This Twenty-Something Had a Unique Idea to Help Give More People Access to Water

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

You may not be surprised to hear that roughly 750 million people around the world don't have access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization. Here's what's more surprising: Many of those people live in the United States. In Detroit alone, 100,000 families don't have access to clean, running water. 

After a brief Twitter conversation, Tiffani Bell decided she wanted to change that. 

Bell and co-founder Kristy Tillman created the Detroit Water Project in 2014 to start helping families who couldn't pay their water bills in Detroit. After the city suffered one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history, the city government started shutting off water to people who weren't paying their bills. 

The Detroit Water Project connects donors with unpaid water bills directly, instead of funneling donor money through government bureaucracy or a crowdfunding model with a large goal, delaying relief for the families in need. To date, the project has raised $180,000 and paid water bills for more than 900 families. 

"We solved the problems of distributing water and power over long distances ages ago, so there's no reason these fundamentals should be denied from anybody, especially society's most vulnerable citizens," Bell told Mic.

While the project started in Detroit, Bell hopes to replicate this model for many cities across the U.S. Bell and Tillman recently expanded operations to Baltimore, and they're already starting to make a difference. So far, donors have paid $30,000 in water bills in Baltimore because of the initiative. 

"I'd like to spread the Detroit Water Project platform to as many cities as possible, to bring awareness to the issue of utility insecurity and ensure every household with the infrastructure has running water regardless of financial status," Bell said. 

A worker from Homrich turns on water for a resident who was disconnected by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department August 27, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department have disconnected water to thousands of Detroit residents who are delinquent with their bills.
Source: 
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Before the Detroit Water Project, Bell was a 2014 Code for America fellow in Atlanta, where she built a new website for the city Department of Procurement. Before that, she founded and was the CEO of her own online appointment scheduling startup, Pencil You. Now she's focusing her coding skills on the nonprofit world. 

"When it comes to my work, sometimes I have moments of extreme impatience, but it's helpful to remember this to pace myself," Bell said. "It doesn't mean to move slowly, but instead it emphasizes the idea of pacing myself while also pushing to get things done."

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Ellie Kaufman

Ellie is a branded content staff writer at Mic. She previously worked at The Huffington Post and graduated from The College of William and Mary.

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