Jan 02 2024 / Round the Table Magazine
Thirsting for the basics
Each day from a small Ugandan village, young girls spend most of their waking hours not learning in a school but walking 10 miles to the nearest clean water source, gathering water and then walking back home.
Abhishek Datta had never considered that not having access to clean drinking water could impact education. So, when the six-year MDRT member from Dubai, UAE, heard about this plight, it kept him awake at night, wondering how these conditions were still possible.
“I have realized that there’s so much in the world that we take for granted: clean drinking water, electricity, a decent education. My wife and I don’t have children of our own, but when I see a child helpless in any way, it evokes a fatherly sort of feeling, this emotion in me that I want to help them,” Datta said. “When I heard that children were affected so much and that the problem can be helped with little effort and not a lot of money, I knew I wanted to be part of that effort.”
That’s why Datta got involved with Surge for Water, an organization that since 2008 has helped more than 1 million people in 12 countries access safe water, sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health. This year, Surge for Water received a $10,000 Global Grant from the MDRT Foundation. After meeting Shilpa Alva, Surge for Water’s founder/executive director and Marita Peters, the organization’s executive director for UAE, through a mutual friend at a social event in late 2020, Datta saw an opportunity to expand his impact.
“If I can affect 1,000 to 2,000 lives in my entire lifetime as a financial advisor, that would be a great achievement,” he said. “But being part of Surge has enabled me to help maybe 10,000 to 20,000 people in the last few years, which is more than I could’ve reached in my profession. That’s something I find really fulfilling.”
Making it personal
Datta accomplished that by taking on the role of strategic advisor to Surge, working to raise awareness and pursuing grants, like a 2021 MDRT Foundation grant that affected more than 5,000 people in Haiti, the Philippines and Uganda by fixing a well, school toilets, a water treatment system and more. The 2023 grant went toward supporting people in Uganda, Haiti and Indonesia, through further work to repair wells and rainwater tanks, build toilets, and provide education about hygiene and menstrual health.
Datta recalls receiving a handwritten note from a teacher at the Ugandan school thanking him and the MDRT Foundation for their help in building a well so students and faculty no longer have to drink brownish water from a muddy pool.
“If I saw kids drinking from a muddy pool in person, I would probably be in tears myself,” Datta said. “We wouldn’t wish that on our worst enemies.”
Rather than arriving to a place, working independently and leaving, Surge involves the local community as well, generating small financial investments, hiring local technicians and welcoming volunteers to create a sense of ownership from the people served by the aid. Datta recalls an incident when a storm in Indonesia immediately damaged the work Surge had done the day before. Because members of the community were involved, however, a local contractor worked for free to help repair the project.
Speaking of community, Datta also supports Surge by communicating his passion for the organization with clients. He says people are often surprised not only by the scale of the problem — 2 billion people lack safe water worldwide, according to Surge; 3.6 billion do not have sufficient sanitation; and 2.3 billion lack hygiene facilities — but how little it would take to help.
“When I tell them I only need $3,000 from you to help 1,000 people in a village have access to clean drinking water, it boggles their mind,” Datta said.
That said, Datta takes care to share this information only during one-on-one conversations rather than through social media, and with existing clients instead of new ones. He recognizes that some clients may be repelled by a financial advisor, who they are already writing checks to, asking them to part with more money for something else. He doesn’t want anything about his involvement to be misconstrued.
Even still, he feels he isn’t doing enough, and has more in store for the future. Datta wants to explore ways for Surge to bring help to India (Datta is originally from Mumbai) and see Surge’s work in Uganda in person.
And Datta is not the only one in his household with plans. Because of her husband’s work with Surge, Datta’s wife, Vikramjeet, who is also in the financial services industry, plans to work for a nonprofit in the future.
“She said it never crossed her mind until I became a part of Surge,” Datta said. “So, if I can inspire one person in my family to dedicate her time to a cause like this, that’s having an impact too. If you can find an issue that really evokes a feeling in you, go all out.
“We’ve done a miniscule amount of work compared to the scale of the problem. The more awareness we can create for organizations like Surge, the more it will really help solve some of these problems in the long run.”