Every day in this country, collaborative tools like messaging apps and Google Hangouts make things happen faster than ever before. News is distributed. Projects are approved. Corporations make lots and lots of money.

What better communication enables

Technology is an imperative. However, in the sector that I operate in — the nonprofit water sector — technology is doing more than driving revenues. It is saving lives in some of the most remote regions on earth. Take Ben and John. 4,000 miles separate them. As recently as last week, they were learning from and encouraging one another as they worked toward similar goals in two disparate locations.

Ben lives and works in the Ituri rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He drills water wells that save kids’ lives and helps families grow crops that build wealth in their communities. He also trains villagers on proper sanitation and hygiene practices.

John lives and works in Sierra Leone in West Africa. He teaches local entrepreneurs to drill water wells for income. He even got the government to go in on a massive project to offer clean drinking water at a reasonable price to local citizens — similar to paid public utilities.

“Drill teams from more than a dozen countries share text, photos, videos and voice messages straight from the drilling sites for real-time troubleshooting, data interpretation, and advice.”

Both are field partners of an organization built around a mission of eradicating the world water crisis by putting the solution in the hands of the local people. As recently as two years ago, each of them was working alone. Sometimes they did things right, and sometimes they did things wrong. Sometimes they had victories, and sometimes they got discouraged.

Streamlining the effort

Then, a couple of years ago a multi-national training event brought together these drill teams from seven African nations. The intent was for them to learn and become better drillers and business owners. But something special happened instead.

“The greatest thing we saw was the testimony that people were giving from each corner of their countries,” reflects Ben. “We always think that our region is the most difficult region in the world. We went there and heard also from these other countries that they are going through the same obstacles.”

Out of that training was born the idea of a 24/7 virtual drillers network, moderated field experts and facilitating the sharing of knowledge and encouragement among teams. Today drill teams from more than a dozen countries share text, photos, videos and voice messages straight from the drilling sites for real-time troubleshooting, data interpretation, and advice. That is how Ben got hooked up with John when he was having trouble with a well casing.

“[John] replied,” says Ben. “He sent us video quick on WhatsApp, and we solved that situation.” Because of that communication, the well was successful, and today the lives of 1,500 men, women and children are no longer at risk of waterborne disease.

According to Matt Hangen, a Chief Operations Officer, this multi-national collaboration is exactly what the network was designed to do. “Our goal was to create a positive peer-to-peer culture within our field partner network to share both successes and victories,” he says. “It has exponentially increased our ability to build capacity in that experts are virtually present with teams in the moments when they crucially need guidance.”