To meet the water, sanitation and food needs of the global community, we face huge constraints. Public and private funds for development are limited. Significant water resources are being depleted at a rapid pace. Arable land occupies a relatively small portion of our planet. Conflict and natural disasters cause immense suffering and impede the progress of development, turning back the clock. Yet, in one area we do not face constraints. That is in our capacity to empathize, to set a purpose for our lives that responds to the needs of others, and to realize that purpose by creating and implementing solutions whose scale and impact is potentially immense.

Chris Holmes speaks to the water community of Colorado. Photo Credit: USAID.

During my recent trip to Colorado, I met with several groups that embody this capacity – creative, compassionate and enthusiastic academics and Rotarians working to research, innovate and implement new solutions to some of the development challenges we face today. Many of these challenges focus on, or relate to, water. Water is vital to sustaining life, essential for the sustainable production of crops and critical to many manufacturing and industrial processes. Water availability, or lack thereof, is an issue familiar to Coloradans, and their state faces many of the same challenges that countries around the world face: drought, growing populations, and rising water needs of multiple users. The water community of Colorado has expertise not only on domestic water issues, but also on global issues such as water scarcity, treatment and sanitation.

I had the opportunity to meet with some of the members of this community, including students and faculty from University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and Regis University, and Rotarians from the cities of Denver and Evergreen. In my discussions with these groups, I learned about their current development activities, including partnerships with USAID, and shared some of the approaches USAID is currently employing, including open source based development, partnerships and finance, science and technology, integrated programming, resilience and scale.

Universities and groups like Rotary are key partners in reaching USAID’s development goals. Both groups are familiar with the type of interdisciplinary thinking that USAID is using in our effort to establish linkages between sectors, such as water, agriculture and energy in order to bring about new solutions. Developing and implementing effective linkages will be key to USAID’s ability to meet global water and related food and health needs. Universities make a huge difference in educating the present and future generation of leaders who will find it critical to use these approaches and tools to save and improve lives. My visit left me feeling optimistic and excited about the future of global development, and I look forward to our continuing partnerships with universities and Rotary groups.