The theme for March is sustainability: True sustainability is when you’ve located something real, something you can build upon. It’s the lamp that runs on vegetable oil from lunch, or a watering hole you can draw from enough times to plant the family estate around.

The Roosevelt was founded on the idea of sustainability. As a nonprofit social enterprise, our model is to take the momentum we reap—in the form of coffee profits and community engagement—and sow it back into our work to bring about more social good. In our case, our mission is to eradicate hunger, human trafficking, and lack of clean water. In our eyes, this is the heart of sustainability—using social good to generate more social good. We want to be the bottomless well.

In the nonprofit world, we think it’s important to partner with organizations that are cut from the same cloth. One of our partners we feel belongs to the same lineage as us is Blood:Water Mission, and it’s because they share our model of sustainability.

In working to expand access to clean water in Africa, Blood:Water Mission generates some immediate results: digging fresh wells for communities to tap into; installing biosand filters that can rid the water of 98 percent of all waterborne disease; building latrines that provide sanitary structures for communities without flushing toilets; providing hand-washing stations that use minimal water in places without running water.

But Blood:Water’s true focus is on the long-term effect: engineering a system of sustainability. Their approach hinges on cultivating what they call hidden heroes—local partners and grassroots organizations who are already working in their communities to provide clean water. Through education and group meetings, Blood:Water partners with local doers to provide education to members of the community in various ways:

  • A four-day “WASH” training on the basic skills in water and hygiene
  • Healthy Homes advanced training, offering families certification in water treatment, latrine use, hand washing, garbage pits, drying dishes, and mosquito nets over beds
  • School health clubs, equipping student leaders to teach and encourage healthy practices among their peers

Not simple provision, but education of clean water skills is one of the ways Blood:Water Mission effectuates sustainability in communities. That’s why they partner with communities for three to five years in order to help extend results further into the future.

Perhaps the best example of Blood:Water’s vision is found in a niche area of focus within the clean water issue that’s often overlooked—the way the lack of clean water affects people with HIV/AIDS.

The link between clean water and HIV/AIDS is evident. For one, people with HIV/AIDS suffer from weakened immune systems, making them more prone to diarrheal diseases. About 90 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in Africa suffer from chronic diarrhea, often due to water-borne infections, according to a study published by the South African Water Research Commission in 2006.

Secondly, for mothers with HIV who are at risk of transmitting HIV to their child through breastfeeding, clean water is necessary for making infant formula; when unsafe drinking water is used in formula, infants face an increased risk of diarrheal diseases and death. And lastly, clean water is a requirement for antiretroviral treatment, which is crucial for controlling the virus so individuals with HIV can live a longer, healthier life, and for reducing the risk of transmitting HIV to others, according to

Because access to clean water is extremely critical for people with HIV/AIDS, developing countries with little access to clean water experience the issue of clean water in a compounded way. Individuals living in developing countries are the fastest growing sector of HIV/AIDS individuals, according to Lifewater. Take the Kitgum District in Uganda, for instance, where an estimated 18,000 people are infected with HIV and only 3,000 have access to medical care.

Here’s where Blood:Water’s model of sustainability comes into play. Mirroring their long-term approach in clean water education, not only does Blood:Water provide HIV testing, counseling, support groups, and life-saving medical and nutritional care to people with HIV/AIDS, Blood:Water provides HIV/AIDS care beyond immediate care at the clinics: individuals who have been trained in WASH or HIV/AIDS programs are subsequently empowered to train others around them, initiating more and more individuals into the cycle of HIV/AIDS care at the local level. This is true sustainability.

Through their model of sustainability, Blood:Water Mission has been able to reach some huge milestones in Africa:

  • 1 million people reached with clean water
  • 62,000 patients served in HIV-prevalent areas
  • 6 core partners working with local communities in Africa

We’re happy to call them an ally in this fight.

We at the Roosevelt like to end on an inspired note. One of the sources we periodically draw from to do this is Marilynne Robinson. For Robinson, as Mark O’Connell pointed out in his piece in the New Yorker, water is “more than just a metaphor for God. It is itself a divine presence, a form of immanence that creates and sustains life, and sometimes destroys it, and remains mysterious no matter how familiar it might seem to us.”

With this in mind, we’d like to leave you with a passage from Robinson’s novel Gilead, in which a father recalls a scene he remembers seeing to his son. We think captures the mysterious essence of water:

“The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.”

Water here represents the nature of sustainability—it’s taken from the earth only to be given back during a rainfall. There’s magic in that. The Roosevelt wants to tap into this magic. We want to build a well that never runs dry, where customers enjoy coffee and give to something bigger. This is fueled by you.

Thank you for believing in this ordinary magic.