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Location Doesn't Matter
White says he raises a few eyebrows when he tells potential funders and others where Water.org is based. But a Kansas City address hasn't stopped the work from getting noticed. "It's kind of like, 'Oh, that's interesting' as opposed to 'I can't work with you.'"
White doesn't expect that Water.org will have to relocate. "We've gotten this far here. That was the hardest part — kind of getting on the map."
Kansas City is not Port-au-Prince or Nairobi. But it's not a model of efficiency and equality, either. The principles that have guided Water.org would seem to offer benefits here as well.
In our developing world, the conventional wisdom said the rising tide of corporate tax breaks and giveaways would lift all boats. But the East Side is a mess of violence and poverty, and a snowstorm mocks the city's ability to deliver basic services.
What if, like Water.org, Kansas City looked for more than just a "charity solution" for its poor? What if, instead of passing out grants to the usual suspects, the city and its institutions looked for ways to leverage assistance into something that lasts?
At least one of White's principles seems to be under consideration. Last year, Mayor Mark Funkhouser assembled a task force to address the lack of economic activity in the urban core. One idea to come out of the initiative, called New Tools, is a microcredit institution.
I haven't seen any lenders step up yet. But maybe the mechanism that built toilets in Hyderabad could bring machine shops to Prospect Avenue.