to have its name all over the projects and the State Department could use this opportunity to build relationships with NGOs that it might not be close with. This solution, while not the most creative, would provide for the advancement of promoting the United States to foreign audiences while helping people around the world who need clean water.

Of course, the corporation in question does not have to be Coca-Cola, and the State Department would have to open this partnership opportunity to everyone, including competitors such as PepsiCo (who do have a clean water program, but provide less information about it than Coca-Cola Co.). I have used Coca-Cola as the example in this blog because they are one of the biggest corporations that have expressed interest in the clean water issue.

The most important thing that the State Department can do is promote this issue. There is not enough coverage on this issue in the news because the agenda-setters have not called any attention to it. This issue is so important that a woman was willing to attempt to walk 12,000 kilometers across the African continent to raise awareness for the clean water issue. The only coverage it got was on Voice of America, The Huffington Post (for which she was a writer), and her hometown news affiliate. The Department of State partnering with a large corporation like Coca-Cola can bring eyeballs and pocketbooks to the issue of clean water funding.


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