The World Affairs Council is pleased to recognize Marla Smith-Nilson and Water1st International as the 2015 World Citizen Award recipient. In 2005, Marla Smith-Nilson founded Water1st International to address the lack of access to clean water and sanitation that affects 2.5 billion people worldwide. Water-related illnesses still kill some 5 million people a year, most of them children. And the search for clean water means that 200 million women and girls must forgo income-generating work and education to spend five hours a day retrieving water for their families, contributing to an enduring cycle of illness, poverty, and illiteracy. The problem is real and it is massive.
For ten years, Marla Smith-Nilson has built and led an organization that has made a difference by providing access to clean water that in turn transforms lives. Water1st implements water and sanitation solutions based on the needs and priorities of the communities they serve in India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Honduras. By building piped water systems, Water1st has provided nearly 135,000 people with clean water in the last ten years. By integrating toilets and hygiene education, Water1st has stopped the spread of disease and saved lives in the four countries where they work. Water1st follows up to ensure that its 1,400+ projects will continue to function far into the future, providing new opportunities for women and girls and the impoverished communities they anchor. Water1st helps women and girls to end their walk for water and increase the time they can spend on health, education, and seeking opportunity – improving their equity, dignity, and life overall. Marla Smith-Nilson exemplifies what it means to be a world citizen.
Since 1988, the World Affairs Council has awarded the World Citizen Award to recognize an outstanding leader from the state of Washington who has contributed significantly to public understanding of international relations and community involvement in world affairs and who has had a significant impact on the solution to a global problem. Marla joins a long line of accomplished awardees, including Julia Bolz for her work building schools in Afghanistan; Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire for her leadership in raising Washington State’s profile on the world stage in the areas of trade, clean energy, and climate change; and Dan O’Neill, founder of Mercy Corps, helping millions of people recover from disaster and find their own solutions to poverty.
Water1st’s efforts under Marla’s leadership are innovative, inspirational, and have lasting impact. Marla has created an organization whose projects prioritize values that create lasting solutions, transform lives for the better, and lead to more equitable societies around the world. In Seattle, Water1st unites people to address the global water and sanitation crisis. With the World Citizen Award, the World Affairs Council gratefully acknowledges this work and looks forward to supporting our community’s conversation on acting more effectively in addressing global water issues.