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Clean water from the efforts of ‘heroes’

Shauna Curry, CEO of the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, shows David O'Brien how their water filtration system works.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The Donor David O'Brien

The Gift: $3-million and climbing

The Cause: Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology

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The Reason: To finance water projects in developing countries

A few years ago, David O'Brien's wife, Gail, told him about a fascinating woman she had met who was running a charity devoted to improving water quality and sanitation in developing countries.

The woman, Camille Dow Baker, had left a 20-year career in the energy sector to study environmental design at the University of Calgary. There, she helped develop a simple water filter and helped launch the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology to help get the filter and other technologies into the hands of poor people around the world. Since then, the centre has offered water-training programs around the world, helping nearly six million people in 63 countries.

Mr. O'Brien eventually met Ms. Dow Baker and he was so impressed by the charity's work he began donating $200,000 annually for 10 years.

"There's no question in my mind it's both the most efficient and effective organization I know in terms of bang for the buck," Mr. O'Brien said from Calgary, where he serves as chairman of Encana Corp.

He recently pledged another $1-million to help the centre meet its goal of reaching 20 million people by 2020. The organization, comprised of 25 staff, half of whom are engineers, hopes to raise $6-million over three years. The Canadian International Development Agency will match some of the gifts up to a total of $6-million.

"I feel, frankly, blessed to be able to be part of something where you have these people who have a very strong sense of social justice," Mr. O'Brien said.

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"People thank me for giving all this money and I say the heroes are the people on the front line who go out to these countries, do the training and devote their lives to it."

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