“Surely, you can’t be serious.”

January 15, 2013

by Champ Rhodes

The legacy of 80’s era comedies is a ‘plethora’ of phrases we use day to day almost without notice. At an event a few months back, I had the chance to do 30 or so ‘elevator pitches’ about Africa Water and Life. Ironically, I found myself spending most of my time telling people what we weren’t rather than what we were.  I kind of felt like Leslie Nielsen in the classic Airplane quip, “I am serious, now don’t call me Shirley!” While the opportunity to share our vision is always welcomed, this was a watershed moment that would lead to significant changes for our organization.

To make sense of this, we have to go back about 18 months. It was about this time, when the Kalo well was ‘under construction’, that our understanding of what truly works in development, and what our friends in Ethiopia really need, began to catch up with our passion for helping them experience God’s blessing and freedom. We realized the challenges of drilling a well were much more ‘meta’ than ‘physical’ and it became clear that our attempts to address the water crisis among the Arsi Oromo would need to be aligned with a greater goal: transforming communites by helping people to see their abundant God-given resources already within their reach, inspiring hope and the motivation necessary to reach their God-given potential.

This developed into a mission statement, a refined strategy, and a revamped website.  But months of focus on a water project and more importantly, the name Africa Water and Life had been seared in the minds of our supporters. To most, we were pretty much a ‘water organization,’ with a secondary emphasis on leading people to know Jesus Christ and start churches, even as we highlighted other initiatives like vocational training, savings groups, and micro-enterprise.

tumblr_inline_mgotfxoRfE1ro5m6bDale Carnegie once said, “A person’s name is, to them, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Now, the same could be said for an organization, especially in today’s day and age when image is easy to craft, but equally easy to distort.  At a certain point, being the main representative for AWL, I consistently found myself saying, ‘We do water, but we also…”. In Ethiopia, our partners just sort of refused to call us by our name and stuck with ‘New Hope Church’. Maybe it was too much of a mouthful or just too close to our actual water partners,Water is Life International. Either way, this was another awkward position to find ourselves in. 

Over this period, confidence in our mission and strategy has grown as we’ve seen a number of successes in the field and in raising funds and awareness at home (which we’ve chronicled on this blog.) Our tagline, ‘Because water alone is not imageenough,’ was a creative attempt to overcome the challenge of being pigeonholed as a water organization. But when your name and parts of your positioning hold you back rather than move you forward, there must be a shift.  About three months ago, our leadership team began to evaluate a new name which is the start to a rather significant marketing project including a new logo, taglines, website, etc.

2013 will be all kinds of new for us.  We’re excited for the vision God has given us. We’re thankful for the relationships formed and strengthened with our partners in Ethiopia.  We covet your prayers and if you feel really bold, shoot us some ideas or good examples of names and logos via [email protected] or post them on our facebook wall at facebook.com/africawaterandlife. What isn’t changing is our absolute conviction that God has so much more for the Arsi Oromo than they are experiencing today and our commitment to help them pursue His rich blessings.