Screen Your Hearing By Telephone. Free for AARP Members for a limited time. Learn More

The Gift of Water Live Chat Transcript

If you missed the chat with Jane and her guests David Simms and Ken Wood, you can catch the conversation here.

Today’s participants:

Jane Pauley, AARP’s Brand Ambassador

David Simms, Head of Leadership and Careers at the Bridgespan Group

Ken Wood, Founder of Wells for Ghana

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Jane Pauley: Hello everyone! Thanks for joining us. I hope you enjoyed our TODAY Show segment this morning featuring Ken Wood, a Maryland well driller who’s now bringing clean water to countless people in Ghana. Ken’s nothing short of an inspiration. He “reinvented” himself by thinking big – taking the well drilling skills he’d spent his entire career honing, and applying them to something much larger than himself. Today we’re going to talk about how you can do something like that too.

Ken joins us in the chat this afternoon, along with David Simms, head of the Bridgestar division of the Bridgespan Group, which helps nonprofits and philanthropic leaders implement strategies for social change.

Hello, Ken and David! Great to have you with us. I have to say that this story has generated unusual excitement. It's gratifying how many people have skills and experience and a desire to put them to work on other people's behalf. Ken is so exemplary but so are you. Let's get going!

Comment from Steve: I want to send a donation to Ken's organization. Where do I send it to?

Ken Wood: You can visit and submit your donation through the site. All donations are appreciated and well-needed!

Comment from Vince: I'm a part-time photographer looking for ways to give back. What and how is the best way for me to do so?

David Simms: Hey, Vince. Great question. Why don't you look for a nonprofit that hopes to improve how they communicate about their work and their beneficiaries via photos and stories. I have a good friend who is an artist and has started doing this for a nonprofit in third world poverty. Her artwork now covers many note cards for supporters to use. Good luck!

Comment from guest: I've worked in sales and purchasing. I've been laid off and in my 60s am having a lot of trouble finding work. What would I be able to do to help other people?

Simms: For the person who has been let go, first I’m sorry to hear that. I applaud your desire to “give back.” In terms of ways in which you can do so, think about the particular skills you have developed in your career. If you have done well in sales, could you help train some development/fundraising staff of a local nonprofit? If you have skills in marketing, can you help a nonprofit organization with their communications and messaging? If you have strong management skills, can you help mentor some junior staff of a nonprofit?

Comment from Tom: Ken, I understand that you have brought clean water for the first time in their lives to well over 300,000 villagers. Do you have an estimate of the cost of doing this on a per person basis?

Wood:  The cost per person is $3 to $4, minus the cost of the equipment. Running the water lines can be $4 to $8 per person, depending on the size of the village.

Comment from Rebecca: I am 58 this November 5th. I have all the time in the world and am not a wealthy person.

Pauley: Rebecca, I like your comment. Not all of us have the skills to drill wells or the expertise to sit on a board of directors so I’m going to ask David to give thought to how the rest of us might support the work of nonprofits in a more general way. So stay posted and we’ll get back to you.

Comment from Chris: David, I have a passion for food, wine, travel and art - been working with arts non-profits for a while. How does one take the fun things in life and turn it into a successful second career?

Simms: Chris, there are many nonprofits that help to connect the finer things in life - like art - to people that may not have a chance to experience them. Why don't you look for a school in your community where the kids may not have a chance to truly experience the things you love? In sharing your love of things, I'm sure you will find some teachers and kids who would benefit from your passion and wisdom.

Comment from David: I've been in television and media for over 25 years. How could I offer my help? I just recently retired.

Pauley: David, David Simms agrees with me that many nonprofits might benefit from someone who could help spread the word of an organization’s work or get the message out. He specifically mentions a group called

Comment from Nancy: Ken, when will your group be returning to drill?

Wood: We have a crew drilling there as we speak, and we'll go back in January to drill with a second rig.

Comment from Kate: Ken, your story was very inspiring! Thanks for all you are doing!

Comment from Maggie: How would someone who is interested in organic gardening and nutrition get the best use out of their skills?

Simms: Maggie, there is a lot of energy throughout the nonprofit sector right now on children's health and the problems of obesity. The First Lady has made this one of her key issues. Can you take your expertise in nutrition and organic gardening and connect with a nonprofit working on this issue? In Boston, there is an organization called the Food Project that ties this type of work into serving people in the inner city.

Comment from Bruce: Is there an opportunity for voluntourism around something like Ken Wood and drilling wells in Africa?

Simms: Bruce, one organization for voluntourism might be Kiva, which helps support microfinance organizations all over the world. Volunteers go out to take pictures and write down the story of clients from poor families who are being served by microfinance. Have fun!

Pauley: Bruce, additionally the AARP website is a wonderful resource for voluntourism. Click on this link for information and a video on voluntourism.

Comment from Gretchen: Message to Kate - have you contacted Hands to Hearts International? They work with orphanages and are an excellent organization.

Comment from Tom: Ken, is there a system in place to assure a long working life of the well, i.e. repairing pumps if they fail, etc.?

Wood: Tom, yes, we have health officers monitoring the wells and we will help replace a pump if they don't save their money the first time, and reeducate them so that they do save their money over the long haul.

Comment from Carrie: Ken, do you know when efforts to drill in Tanzania would begin?

Wood: We have $300,000 worth of equipment waiting to go to Tanzania. We have a driller lined up and all we need is $150,000 more to send the rigs.

Comment from Steve: Donation sent to Ken's organization.

Wood: Steve -- thank you very much! It is well-needed and 100% of the money goes to the work we do. We hope you inspire others to donate too!

Comment from Gretchen: Maggie - also school gardens are huge now - at least on the West coast. You could partner with a school that needs your expertise.

Comment from Rich: Ken, have you been able to determine the medical and community issues in some of the towns that you drilled wells for first have gotten better?

Wood: Recently revisiting a village of 2,000, the chief you saw in the segment made the statement that all waterborne diseases have ceased. That's a huge statement.

Comment from Joe: A lot of us still need to make an income. Any ideas for finding 'good work' that pays a wage?

Simms: Joe, lost in all the bad news about the economy is the fact that nonprofits as a category actually have grown by about 2.5% in the last year. There clearly are pockets of organizations growing more strongly - like charter schools - where you may want to concentrate your job search to find a position that would allow you to use your skills well.

Comment from Jared: Ken, how best could one with technical experience related to drilling and installing groundwater wells help? This work that you are doing is great, I'd love to get involved!

Wood: Jared, we appreciate your offer, but at this point in the operation, the best help you could provide is a donation.

Comment from Julie: Very nice piece today, thank you! I also wanted the site for contributions. Jane, you mentioned teachers, and my ears really perked up. I am 50 and would like to move into the business world away from the direct service of teaching and consulting. Any ideas on how to pursue that?

Pauley: Julie, you may find undiscovered strengths in the business world but I wouldn’t rule out being available to an opportunity in business where your experience and skills in the classroom might apply. I doubt had Ken Wood been looking for a reinvention opportunity that he would have begun his search in well-drilling. But as you saw, it was his lifetime expertise that is the gift. So don’t be so quick to run from teaching. Just think teaching in some unexpected kind of ‘classroom.’ Good luck.

Comment from Irene: I'm retired and 63. I was a computer programmer for over 17 years and went back to school and have a certificate in computer graphic design. Any ideas on how I could help a non-profit with my skills?

Simms: Irene, it's great to see a person with computer graphic design skills! Many nonprofits can't afford to hire someone full time on their staffs to help them with their web site or web communication strategy. Do you have a particular issue area that is meaningful to you? Why not look at some nonprofit web sites that are in that area and find a worthy organization that could use a real upgrade of their web presence? You will have to network your way in, and have a humble attitude of how you might be able to help them.

Comment from Rich: Can I get a copy of the program today to show to local groups to help support Kenny?

Pauley: Rich, all of our ‘Your Life Calling’ segments, including Ken Wood, live permanently on the AARP website. Go to

Comment from Chris: Ken, do you have a fundraiser or a grant writer?

Wood: At this point, it's strictly through the web site. Some organizations, churches, and friends give us money, but we're running the operation ourselves.

Comment from Maggie: If there is no one addressing the issue you are interested in how to you get it started? How would you develop a non-profit organization?

Simms: Starting a nonprofit from scratch is hard work, and heavy lifting! I'd want you to go into starting something with your eyes wide open. At last count, there were over 1.5 million nonprofits. That doesn't mean all issues are covered in all geographies, but it does mean there are a lot of organizations out there in need of the time, talent and treasure of people to join them in their causes. Remember, that the legal part of setting up a nonprofit isn't too hard. The hard part generally is raising the resources to go along with serving the people you seek to serve.

Comment from Dawn: Ken , I'm late to this chat, but can you remind me of where I can get more info and make a donation?

Wood: Dawn, you can visit to make a donation. All contributions are well-needed and appreciated!

Comment from Tonya: Also, I want to tell you I loved the piece on Ken! I have admired you as a journalist since I grew up watching you, Jane. You're a big part of the reason I went into journalism as well.

Pauley: Many thanks, Tonya. It’s a stretch to compare myself to Ken but as Ken found his reinvention drilling wells after a lifetime in the well-drilling business, I feel privileged to be able to use my experience as a journalist in a purposeful way to help other people explore their own reinvention potential. It’s a real blessing. Thank you for joining the chat today.

Comment from Richard: Is there any type of a "clearing house" that might match volunteer skills with the needs of the various agencies or other non-profits?

Simms: A great volunteer matching resources that covers volunteer needs in every zip code in the nation is Good luck finding a position that is exciting to you!

Comment from Mary Lee: I would like to contribute financially to Ken Wood's efforts. My dad died in an oil field accident. He would love Mr. Wood's efforts in drilling water wells. I would like to contribute in my dad's name.

Wood: Mary Lee, thank you. We do put a plaque on some of the wells. We can have a plaque made up with his name.

Pauley: Thank you, Mary Lee. What a lovely thought. Here’s Ken’s link:

Comment from R.G.T.: I am 59 and still working but thinking of next steps. My career has been in the area of children and families and mental health. After more than 30 years in the area, I think we spend little time on the actual health of families, supporting parents, teaching parents, giving them the skills they need to take care of their own family. Any ideas of opportunities or need in any country including the US?

Simms: To find organizations focused on serving the needs of children and families, in the U.S. or elsewhere, I'd think of starting with a Google search around the key issue you'd like to address. That search likely will find a cluster of nonprofits working in the field. You can then follow up by looking at their web sites. You also can go to to get more information about the particulars of any nonprofit in this country that files nonprofit tax returns. You also might want to check out the Alliance for Children and Families.

Comment from Dawn: Ken, from your experiences in Africa, what other life-essential issue do you see as needed? Water is life-giving...what is next?

Wood: Sanitation is an important issue. The medical team from Alder Gate and BSF treat many patients. The village of 40,000 has just one doctor.

Comment from Allison: So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do you take a skill you have and find a place that needs it, or do you look for places with needs and realize, hey, I can do that!?

Pauley: Allison, David and I simultaneously said “yes!”

Comment from Dawn: Ken, your organization is a perfect opportunity for schools and children to get involved with helping others less fortunate. Have you had any such efforts be successful and if so, do you have a format for which we could help by getting it into the schools?

Wood: Yes, we have had a successful effort from a school. We also have a church that has a "Walk for the Well of It" that has been very successful. For schools that want to get involved: any money you can raise is wonderful.

Comment from Dave: Ken, how far are people in Ghana traveling to find water before you drill the wells?

Wood: The farthest I've seen is 3 to 5 miles by foot, and that's just to get what they can carry in a bucket on their head. Most people have to walk at least a mile one way.

Comment from Tom: Ken, do you have any estimate as to the size of the problem in Ghana in terms of number of people or villages without clean water?

Wood: Tom, it's unlimited. You never run out of work in getting freshwater to the people.

Comment from Kate: How cooperative is the government in Ghana with your project?

Wood: Kate, the government is cooperative, but customs is difficult. The district mayors and health officers are very cooperative. We are supposed to have a meeting with the president in January.

Comment from Linda: Can you recommend a "clearing house" that helps match volunteer skills and donations for educational needs (building schools, classroom resources, teacher training, etc.) of youth in west Africa. I'm especially interested in helping in countries where illiteracy and poverty are quite high.

Simms: Here in the U.S., helps to match donors with schools in the U.S. I'm not sure if they have yet been able to tackle support for schools and students overseas.

Comment from Scott: Ken, how are the horses running this month? Is your horse Joey still contributing? Thank you for your inspiring commitment.

Wood: Joey did have a win this month, but the majority are not racing well right now. I hope they'll get back on their feet soon!

Simms: To all: Thank you for your wonderful questions! What a great amount of energy and talent are out there! For any of you looking to learn more about careers in the nonprofit sector, or transitioning from the private sector to the nonprofit sector, please feel free to visit the Bridgestar web site at or the Bridgespan site at In addition to some learning centers, we also have a nonprofit job board that hosts full time, part time and board positions. Best of luck to each and every one of you as you seek to use your skills in meaningful ways to serve society.

Wood: I'd like to thank everybody for their support, mentally and monetarily. Prayers are welcome. We have many people in Ghana praying for us, so the more the merrier!

We are continuing to accept donations at

Pauley: Well, it's time to wrap up this month's chat, however I’d like to join all of Ken’s friend’s here and in Ghana in praying that he lives 150 years…or more! And David, thanks for your expertise and great contributions to our chat today.

I hope everyone here enjoyed the conversation as much as I did! See me again on November 9 on the TODAY Show where I’ll be bringing you another great story about someone who is hearing their life calling in a new and different way.

Stay tuned to for more resources and inspiring stories on reinvention.

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.

Next Article

Read This