Silvia Cruz-Vargas doesn’t take access to water for granted. During her childhood on a farm in rural Colombia, water was often scarce. She remembers her grandfather collecting rainwater to grow crops, feed livestock, and to use for bathing and cooking.
“We didn’t know if the utility company was going to open the tap and give us water the next day,” Silvia says. That uncertainty meant her family was often left to secure their own water supply. “I kept asking: Is this just happening on this side of the world, or in other places?” That question inspired her career.
As the Director of International Programs for The PepsiCo Foundation, PepsiCo’s philanthropic arm, Silvia identifies and creates water distribution, purification and conservation programs for The Foundation to invest in, with the goal of providing 100 million people safe water access by 2030. The Foundation is already well on its way to reaching that goal, with projects that have reached more than 59 million people around the world to date.
“Water is a human right,” says Silvia, who is nearing 12 years with PepsiCo. “I know that what we’re doing is the right thing and fulfills people’s lives.”
Water is a human right. I know that what we’re doing is the right thing.
The Foundation’s latest safe water project, announced earlier this month, is a $1 million program in Sub-Saharan Africa with leading NGO and longtime partner WaterAid. PepsiCo will help lay pipelines to improve water supply, construct sanitation and hygiene stations, and introduce waste segregation systems, among other ambitious plans. “These communities are at an inflection point coming out of a very difficult year with the pandemic,” says Silvia.
Silvia acts as the conductor who sets these plans in motion. It’s a role that’s part diplomat, part project manager and part engineer. Her team at The Foundation identifies at-risk areas, partners with organizations that can implement programs to help, and works with local governments to ensure those initiatives can be supported long-term.
“We tailor our approach to the realities on the ground,” Silvia says. In Minya, Egypt, Silvia’s team discovered that farmers had water available in their homes, but not in their fields, so they developed better practices for irrigation in agriculture. In Sub-Saharan Africa, they’ve found that some women have to walk six or seven hours just to collect the water needed for cooking and basic hygiene, and often come home empty-handed. Building rainwater harvesting traps like Silvia’s grandfather once did is one option to combat that.
One of the taps The PepsiCo Foundation and WaterAid installed in Anandapuram, India
Silvia’s approach to creating change is to work with each community every step of the way. “You cannot come to these communities with the point of view that you are the solution,” she says. “You’re coming to these communities to ask them, ‘What’s your biggest issue?’ and ‘Can you share what your thoughts are with regards to the solution you want to see?’” PepsiCo and its partners empower people in the community to take ownership of the program so that it continues to benefit them.
“This is about creating solutions that are going to be sustainable for generations to come,” she explains. For Silvia, seeing that impact continue years later is one of the most special parts of her job.
This is about creating solutions that are going to be sustainable for generations to come.
“This work fulfills my ethos — who I am as a person,” Silvia says. “When you think about the very, very basic needs that communities have, water is one of them.” And she sees her work as a way to act with integrity in ensuring that those needs are met. “I’m just doing the right thing,” she says. “That’s what acting with integrity means to me: It means making sure you’re not only a rounded professional, but a rounded human being.”