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Water.org and Bank of America Expand Safe Water Access

Bank of America’s Jamie Mayes helps KC-based Water.org bring safe water to people across the globe.

Photog by Praveen Sundaram for Water.org

One in 10 people lack access to safe water. Water.org works to bring water and sanitation to the world with help from a valuable ally—Bank of America and its senior vice president heartland market manager, Jamie Mayes.

A KC native, Mayes started working with water crisis-focused organization WaterPartners International in 2007, serving as its day-to-day contact at the bank, which handles the majority of Water.org’s banking. In the nearly 10 years since, the organization joined forces with Matt Damon’s H20 Africa, evolved into Water.org and helped millions get access to safe water.

“The nonprofit space is interesting,” Mayes says. “It pulls on the heartstrings of most people, but it also often takes the most work when you’re looking at the financial situation. It’s almost a specialty industry in that you have to treat it different and look at how money is collected differently.”

Jamie Mayes

Her work often involves delving into strategy when Water.org wants to work in a new country and begin new projects, but sometimes helping the organization means connecting its team to other people and resources within Bank of America. The bank also supports Water.org through the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, which announced a $1 million grant benefiting the organization’s WaterCredit program last spring.

Using WaterCredit, Water.org works with local partner organizations to offer loans in countries including India, Bangladesh and Uganda for people who can then obtain the solution that works best for them and pay back the loan over time. Bank of America’s donation will help 100,000 in southern India through the program, many of them women.

On average, women and girls walk around 3 miles per day to provide their households enough water, time that they’re not able to spend generating income or going to school. Not having access to adequate sanitation also disproportionately hurts women and girls.

“The water crisis, while it effects everyone, essentially is a women’s crisis,” says Water.org Senior Manager, Strategic Alliances Nicole Wickenhauser. “Women and young girls are the ones that bear primary responsibility for carrying the water, so literally and figuratively, they’re bearing the burden.”

More than 90 percent of WaterCredit loans are taken out by women, and water solutions give them back that lost time in addition to reducing water-related illnesses and increasing their status in the community.

Photo by Praveen Sundaram for Water.org

Knowing who her work with Water.org benefits makes Mayes’ role, which today includes managing a team of relationship managers, all the more satisfying.

“It is a whole new level of investment,” she says. “At the risk of sounding emotional, it’s an honor to be able to serve Water.org, and that’s the way I look at it. They have a very specific goal, and that’s safe water, safe sanitation, and oh by, the way, who does this affect most? Women and children. It has a huge place in my heart.”

Water.org is grateful to have her and the financial institution on their side, Wickenhauser says.

“Financial stability is critical,” she explains, “and that enables us to do the important work that we do each day, knowing that we have all of those processes in a good place and that we’re in such capable hands with Jamie and Bank of America.”