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Left: In South Sudan, women and children are primarily responsible for collecting water. Middle: Mrs. Johnson welcomes a water truck from her porch in the Navajo community of Smith Lake,


ow, six years later, McGraw is the founder and executive director of DIGDEEP, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to mak- ing clean water more sustainable and more accessible in every community.

McGraw extended the capstone project into his graduate work at the

United Nations University for Peace, where he earned a master’s degree in international law. “I looked at all treaty-based law that had anything to do with water

access—prisoners of war rights, children’s rights, anything that applied,” McGraw says. “Through legal construction, I mapped what would be an international plan for water access rights.” McGraw published that research in Loyola’s international law review—the

only academic without a JD to have done so to date. His research is now required reading in some college classes on human rights. After he graduated, McGraw consulted with the United Nations Develop-

ment Program in Afghanistan, sending out graduate students to investigate water projects, such as wells, that the UNDP had invested in. “That was a pivotal moment,” McGraw says. “We found that the projects

were failing at a very high rate, for very simple reasons. The planning was done out of the country, and we were basically sending cash and GPS coor- dinates. Researchers would find villages with a hole in the ground but no

pump, or a pump with no holes in the ground. They found wells that weren’t deep enough, or that no one had been taught how to sustain them.” McGraw found the results demoralizing, particularly in the areas where

fresh water did exist. “Some people lost children because they had kids when fresh water was there,” he says. “With compromised water sources, they died.” Still, he says, this high rate of failure is not atypical. “Water projects fail at 50 percent all over the world, by everyone,” Mc-

Graw says. “I decided to refocus not on building wells, but on instructing the community to do so.” He founded DIGDEEP in 2011. The organization currently has field pro-

grams in New Mexico, South Sudan, and Cameroon. “Each project is completely unique,” McGraw says. “If there’s a basic

process, it’s that we form relationships with communities. We set up locally run partner organizations, and we have no field office. We channel our funds and expertise to build capacity there, using suitable local technology. Those projects are empowered to continue with or without us. That is important because communities change, sometimes quickly.” DIGDEEP is the only global water organization in the United States. The

Navajo Water Project serves the Navajo community of Smith Lake, New Mexico, located miles from the nearest water or sewage line. Most water is



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