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Thanks to all who are giving to Foolanthropy this year! Each of the five charities represents an excellent cause, but given that I nominated Lifewater, I remain unabashedly biased. In spite of my bias, I still thought that it might be helpful for you to learn a bit about Bill Ashe, Lifewater's founder. In short, Bill's values, beliefs, and vision are responsible for making Lifewater what it is today. I have known Bill for almost 10 years, and I know that he would not want me to boast about him. I respect his humility, but I believe that many will benefit from hearing about his life. So, I have taken the liberty of NOT telling him that I am doing this (sorry Bill!). I also obtained some help from his family, who provided some of the personal history. Consider this an "unauthorized" biographical sketch!

Bill was born in the midst of the Depression, in Burbank California. His father had come to California from Missouri to begin a new job in the agricultural pump industry. Bill's father believed in hard work, and he soon came to own and operate his own pump distributorship, "Shaw Pump." As a result, Bill was weened on pumps. As a boy Bill was always tinkering, fixing or rebuilding anything broken or about to be discarded. Even from an early age, he had a knack for transforming cast off odds and ends into something useful! This talent grew and expanded into the ability to envision "possibilities" where others might only see "problems."

Bill went to work for his dad, did well, and soon his father turned over the business to Bill. Not satisfied with the status quo, Bill continued to strive for excellence and innovation. He was the first California pump distributor with the insight to invest in Grundfos Stainless Steel pumps, which now, 30 years later, are an industry standard in the United States and worldwide. He pioneered an innovative investment program for his regular customers called "co-op inventory investing" whereby customers that invested 50% of their average monthly volume in the Shaw Pump inventory were given a special maximum discount purchasing schedule. This program is still in force after 30 years.

Bill also passed on his knowledge to all three of his sons, who are successfully employed in the pump industry. He helped his eldest son Gene establish his own business back in the early 80s. Gene is now president of this company, "Multi-Duti Mfg" in Colorado, a multi-million dollar pump manufacturing business, distributing pumps internationally.

Bill's sense of vision was not constrained to thinking "inside the entrepreneurial box," however. As his business grew, he began dreaming of ways to help the less fortunate with pumps. In the 1960s, his family started taking outings into Baja, Mexico to help orphanages, camps and Christian mission stations install new pumps and water systems. Soon, however, many people wanted to join in these projects, and the work eventually grew to the point where Bill envisioned a formalized ministry as the logical next step. The Lifewater name was established in 1977, the ministry became a California non-profit corporation on April 26, 1984, and it was granted tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service on August 18, 1985.

From those humble beginnings, Bill recruited and coordinated an ever-growing number of professional volunteers, including well drillers, geologists, water systems engineers and university professors. Bill is still using his knack for making something useful out of scraps. He and his volunteers have developed, refined, and proven a simple strategy for helping rural villagers take one technological step up from an unsafe and unreliable surface water source, to a safe, reliable, drilled water well with a hand pump. To date, they have completed projects in 52 countries on five continents.

Lifewater is unapologetically Christian, but faith is not imposed on recipients, and many recipients hold other faiths. When recipients ask, "Why are you doing this?" however, staff members are ready to explain the faith that motivates their actions. The love shown by volunteers in this organization is unconditional, however, and people are served regardless of what faith they hold. Nowhere is the unconditional love more evident than when one investigates Lifewater's budget line item "director salary." In over 25 years of ministry, Bill Ashe has collected exactly ZERO dollars in exchange for his leadership. This demonstrates, perhaps most clearly, the heart of the man behind the mission of Lifewater.

I could continue by citing various awards and titles of official recognition that Bill has received over the years, but out of respect for his humble spirit, I will close here. Thanks to those of you who see this charity as a truly sound investment!

Jeff Bjorck
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