As the First Harry Ott Fellow, Steven Olikara is Leading Water Stewardship Solutions

By Steven Olikar (2008) | I am honored to be the first Harry Ott Fellow, a two-year experience with Coca-Cola’s Environmental & Water Resources (EWR) team. Harry Ott was an extraordinary leader who greatly shaped TCCC’s environmental initiatives, so it is a great privilege to build on his far-reaching legacy on such an important issue.

It is hard to comprehend today’s water crisis. Indeed, water is among the most valuable, but also most threatened “ecosystem” services to humans. Almost a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, and lack of water sanitation is devastating the developing world with water-borne illnesses. Water sustainability also poses major risks to many businesses, including Coca-Cola. Through my fellowship experience, it has become clear that governments, nonprofits, and businesses must collaborate to address global water issues and secure our economic and health future. 

I began my fellowship visiting TCCC headquarters in Atlanta, where I met the Environmental and Water Resources staff and learned about their work on sustainability. After just six months into the fellowship, I have already seen first-hand the circumstances that allow for successful alignment between NGO and corporate interests for environmental progress. For example, in January I participated in TCCC’s quarterly partnership meeting with the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. This innovative partnership is advancing initiatives from river basin conservation to energy efficiency and climate protection.

As part of the fellowship, I have also had the opportunity to begin exploring new NGO partnerships to support water solutions. 

TCCC also partners with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to expand access to safe drinking water in poverty-stricken communities. This summer I will have the opportunity to engage with this public-private partnership, working on water access projects in Africa. As an intern with TCCC-USAID’s implementing partner, the Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF), I will work at the center of these public and private interests and likely make a field visit to Africa late in the summer.

In addition to invaluable experiential opportunities, EWR mentors have provided insights from their work to guide my ongoing initiatives on campus at UW-Madison, including my work to develop a new environmental health service-learning program in China.

As I help to define the Harry Ott Fellowship in its first year, perhaps it is fitting that Harry Ott defined much of his career in Kerala, India—the very place where my family has its roots.