George McGraw

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George McGraw
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CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma materLoyola University Chicago
OccupationFounder & CEO of DigDeep
Known forWater access work

George McGraw is the founder & CEO of DigDeep, a human rights non-profit focused on bringing clean, running water and sanitation to American families[1]. In 2019, he co-authored the ‘Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States’ report with the US Water Alliance, a study that revealed 2.2 million Americans currently live without a tap or toilet at home, with race being the #1 predictor of water insecurity[2].

George has written for The New York Times[3], the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR)[4] and The Nation[5] and appeared for interviews across American broadcast networks such as CBS[6], NBC[7], PBS[8] and others. George is an Ashoka Fellow, a Civil Society Fellow at The Aspen Institute, and a former Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Stanford University.

Early Life

George grew up in a military family, leading to frequent moves throughout his childhood, living in Illinois, Georgia, Mississippi, California, Indiana and finally, rural Wisconsin[9].

While attending Loyola University Chicago, his undergraduate research focused on how a new, human right to water might be constructed and leveraged globally. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy in 2009.

After Loyola, George continued his academic studies, obtaining an M.A. in International Law and Conflict Management from the United Nations University for Peace. In 2010, when the UN General Assembly ultimately recognized water and sanitation as a human right, George’s graduate thesis on the “minimum core” of the right to water quickly became required reading in human rights programs all over the world[10].

George later returned to Loyola to deliver the commencement address in 2014[11].


George first launched DigDeep in 2011 as a nonprofit organization helping communities in rural South Sudan and Cameroon build community water systems.[9] In 2013, a phone call prompted him to change his focus to the US. He got a call from a youth group leader building houses on the Navajo Nation who was shocked to find the homes that they were building had no water access. She called DigDeep and offered to make a donation, but only if George would use it to improve the water situation on the reservation. Soon after, the Navajo Water Project was born.

Under George’s leadership, DigDeep won the 2018 US Water Prize for the Navajo Water Project[12], which has brought water to hundreds of Indigenous families across the Southwest. The Navajo Water Project team was again recognized in 2021, in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards[13], for its invention of the ‘suitcase home water system’ that allowed for contactless installation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, George led an effort to research and compile the first centralized source of data on how many American households are without running water or a toilet at home. This two-year research project by DigDeep and the US Water Alliance resulted in the 2019 ‘Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan’, which revealed over 2.2 million Americans live without basic plumbing and race being the #1 predictor of water access in the United States.[14] DigDeep continues to develop education, research and infrastructure projects aimed at closing this water gap.

In 2020, DigDeep expanded its community-led regional water access work from the Navajo Nation to Appalachia via the Appalachia Water Project.[15] In addition to this on-the-ground work, George remains committed to building out the WaSH sector in the United States, working with other organizations, and continuing to fund research and development projects. George designed and launched the Decentralized Wastewater Innovation Cohort [DWIC][16], bringing together rural communities piloting innovative solutions to tough wastewater challenges—from Alaska to New York—through facilitated working groups, site exchanges, and even trips to Washington DC to meet with regulators and present their findings.

Awards + honors

  • Arcus LGBTQIA+ CEO Roundtable (Los Angeles Chapter)
  • 2015 17 "Local Globalists" by the UN Foundation
  • 2018 US Water Prize[12]
  • 2019 Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Stanford University[17]
  • 2019 Ashoka Fellow[9]
  • 2021 Civil Society Fellow – Aspen Institute + ADL[18]

Selected works

  • New York Times: How Do You Fight Coronavirus without Running Water? - May 2020[3]
  • Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR): The United States Needs its own WASH Sector – Summer 2020 Print Edition[4]
  • Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan – November 2019[14]
  • The Hill: Americans Left Behind in the Global Fight for Clean Water – March 2019[19]
  • LA Times: For Millions of Americans, Lack of Access to Water Isn't Just a Drought Problem - March 2018[20]
  • The Nation: Dying of Thirst in America - October 2016[5]
  • The New York Times: For These Americans, Clean Water is a Luxury - October 2016[21]
  • Loyola Chicago International Law Review: Defining and Defending the Human Right to Water and Its Minimum Core: Legal Construction and the Role of National Jurisprudence - September 2011[10]


  1. "DIGDEEP". DIGDEEP. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  2. Nast, Condé (2019-11-25). "The Hidden Racial Inequities of Access to Water in America". GQ. Retrieved 2022-06-16.
  3. 3.0 3.1 McGraw, George (2020-05-02). "Opinion | How Do You Fight the Coronavirus Without Running Water?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-16.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The United States Needs Its Own WASH Sector (SSIR)". Retrieved 2022-06-16.
  5. 5.0 5.1 McGraw, George (2016-10-06). "Dying of Thirst in America". ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2022-06-16.
  6. Americans without water, retrieved 2022-06-17
  7. West Virginia Community Struggles Without Reliable Water Access, retrieved 2022-06-17
  8. How off-the-grid Navajo residents are getting running water, retrieved 2022-06-17
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "George McGraw | Ashoka | Everyone a Changemaker". Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  10. 10.0 10.1 George S. McGraw Defining and Defending the Right to Water and Its Minimum Core: Legal Construction and the Role of National Jurisprudence, 8 Loy. U. Chi. Int'l L. Rev. 127 (2011). Available at:
  11. George McGraw (BA '09) - College of Arts and Sciences & IES Commencement Speaker, retrieved 2022-06-17
  12. 12.0 12.1 "US Water Alliance Announces US Water Prize 2018 Winners | US Water Alliance". Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  13. News, E. I. N.; Goggin, Caroline (2021-09-22). "DigDeep's 'Suitcase Home Water System' Named a Finalist in Fast Company's 2021 Innovation by Design Awards". EIN News. Retrieved 2022-06-17. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Close the Water Gap". DIGDEEP. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  15. "Appalachia Water Project". Appalachia Water Project. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  16. "DWIC". DIGDEEP. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  17. "Social Entrepreneurs in Residence at Stanford (SEERS) | Haas Center for Public Service". Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  18. "ADL and Aspen Institute Announce Two Civil Society Fellowship Classes in Response to the Heightened Need for Civil Discourse in a Divided America". The Aspen Institute. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  19. George McGraw, opinion contributor (2019-03-22). "Americans left behind in the global fight for clean water". The Hill. Retrieved 2022-06-17. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  20. Facebook; Twitter; options, Show more sharing; Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; Email; URLCopied!, Copy Link; Print (2018-03-22). "Op-Ed: For millions of Americans, lack of access to water isn't just a drought problem". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-06-17. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  21. McGraw, George (2016-10-20). "Opinion | For These Americans, Clean Water Is a Luxury". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-17.

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