Transparency at Project Maji: where do your donations go?

For us transparency is not simply a lofty value to tout without action. It is a core value that runs through our organisation, and central to the way we communicate with our stakeholders:

We practice operational transparency, clearly laying out our mission and the way we plan to achieve our goals. We have a robust impact mapping and measurement framework in place to quantify the real social impact our donors contribute to. We practice financial transparency by clearly communicating to our donors where and how their "investments" will be deployed. All our kiosks have been assigned a What3Words address that shows their exact physical location and we encourage donors to visit these sites to see firsthand the transformative power of water access on communities. Finally, we provide granular data on consumption and revenue patterns of each Individual site.

Investors in the private sector can sell shares if they do not agree with a company’s strategy and in the public sector, governments are voted in or out based on the popular perception of their performance. However, in the third and fourth sectors that we operate in, funders often require proven effectiveness as a prerequisite to any contribution they may make. This puts an onus on us to clearly and consistently communicate where money goes and to quantify its impact.. Therefore, transparency is a core tool to mobilize support from individuals and corporations to embark on a journey towards meaningful impact. Simply put, for an impact organisation, transparency entails way more than publishing audited financials.

Identifying the ‘Why’

To begin with, there is a need to be transparent about the “why” and “how” of everything we do, so we can encourage action and lead the fight against water poverty. At Project Maji, this is exactly what we have done. We have answered the “why”, “how” and “what” questions as part of our strategy formulation and strive to communicate these to our donors and supporters, loud and clear.

Why do we exist? We exist to transform lives and oversee an end to rural water poverty by ensuring sustainable access to safe water. How are we going to do that? We are going to achieve this goal by practicing sustainability as a cross-cutting principle, breaking free from the traditional charity mindset, applying an entrepreneurial approach, through constant innovation, prudent financial management and maintaining a high social return on investment. What are we going to do? By 2025, we will serve 1 million people in rural communities suffering from water poverty with a sustainable supply of safe water using smart technologies.

Operational transparency

Clarity in understanding and communication about the “why” and “how” is also called operational transparency. It requires our mission be clear and concise and that our internal processes echo the values we share publicly. Witnessing consistency in our larger objectives, the values communicated, and our day-to-day operations drives donors to own our cause. It becomes a real value proposition for them -- both individuals and corporate partners -- that makes it clear a partnership is worth pursuing and continuing.

Robust Impact Mapping and Measurement

Impact measurement is the second core link in the transparency chain. It provides evidence that a promise has been delivered upon and that the enterprise is heading in the right direction for its larger objectives. However, due to increasing scarcity of funding, some industry experts claim that impact measurement has been reduced to hard-hitting story-telling about the beneficiaries being served, instead of being balanced against accurate hard data about the impact created. Again, at Project Maji, we try to break away from the status-quo to implement a robust impact measurement system based on well-defined goals to measure progress through quantifiable KPIs.

The Project Maji team has designed a social impact measurement framework to understand how much social change occurred and how it can be attributed to our interventions. We conduct pre-impact surveys in our selected community to create a baseline. We assess water access issues, community demographics, health indicators and willingness to pay, all before we begin work on a kiosk installation. Six months after commissioning a site, we conduct a post-intervention impact survey. The data from this survey is compared against the findings of the pre-impact survey to measure and demonstrate the immediate positive impact of the Maji kiosk in the lives of the local community. This exercise is repeated thereafter annually. The impact studies are imperative to our evidence-based approach in proving and communicating impact to our donors. As we have grown and in the name of efficiency, we have also moved away from paper surveys to digital data collection and analysis using the sector-specific mWater platform.

Impact Mapping

In addition to publishing the results of our impact studies, we share the exact physical location of the kiosk our donors have contributed to. We have joined hands with thetransformative initiative of What3Words. Working in the most remote rural areas where traditional addresses simply don’t exist, and where sharing long complicated GPS coordinates is completely impractical, the What 3 Words solution provides a perfect solution for our needs. Each 3m square in the world is assigned a unique 3-word address that is easy to communicate, in multiple languages and will never change. The system is practical and fit for our purpose. Accordingly, each kiosk that Project Maji operates is assigned a What3Words address so our donors know exactly where their donations have contributed.

Click on the link to find out the What3Words addresses of each of our kiosks in Ghana and Kenya:

Financial Transparency

When applying for a grant from corporate, government or individual donors, we ensure that we communicate clearly and exactly where the money will be spent. We submit quotations with a detailed breakdown of the equipment, structure, set up and logistics costs each kiosk is expected to incur. Finally, Project Maji operates as a not-for-profit social enterprise. Even though we apply an entrepreneurial mindset and explore market-based approaches, the entity does not declare any financial surpluses as profit and does not pay out dividends.. All surplus funds are channeled back towards scaling up operations supporting our mission to ultimately eliminate rural water poverty.

Consumption and Revenue Patterns - Tech for Good

We have embarked on a digitization journey because of the obvious efficiencies and also because we believe paper is where data gets lost. As of now, 18% of all Project Maji sites use e-payment and remote monitoring systems and our impact assessments are conducted via a purpose-built data collection platform called mWater. Simply put, the use of such “tech for good” tools provide us access to granular level information, actionable and easy-to-analyze impact, consumption, and revenue datasets.

At the sites where e-payment and remote monitoring have not been enabled, our teams have been trained to collect and record analog data under our robust monthly reporting framework. We share a comprehensive overview of our consumption and impact figures at our online shopfront - our website homepage, that is automatically updated every month. In addition, we share the statistics of our key consumption and revenue KPIs with individual donors of each Project Maji site as part of our annual donor reporting framework.

Lastly, it is noteworthy that transparency and accountability at Project Maji go beyond the scope of this blog. These are elements of our core values, embedded and practiced at all levels of our operations. Transparency is not just communicating what goes well, but also what the challenges are we facing. Honesty about operational hurdles that require us to change direction, is possibly even more important. Only by addressing these concerns and sharing them with our ambassadors, we can find better alternative approaches to scale up our impact