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Meet Shilpa Alva of Surge for Water in West Loop

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shilpa Alva.

Shilpa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m often asked what it was that moved me about water.

My motivation began when I was a child visiting extended family in India. Issues related to the water crisis were so prevalent that I saw children my age who didn’t have the luxury of playing; instead many were fetching water for their family’s survival. Even as a seven-year-old child, I knew this was not the way the world should be. Access to safe water is a critical aspect of daily life, and everyone should have it. Children should not bear the responsibility of a family’s survival. I knew then that I wanted to make a difference, I just didn’t know how.

When I was 21, I spent a few months on a volunteer assignment in Rajgarh, a remote Indian village. I was confronted with water and sanitation issues for the first time as an adult. In an effort to save the limited water we had access to, we could only shower once in four days, flush the toilet sparingly, and often had to wash our clothes in a murky river. We were among the fortunate ones who had some access to this precious resource; many of our friends in the village didn’t share in this luxury.

It was through this firsthand experience that I realized it was now my responsibility to make a difference. The founding of Surge in 2008 was in response to this lifelong calling: It was my way of making a lasting impact.

As Surge started to form, a few friends — our first volunteers — united to launch the organization. Our launch was met with unexpected, overwhelming support and we knew that our mission resonated with our community and that we had the backing to continue with our vision. And so we did! We continued to organize frequent fundraisers and awareness events. Soon, we started to transition from raising funds and awareness to partnering with grassroots organizations in Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. As we gained momentum, we were able to grow our impact and educational efforts around the world.

In 2014, this deep calling towards a life of service became even stronger. All this while, I was running Surge while also managing a successful career as a Management Consultant. I realized that I had to go all in to bring Surge to its full potential and so I quit my job and fancy, sophisticated lifestyle. I moved all my belongings into a small storage unit and spent a lot of time in the villages we serve around the world. It was one of the best decisions I made and it was when I truly started living life to its fullest.

Today, a global team of talented staff volunteers operates Surge; each has a personal story of being moved by water that brought them to our organization. We have come together because of our belief that every person has an equal right to access safe water and sanitation. As a team, we continue to be driven by the severity of the water and sanitation crisis and the struggles people face to access this basic necessity. Together, we are making a life-changing difference for hundreds of thousands of people — changing the world, one drop at a time.

Has it been a smooth road?
Founding and running a nonprofit organization with a global mandate definitely comes with a set of challenges. From the beginning, I realized it was not something I could do on my own, so I had to motivate and inspire others to join me – this was really hard at the start when there was not really much to join besides a dream and a vision. We were very fortunate to have a few strong and talented people who joined early on.

Working across the world, in remote villages, can often be logistically hard. We often have to travel long distances over rough terrain to get to our destinations. Find the right, trustworthy partners on the ground in all the countries we are active in – the Philippines, Haiti, Dominican Republic & Uganda was not an easy feat. We made several mistakes along the way, all leading us to our current network of amazing field partners.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
Surge provides communities with access to safe water and sanitation solutions in an effort to end the cycle of poverty. Since our founding in 2008, we’ve impacted nearly 1 million people in 11 countries. Water truly is life.

Where there is safe water, there is a chance for a better future.

Our completed projects include: rehabilitation of wells; protection of natural springs; construction of latrines and rainwater harvesting systems; distribution and installation of household and community water filters; and the implementation of our signature training programs on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and menstrual hygiene education.

Our Operating Model is what makes us unique.
– Community Driven: We work hand-in-hand with local partners to design and implement the right solutions for each community’s needs.
– Impactful Solutions: We use local products, in-country expertise and customized education programs to engage communities and support change.
– Sustainable Design: We ensure the long-term impact of our work through mindful implementation, community ownership and shared respect for our world.

In addition to this mindful approach to our work, 100% of our public donations go directly towards our global water and sanitation projects.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Yes, I think Chicago is a great place to have an organization like Surge. There’s a large population that’s aware of the issues facing the world, who recognize the importance of getting involved, and who are looking for ways to make a meaningful difference.

Also, having Lake Michigan in our backyard, sometimes makes people in Chicago forget there’s a global water crisis impacting billions of people. The awareness work that we do locally to educate about the conservation and protection of our local water while recognizing national and global shortages is something that’s definitely needed. I think this is something that we need to continue to educate people on.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
West – Lindsay West, Photoserve, JP Pierce – J.P. Pierce, Photoserve

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