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Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Kate Holmberg of Wine To Water Is Helping Change Our World

Written By: Yitzi Weiner

Published in Authority Magazine

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I’ve been blessed to work in many unique and unusual circumstances in my career. The one that stands out most to me would be Tigray, Ethiopia. It was a conflict zone where circumstances were changing and worsening every day. One day finances would be cut off to the region, the next day airspace would be cut off, then maybe a day or two later supply lines of food would be cut. More and more resources were dwindling by the day. So the needs of the people we were serving continued to grow.

It was amazing to see how, despite these intense circumstances, my team was able to help those in need. My team of Ethiopian staff were extremely resilient and persevered through the toughest situations. They would find creative solutions to continuously meet the needs of Tigrayan refugees. Even when the circumstances were taking away all our resources, the team was able to serve with whatever they had to help. I was amazed by their tenacity and honored to be part of the relief efforts.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that.

I’ve made countless mistakes with lots of funny stories to go with them! One time on a trip, I forgot to charge my GPS device, and we were traveling in an area known for car bombs and unrest. It was a holiday as well, which can also be a trigger for such events to occur. Right as my GPS device died, we drove past a brigade of 20 police cars and there were scores of policemen everywhere. Then I looked at my phone and saw it was out of service. My driver said it was because the government turned off cell service due to the holiday and the risk of cell phone-triggered bombs. At that point I really wished I had had my GPS device charged!

Lesson learned: always charge your equipment and be prepared for anything!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are making ways for people to have access to clean water. Clean water has a massive ripple effect on the quality of our lives. It helps girls go to school, farmers grow crops, and families stay clean and healthy. What Wine To Water is doing by providing clean water makes a huge impact on people’s lives and their communities.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Wine To Water has several long-term country offices that conduct amazing WaSH programming. Through their unique projects we generate both access to safe water, but also economic opportunities through small-scale enterprises related to WaSH. We also respond to disasters with WaSH technologies and interventions. This way people who have suffered so much can have access to this basic human right. Every single story is impactful and it’s difficult to select just one.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1) Educate yourself — understand the global water crisis and its impacts throughout the world.

2) Get motivated — do something once you understand this crisis! It doesn’t have to be big. Every drop counts…literally!

3) Spread the word — help others understand the global water crisis and how they can help too. It can be something as simple as sharing a meaningful post on social media about a local water issue.

How do you define “Leadership?” Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My leadership style is based on the idea of Servant Leadership. I see leadership as being in the position of a helper and supporter. My goal is to serve those who report to me the best I can so they can accomplish amazing things and help people in need. I’ll ask myself, what can I do to best help my team succeed? How can I best support them with their plans, materials, and resources so they can accomplish goals? I put them and their needs first. When the team has all the support they need, we can be an effective tool for change.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

1) It’s ok not to know everything but be willing to work hard and figure things out. When I first graduated from engineering school, I felt immense pressure to perform well. I didn’t want to make a mistake or be unaware of something I felt I should know. I thought that I had to know so much more to be able to be a good engineer. The reality is that it’s ok not to know everything, but one must be willing to open a book, talk to a colleague, bat ideas around, and figure it out. You will never know everything, but you need to be willing to do everything you can to figure out the problem at hand.

2) You’re going to make a lot of mistakes; just don’t miss out on the opportunity they give you to learn. I used to beat myself up when I made mistakes, whether it was in a design or managing a human resource problem. Instead of being disappointed in my mistakes, I try to spin them as a positive and learn from them. Making mistakes gives you the opportunity to grow, even if it wasn’t the way you would have liked to learn that lesson.

3) You are going to go to some crazy places and be a part of some amazing things! I had no idea my career choice could take me to so many incredible places and work in such exciting, and often intense, situations. I had no idea I’d be working in war zones or during the outbreak of a pandemic. If someone would have told me about this beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I’ve been blessed with such great opportunities.

4) Listen to your gut when making career choices. I knew when I went to engineering school that I wanted to do something unique with my skills. I never went into engineering to serve as an emergency response professional though, and it took me a little while to figure that out. I tried private consulting a couple years out of school as a new job. Most people in my inner circle were recommending that I stay in consulting to maintain a secure job. But I knew that it wasn’t the right fit for me and chose something drastically different than what my family and friends would have picked for me. You know you best, and you have to listen to your gut when it comes to your career choices.

5) Don’t discredit yourself and strive to have confidence in your abilities. Just because you might not be “in charge” or the “boss,” doesn’t mean that your actions don’t have impact. Whether we’re in a high-stress situation providing emergency relief to victims, or we’re working with school children on how to properly wash their hands, every moment spent with those people is making an impact on their lives for the better. Every person on the team is vital to achieving our goal to make a difference.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

What’s amazing about water is how powerful it is. The power behind water can wipe out cities and destroy anything in its path. Water in a limited amount can bring conflict to regions and turn neighbor against neighbor. However, water can be a powerful force for good. I’ve seen that with better access to water, Nepali girls have the time to attend school. It gives others the chance to irrigate their fields, grow produce of higher value, and quadruple their income. I’ve seen clean water literally sustain life — whether it’s refugees fleeing their circumstances or COVID-19 patients needing medical care. Water can be a powerful source for good, and anyone can be a part of that impact. Even small gifts whether it’s your time, donations, ideas and/or more can radically come together and improve the lives of others. Together even everyone’s small gifts could become a powerful force for good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t let perfection hold the good hostage.” This quote was shared with me during an especially difficult program in Ukraine. I had very desperately wanted things to be a certain way, and my boss could tell it was bothering me. He said I needed to let go of that idea because it was ultimately holding me back. I needed to release it and focus on what good I could do. I wouldn’t be able to make the situation right as I wanted it, but I needed to be flexible and pivot to make something good out of it regardless. It’s a great lesson on how to be adaptable during fluid and uncontrollable situations so that you can still do something good for those in need.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’m from Wisconsin and we love our sports teams here — especially the Packers and the Bucks! I’d love to have lunch and play Settlers with David Bakhtiari and the team or shoot a game of Horse with Pat Connaughton!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We have so many ways for people to get involved in the work that Wine To Water is doing all over the world! We offer impactful volunteer opportunities all over the world, WTW Filter Build® experiences for small and large group events, and WTW merch is available on our website. You can also make a donation on our website to support disaster relief.

Follow Wine To Water on social media to keep up to date with our current projects!


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