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Sydney Gray

M.S. Candidate

My passion lies at the intersection of women and water and I spend every minute I can with Mama Maji, a New Orleans-based nonprofit dedicated to using water to empower women.

For over forty years the largest organizations (UN, USAID, DFID, etc.) have told us that women must be included in every level of water development. But to this day only an estimated 14% of projects include women in any meaningful way. Women are the ultimate stakeholders in water access yet they are routinely ignored or used as tokens in marketing campaigns. With Mama Maji we have gone a step further and utilize water as a platform where we can engage women and train them in all the skills necessary to run a successful water program (sustainable business management, communication, community organization, health, etc.). To date we have trained 3,000+ people in Kenya and New Orleans and 6,100 people now have access to clean water through our projects. While we are still gathering data on efficacy of our programmatic structure and any changes we may be able to make, our first projects have proven that with the tools in their own hands, communities will move.

My goal is to change an industry. Billions are going into water access and being wasted, with global estimates at 60% failure rate for water projects. Women are the key to successful water projects as the primary stakeholders, and should be included at the most fundamental level in all water projects. The best way I have seen to change that is through the grassroots. By educating the women and the philanthropists, we can shift how these projects are done. The newest wave of feminism creates the perfect stage. We can utilize the biggest burden to women worldwide and turn it to an asset that will change communities.

The Executive Director of one of our partner organizations on the ground in Kenya said it best: When you empower a woman, you empower the whole world.

In addition to Mama Maji I am employed at Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation as the Director of Impact and Development. For those of you unfamiliar with Propeller, our mission is to drive social, environmental, and economic impact in New Orleans by incubating early-stage ventures that have the potential to solve our city’s most pressing issues. I would say that entrepreneurship is my secondary passion.

As New Orleans strives to become a global leader in water management through entrepreneurship and innovation, I must say this is the best place in the country to be right now.

Primary Classification: 
  • B.A., University of California, Berkeley, Molecular and Environmental Biology (Animal Science)
  • B.S., University of California, Berkeley, Molecular and Cell Biology (Infectious Diseases)
Country Experience: 

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