20 Years of Just a Drop: Turning Inspiration into Life-Transforming Reality

by Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder and Chairman of Just a Drop

It seems incredible that 20 years have passed since I launched Just a Drop at the travel and tourism industry event World Travel Market in 1998. At the time, I was a new Exhibition Director and a new mum, and full of love for both. When I took over the reins of World Travel Market in 1994, I was keen to give the event more purpose and meaning – I wanted it to add value to the industry in a variety of ways, so that it was more than just a business to business event.

Initially, I launched Environmental Awareness Day (now World Responsible Tourism Day) in 1996 with the specific aim of educating us all about what it means to Protect Our Planet and Create Better Futures for our communities across the world through tourism. But at that time no one was interested in ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ tourism; these were ideas people found too difficult to comprehend and at that time weren’t part of normal business vocabulary. People didn’t truly understand what they meant and how it impacted them.

So whilst still maintaining a commitment to the environmental agenda I decided to come up with another idea that would encourage the travel industry to give back to communities around the world. This idea had to be simpler to understand, global in its reach, environmentally-sound and positively impact the lives of children and their families. A cause that travel and tourism companies could contribute to and create a real and meaningful impact.

At that time, horrifically, a child died every 17 seconds from dirty water. Dirty water kills more children under 5 years old than malaria, HIV and measles combined, but significantly just £1 (at the time) could deliver clean water to a child for nearly 10 years. And so, Just a Drop was born.

Naïvely I thought if I could get everyone who attended World Travel Market to give just £1, we would have enough to do something meaningful; and so the principle that if everyone gave a little, collectively we could make a real difference, was established.

Just a Drop was also created in such a way that businesses could clearly understand where their funds went – and not feel they just disappeared into an unaccountable pot. Just a Drop was created before corporate social responsibility was part of business vocabulary – that came later – but in many ways this was a very early example of CSR. We created a model whereby businesses were able to contribute to specific projects and were able to see and understand the positive impact they were having on people’s lives, so it became meaningful and purposeful for everyone concerned.

It was a constructive way to harness the power of our industry and make a real, practical and positive difference wherever we were in the world.

Thanks to the generous support of the travel and tourism industry and other businesses, organisations and individuals, Just a Drop has been able to transform the lives of over 1.5 million people in 32 countries across the world in a very tangible way.

Whilst Just a Drop is a registered charity, I don’t consider it a charity. We are a community development organisation whose role it is to support those who simply need a necessary leg-up to better help themselves – it’s NOT charity.

Over the last 20 years Just a Drop’s work has evolved. Initially purely focused on water, sanitation and hygiene education, Just a Drop has built from these foundations. Whilst water and sanitation is still our focus, we have expanded into menstrual hygiene management to encourage girls to stay in school and complete their education, soap making and other micro-finance programmes to enable women to set up their own businesses, and have developed food security programmes, which provide a sustainable, nutritious source of food for the community, and generate an income as excess crops can be sold for a profit. These areas are all building bricks which support poverty reduction and contribute directly and indirectly to 11 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I genuinely believe that business can be HUGELY powerful in changing and contributing to the world in a way that it doesn’t do currently, but is slowly beginning to surface, as we become more socially engaged and responsible. But we need better joined up thinking. It needs us all being aware of the massive contribution we can make and accepting its part of our responsibility and remit to do this as well as running our businesses well.

We are hugely appreciative of the support we’ve had and are delighted to celebrate reaching our 20th anniversary. I’ve always believed that from small acorns grow oak trees, if you nurture them well. Here’s to the next 20 years.