Rethinking Healthcare

How to get water from Facebook

Posting in Education

Unilever partners with the social network to launch an app that connects people in need to clean drinking water. (video included)

What if all of your clicks on Facebook actually accomplished something? Unilever is hoping that with the addition of some pocket change, your social media use could improves millions of lives.

The British-Dutch megacompany announced today that they're pairing with Facebook and the global health organization PSI to launch an app. The app, called Waterworks, aims to provide safe drinking water to the 800 million people around the world who currently lack it.

You sign up with Waterworks and pledge to give a small amount of money daily, even just $0.10. Your involvement is then posted on your Facebook wall.

That money then goes to a "Waterworker," a woman trained by PSI to educate her local community about the importance of safe drinking water, and to distribute water purifiers to families in need. The Waterworker gets a mobile phone so she can document the impact of her work - taking pictures of people at education sessions, logging the number of purifiers she's given out - and those reports will post to your Facebook wall.

PSI has currently trained 75 Waterworkers to serve the neediest people in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. But as funds increase, the partners believe they can meet the needs of 500 million people in total by 2020.

The idea of trying to make a big difference through small crowd-sourced donations is nothing new, we've all seen other nonprofits make similar pleas on television. But the Waterworks team is hoping that the power of social media will help raise truly impactful funds.

In a way, they're counting on our lowest desires - wanting other people to think we do good things, wanting to do what our friends do so we can be cool too - to accomplish a higher good. It's like they're trying to trick you into letting them harness your narcissism. But if that "trick" succeeds in bringing safe drinking water to 500 million people, is that really such a bad thing?

[photo: Unilever]

[video: Unilever]

Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure