2017 WEF Fellow Eleanor Allen Increases Access to Sanitation and the Water Profession

September 26, 2018

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As part of Water for People’s (Denver) development work in India, Allen teaches girls about the importance of proper water and sanitation and how learning about water can positively affect their community. Photo courtesy of Water for People.

As part of Water for People’s (Denver) development work in India, Allen teaches girls about the importance of proper water and sanitation and how learning about water can positively affect their community. Photo courtesy of Water for People.

Eleanor Allen has had a hand in designing and improving water resource recovery facilities in cities around the world during her more than 25 years as a wastewater engineer, project manager, and water-sector executive. But her skills as a leader and technical expert are not the only reasons Allen was recognized as a 2017 Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Fellow, a designation that celebrates groundbreaking contributions to the water profession by WEF members.

As CEO of the nonprofit organization Water for People (Denver, Colo.), Allen works to secure high-quality drinking water and sanitation services in regions such as Latin America, South America, Africa, and India. Through her humanitarian and advocacy efforts, which include stints as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and a TED Talk presenter, she has devoted her career to making water services — and the water profession — more accessible.

“For me, becoming a WEF Fellow means joining a group of highly respected professionals that I have always looked to for advice and counsel,” Allen said. “I always come back to my colleagues at WEF when I need help with my greatest technical challenges, and I am committed to repaying that gift to help support others and allow them to flourish in their careers.”

A force for global water and sanitation

Allen visits locals in Peru, one of the regions where Water for People works to improve access to clean water and sanitation. Photo courtesy of Water for People.

Allen visits locals in Peru, one of the regions where Water for People works to improve access to clean water and sanitation. Photo courtesy of Water for People.

Allen’s career has taken her around the globe. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Tufts University (Medford, Mass.) and working as a project engineer in Redmond, Wash., she joined the U.S. Peace Corps in 1994. She spent 2 years in the Dominican Republic working on water and sanitation issues before returning to the states for graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ensuing roles as an engineer and manager brought Allen to Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the Netherlands, climbing the professional ladder at engineering firms such as CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.) and Arcadis (Amsterdam). Just before becoming CEO of Water for People in 2015, Allen led Arcadis’ global water business, managing a global network of around 3000 employees.

“Wastewater treatment currently serves only 27% of the world’s population, while 36% of the world has sewers. I spent the first half of my career designing beautiful wastewater treatment plants in cities around the world for this fortunate small percentage of the world,” Allen said. Currently, she is working to provide onsite sanitation services to the 64% of the world that does not have access to sewers, she said.

Eleanor Allen receives the 2017 Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Fellow designation plaque from Rick Warner, 2016–2017 WEF President, during WEFTEC 2017. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Eleanor Allen receives the 2017 Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Fellow designation plaque from Rick Warner, 2016–2017 WEF President, during WEFTEC 2017. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

Allen has remained active in numerous professional organizations. She joined WEF in 1996 and, at different times, has been a member of the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association, Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association, and the Puerto Rico Water and Environment Association. She also is involved with the American Water Works Association (Denver), the International Water Association (London), and the American Academy of Engineers and Scientists (Annapolis, Md.). In addition, she serves on the Forbes Nonprofit Council and the National Association for Professional Women (Garden City, N.Y.).

“They have all affected my career path by allowing me to be a part of a supporting and vibrant community of professionals, and also by providing a resource center for knowledge,” Allen said.

A voice for water-sector representation

Allen received 2017 WEF Fellow designation for her contributions to WEF and work to increase water and sanitation services around the world. Photo courtesy of Allen.

Allen received 2017 WEF Fellow designation for her contributions to WEF and work to increase water and sanitation services around the world. Photo courtesy of Allen.

Allen believes one of her most important roles is to work toward diversity and representation in the sector. In the U.S., fewer women enter the water profession than men, and those who do enter are more likely to exit the sector earlier, she said. “This means that as women advance in their careers, there are often fewer and fewer women colleagues, which makes the stakes higher and journey lonelier.”

“I hope that in the future, we continue to get more women into the sector and we retain them better,” Allen said. “I would tell young women to persevere and find peer mentors for when the going gets tough.”

Allen appeared at the 2016 TEDxMileHigh conference in Denver. She spoke about how improving sanitation in the developing world uplifts women and why women are often more invested than men in water quality and security.

“Women have a vested interest in improving the quality of life in their communities, and they often understand the details of water and sanitation better than the men because it affects their lives much more directly,” Allen said.

Water for People often works in areas without a water workforce. This allows Allen and her team to encourage gender parity at the ground level. She believes that water professionals around the world could learn from example by seeing a greater proportion of women empowered to work in water, she said.

“Giving [women] leadership roles in the future of their community’s development is inspiring and rewarding,” Allen said. “Let’s keep that going and we’ll attract more talent to our sector.”

— Justin Jacques, WEF Highlights

Follow WEF Fellows’ Stories in WEF Highlights

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Fellows program recognizes the professional achievements and contributions WEF members have made to the preservation and enhancement of the global water environment in practice areas served by the organization. In 2017, WEF bestowed this honor on 11 individuals. See a video featuring interviews of the 2017 WEF Fellows.

Each of these recipients will be featured in future issues of WEF Highlights. Follow these stories with the keyword WEFFellows17.

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