Water.org

When you think of essentials in life, nothing is more fundamental than the need for safe water and sanitation. Though most of us are lucky enough to never experience what it’s like to go without a toilet or safe, clean water, this is not the case for millions of people around the world.For the third consecutive year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report in 2014 ranked water crises as a top 5 global risk. In fact, today as it stands, 750 million people lack access to clean water and more than 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet.

Like many problems, the ripple effect of this issue is truly alarming. Beyond the health ramifications, a lack of access to safe water and sanitation inhibits education, job creation, commerce and more. The interconnectivity of the water crisis is particularly evident when examining the lives of women and children in these communities. Forced to skip work and school to search for clean water, it is estimated that women spend 140 million hours per day collecting water — precious hours that could be spent in productive employment or going to school.

However, when safe water and sanitation is accessible, not only is there a drastic improvement in the quality of life on an individual scale, there are huge returns across the board

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Unicef

As UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, international singer and songwriter Katy Perry visited Madagascar in 2013 to bring attention to the situation of children in the tropical island country, one of the poorest in the world and still recovering from a political crisis that began in 2009. UNICEF has an extensive network on the ground in the country and works with government and social agencies to promote child protection and survival.

On her first visit in support of UNICEF, Perry saw a full range of programs, from education, nutrition, health and child protection, to water, sanitation and hygiene.

“In less than one week in Madagascar, I went from crowded city slums to the most remote villages and my eyes were widely opened by the incredible need for a healthy life—nutrition, sanitation, and protection against rape and abuse—which UNICEF are stepping in to help provide,” Perry said.

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Or visit www.unicef.ca for more information

Conservation International

For fans of Warner Brother’s hit supernatural TV drama “The Vampire Diaries,” actor, Ian Somerhalder will forever be likened to Damon Salvatore — the blood-thirsty, yet charming vampire. While Ian’s charisma may be equally as palpable as his persona onscreen, fortunately in real life he is much more interested in preserving life than taking it.

As the Co-Founder and President of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF), Ian has spent much of the last four years fighting for the future of our planet. Assembling a team of passionate activists across the globe, this Hollywood heartthrob has gained the admiration of the entertainment industry and the environmental community alike. In recognition of his efforts, Ian has assembled a lofty repertoire of accolades including an ambassadorship for the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the International Green Awards title of “Most Responsible Celebrity,” as well as the honour of being named one of the “Visionaries” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013.

Like many passions, Ian’s love for the great outdoors began early in life. Born and raised in Covington, Louisiana, Ian spent much of his childhood studying and interacting with his natural environment. Though he gained an appreciation for nature at an early age, it wasn’t until a disaster hit his home years later that his voice became a catalyst for change.

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Or visit www.natureisspeaking.org for more information

Me to We

On World Day Against Child Labour, I think sadly of the lost potential of 168 million children toiling in brick kilns, carpet factories and plantations instead of attending school. I also celebrate a friend and force of nature who works enthusiastically to educate girls who might otherwise walk for hours to gather water and firewood, or be forced into early marriage.

Nelly Furtado is not only a chart-topping songstress in English and Spanish, she is also a fierce advocate for girls’ education and a dedicated Ambassador for Free The Children, the charity I co-founded with my brother, Marc, almost 20 years ago.

When I asked the Grammy-winner to travel with me to Kenya on a Me to We Trip a few years ago to visit our schools and development projects, I had no idea it would lead to an amazing friendship, a designer t-shirt for our Me to We Style line, a new all-girls’ high school, and many other inspiring spin-offs. She even chose the name for her 2012 album Spirit Indestructible from a line from Me to We, a book Marc and I co-wrote. Nelly also sold our Kenyan mama-made Water Rafiki Friend chain on concert tour, with each sale supplying clean water to one person for a year.

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Or visit www.metowe.com for more information

Farm Aid

The 1980s were a time for musical activism. Dozens of concerts for a cause sprung up to address social issues plaguing the world. Only one, Farm Aid, has sustained for nearly 30 years with the unwavering commitment of its original founders.

In 1985, when falling crop prices and rising debt payments incited an upsurge of foreclosures that pushed family farmers off their land, Willie Nelson decided to organize a concert to raise money and awareness. With the help of fellow artists and Farm Aid founders, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, world-class talent like Bob Dylan, Billy Joel and Bon Jovi signed on to create a line-up of more than 50 performers. After just six weeks of planning, the first Farm Aid concert was held in Champaign, Illinois, on September 22, before an audience of 78,000. With this first concert, Farm Aid spread awareness of the challenges of American farmers, and raised over $9 million to be distributed throughout the countryside to keep family farmers on the land.

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Or visit www.farmaid.org for more information

Shania Kids Can

Reaching Children Under the Radar

“As a child, I often went to school without having had breakfast, without a lunch, no money to take part in pizza days or many field trips for example, because I wasn’t able to pay or get the authorization signature from my parents because they were not available or unable. Reflecting back, I realize that my disadvantages created a lack of self-confidence and insecurity, causing me to withdraw and be less social than I would liked to have been otherwise. In addition to feeling inferior, hunger caused a lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation to interact with others.”—Shania Twain, Founder of Shania Kids Can Charity Foundation.

These are the words of world-renowned Canadian country pop singer and song writer, Shania Twain. In a heartfelt personal note Shania reveals the struggles of a youth shrouded in poverty and isolation. Often lacking access to proper nutrition, clean clothing and parental support, Shania shares the challenges of growing up in a disadvantaged family.

Unwilling to stand by and watch as other children suffer in silence, Shania has created her own non-profit organization to address the needs of primary school children who fall into the gap between a dysfunctional home life and qualifying for a social service intervention. “I promised myself early on in my own childhood that someday I would help kids just like myself, cope with their disadvantages and prosper in spite of those challenges. Shania Kids Can Charity Foundation (SKC) is fulfilling that promise.”

Help Shania Kids Can by spreading the word on Facebook.

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Or visit www.shaniakidscan.com for more information

No Kid Hungry

Those of us working to improve social conditions, like bringing about an end to hunger and poverty, tend to bring skills in fundraising, community organizing, politics, and marketing. But there is often one essential ingredient missing: storytelling. Telling the stories of those we are trying to help is essential to build the political will necessary to solve a problem on the scale that it exists. Who better to supply that perspective than a great American actor whose passion for storytelling and social change intersect in 63 years of iconic screen roles?

Three summers ago I met the actor Jeff Bridges at the Goleta Boys and Girls Club near his home in California. He’d been a long time champion of anti-hunger efforts since creating the End Hunger Network in 1983 and a mutual friend suggested we collaborate. We talked about our respective efforts over the years (I had started the national anti-hunger nonprofit Share Our Strength in 1984), what we’d learned about the most effective strategies, and the dire economic conditions that had led to so much hunger in this country. At one point Jeff said softly: “This feels like the moment we’ve been waiting for, this is our chance.” For me it was as dramatic a moment as anything I’d seen from him on the big screen and renewed my own sense of urgency.

Jeff agreed on the spot to be the national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, which works to connect children at risk of hunger to healthy food where they live, learn and play. Since then, he’s carried our message to Governors, cabinet secretaries, Republicans, Democrats, the news media, corporate leaders, and others with strengths to share in this fight. He effectively articulates that childhood hunger is a solvable problem since we have food and nutrition programs that kids need, but must do more to ensure that kids can access such programs.

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Or visit www.nokidhungry.org for more information