Skip to content Skip to navigation

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation partners with WHD

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which funds up to $30 million in water-related grants a year, is partnering with WHD.
March 21, 2017
Credit: Flickr/USAID

When a major U.S. foundation decided to formulate a strategy for solving global water challenges, it enlisted WHD to help. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which funds up to $30 million in water-related grants a year, is establishing a new paradigm for safe, affordable, financially viable water delivery service systems in the developing world. Stanford’s Program on Water, Health & Development is an ideal partner for the job, according to Chris Dunston, a senior program officer at the Hilton Foundation.

“We are very excited to be working with the Stanford Program on Water, Health and Development, which brings expertise across multiple disciplines – business, engineering, humanities and sustainability research – to address the issue of sustainable water services,” said Dunston. “Through their collaborative and interdisciplinary approach, WHD and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment seek to find solutions that inform policy and practice for a sustainable future. That is very well aligned with the goals laid out in the Foundation's new Safe Water strategy.”

The vision for the Hilton Foundation’s 2017-2021 Safe Water Strategic Initiative is “for every disadvantaged and vulnerable person, health facility and school to have reliable access to safe and affordable water by 2030 and beyond.” The Hilton Foundation will focus its efforts in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia and Uganda, engaging with local governments to develop concrete plans for expanding water supply services to all residents within a target district.

In a recent announcement, the Hilton Foundation outlined its five-year strategy. Guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Foundation will invest in three key areas:

  • Advancing proven and promising solutions and models
  • Strengthening water governance and in-country systems
  • Building and disseminating credible and actionable evidence

“The Hilton Foundation’s new Safe Water Strategy represents a bold approach to expanding high quality water services that will last beyond the project cycle,” said Jenna Davis, WHD faculty lead and Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Stanford. “Chris Dunston and his team are committed to grappling with the really hard problems in our sector—including public sector capacity challenges, incentive structures that reward new construction over maintenance, and planning processes that seem inextricably tied to the election cycle.”

An estimated $8-10 billion is spent supporting water supply and sanitation service delivery in developing countries each year. The Hilton Foundation’s share of this aid is thus small, so it plans to use its investments strategically and to greatest effect. “The Foundation is seizing the opportunity that’s been provided by the SDGs to demonstrate workable models of sustainable, district-wide service delivery across six sub-Saharan African countries,” explained Davis. “Ideally their investments will catalyze other donors who want to ensure that the benefits of their investments are also sustained over time.”

After launching the new strategy, the Hilton Foundation asked WHD to develop a “learning agenda” that identifies applied research opportunities related to the Foundation’s strategy. In addition, WHD will partner with Dutch “think-and-do tank” IRC to articulate a theory of change underpinning the plan, and to develop a measurement and evaluation framework for the strategy.

The Hilton Foundation’s 2017 water sector grantees include:


  • $5 million to the Safe Water Network to develop a market for small water enterprises in Ghana.
  • $3 million to World Vision to demonstrate sustainable WASH services in Mali.
  • $1.5 million to PATH to advance the development of a commercially viable on-site chlorine generator for drinking water treatment and infection prevention and control in low-resource health facilities, schools and communities.

Contact Information

Michelle Horton
Communications Manager