Meet USAID’s 2024 Water Warriors

USAID’s 2024 Water Warrior Award winners, Sandy Ngilambi from USAID/Democratic Republic of Congo (left) and Maggie Northman from USAID/Mozambique. Photo credits: Sandy Ngilambi and Maggie Northman

On this World Water Day, and every day, USAID champions its staff who work with local partners and communities around the world to increase sustainable access to water and sanitation, and strengthen water resources management. Each year, USAID recognizes the water security and sanitation leaders who are putting their extensive know-how and skills to work day in and day out to build a more water-secure world.  

Today, we are excited to announce the recipients of our 2024 Water Warrior Awards: 

USAID/Democratic Republic of Congo


As highly experienced engineers and managers, Sandy and Maggie oversee water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming in two of USAID’s Global Water Strategy High Priority Countries. With their visionary leadership, passion for their work, and commitment to empowering both their colleagues and the communities in which they work, Sandy and Maggie represent the very best of USAID's values, capabilities, and expertise as they help deliver innovative and sustainable water security, sanitation and hygiene improvements to those most in need.

Meet Sandy Ngilambi

A WASH expert and thought leader with extensive program management experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), West Africa and in Afghanistan, Sandy began her career as a civil engineer working on road and bridge construction. She later pivoted her focus to water after a borehole-drilling project gave her a glimpse into the lives of beneficiaries, allowing her to more fully appreciate and enjoy the impact of her work. At that point, she knew she had found her calling: “The day we found water,” Sandy remembers, “Just to see the joy of the community…I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’” Today, she is the Water Team Lead for USAID/DRC and manages a diverse portfolio of Mission programming, ranging from water security and waste management to utility reforms, infrastructure enhancements, and climate change mitigation.

Despite the fact that the DRC is home to one of the greatest volumes of fresh water on the African continent, less than 30 percent of the Congolese people have access to basic water facilities, and fewer than 20 percent have access to safely managed water services. To help expand water access in the country, Sandy combines her degrees in engineering and finance to ensure that recent growth in the Mission’s WASH funding is channeled into strategic investments for evidence-based WASH activities that deliver impact at scale.

Sandy presents a roadmap for the professionalization of water services operators in the Kasai Oriental and Lomami provinces.
Photo credit: USAID/DRC

“We have to be creative because the funding gaps are still huge…It's really about trying to leverage all the donors and the skills and capabilities of the private sector, and working with humanitarian agencies and development agencies, to be able to implement programs that are at the nexus of humanitarian development.”

- Sandy Ngilambi

Sandy is renowned amongst implementing partners, donor agencies, and Mission colleagues for her collaborative approach. A natural convener, she has facilitated productive working relationships between USAID, various U.S. Government agencies, the Government of the DRC, donors, and other key WASH stakeholders. Through these relationships, Sandy works to respond to natural disasters, improve the operability of WASH infrastructure, and increase funding for extending WASH services to reach communities in need.

Sandy shakes hands with the Head of the Water User Association in Katana, South Kivu, located in eastern DRC.
Photo credit: USAID/DRC

“We can partner with you to increase WASH access in a community in a more sustainable way,” she says, describing how she enlists collaborators to maximize the long-term impact of USAID funding. “Rather than set up community management water systems for the community,” she shares by way of example, “we work with business water service operators already present in those communities who just need a little bit of help and who are already doing it at a certain scale.”

- Sandy Ngilambi

Given her involvement with initiatives such as USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation Systems (SWASSA) activity and the Strengthening the Efficiency of Drinking Water Services (RESE II) project, Sandy is excited about continuing to do her part to advance USAID’s ambitious WASH goals for the DRC in the years ahead, which include providing 2.6 million people with access to basic or improved water services, and mobilizing $50 million in new funding. 

“Change takes time, and adaptability and patience are necessary to pursue urban utility and private sector-led interventions in a highly politicized and fragile context such as North Kivu,” Sandy acknowledges, but “we now have so many WASH programs and we are achieving so many results…I know I'm part of something big.”

Meet Maggie Northman

A highly accomplished engineer and manager, Maggie is the WASH and Energy Team Leader and Deputy Director of the Resilient Economic Growth Office with USAID/Mozambique. Maggie previously served in the Peace Corps in Namibia before joining the Agency as a Foreign Service Officer in 2012, and she subsequently served with USAID Missions in Senegal, Jordan, and Pakistan. These postings opened her eyes to the transformative potential of USAID programming, while deepening her experience in water and sanitation, positioning her as an ideal fit to manage a comprehensive WASH portfolio in Mozambique.

Maggie, second from right, stands at a hand pump with the water committee in a buffer zone of Gorongosa National Park.
Photo credit: USAID/Mozambique

Mozambique’s WASH challenges are immense, with nearly half of the population living in poverty and only 63 percent enjoying access to basic water service. 

“The government does not have the budget available to expand water systems to reach its water and sanitation access goals. So I think the biggest challenge here in Mozambique is just a lack of resources. How do you reach those WASH goals with what you have?”

- Maggie Northman

To more effectively source WASH funding, Maggie and her team are exploring new financing models to mobilize $21 million from the private sector, an ambitious target set under the USAID Global Water Strategy Mozambique High Priority Country Plan. This plan also looks to strengthen local- and national-level WASH capacity. Maggie is particularly excited about the development of an innovative water fund, whereby USAID provides initial funding to attract further rounds of investment from donors and private sector firms. With time, she says, this fund will allow the country to bring WASH improvements to scale more quickly “so that our money goes so much farther to reach our WASH goals,” she says. “I’m very excited about the prospects for this.”

While skillfully managing a nearly tenfold increase in the Mission’s WASH budget in recent years, Maggie has also led her WASH team in the design and implementation of diverse activities that aligned with both the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy and the Government of Mozambique’s development objectives. USAID’s WASH activities in Mozambique, such as USAID Transform WASH, Small Town Sanitation, and WASH Infrastructure, prioritize sustainable WASH improvements in provinces with the highest levels of unmet WASH needs and tackle everything from WASH infrastructure to small town sanitation and enhanced water governance.

Maggie with the Mozambique WASH team - Micaela Barros (far left), Armando Abacar (center), and Clara Dimene (far right)
Photo credit: USAID/Mozambique

As her team moves from project design to implementation, Maggie says there is excitement in the air.

“Next year, we are hoping to break ground on WASH infrastructure construction in 10 towns, where we will be able to move the water access rate from about 30 percent to about 70 percent — that's a game changer.”

- Maggie Northman

Beyond spearheading the Mission’s WASH activities, Maggie has set herself apart by demonstrating exceptional leadership when it comes to empowering her staff, composed of three Foreign Service Nationals. Maggie has embodied USAID’s commitment to empowering its Foreign Service Nationals, recognizing that their leadership is critical to advancing the Agency’s development goals. Throughout her tenure at USAID Mozambique, she has invested in mentorship, facilitated professional development, and provided them with as many leadership opportunities as possible.

Building Bridges to a More Water-Secure Tomorrow

In the DRC and Mozambique — as in many other countries around the world — the path to water security and universal WASH access may be long, and progress uneven. But thanks to WASH champions and change agents like Sandy and Maggie, and so many of their dedicated WASH colleagues, there is no doubt USAID and partners are getting closer to that goal with each passing year. 

This World Water Day, please join USAID in celebrating Sandy, Maggie, and countless other USAID WASH champions as they work to harness the transformative power of improved WASH to ensure a healthier, more equitable future for all.

Since 2008, USAID has helped more than 70 million people achieve access to sustainable drinking water services while extending sustainable sanitation access to 54.8 million people.

Related Resources

About The Author

Stéphanie Maurissen is a Water and Sanitation Advisor for USAID’s Center for Water Security, Sanitation and Hygiene in the Bureau for Food Security. In this role, she provides WASH technical assistance to the DRC, Mali, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Bangladesh and Guatemala. Ms. Maurissen holds an MPH in Global Environmental Health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.


About The Author

Ella Lazarte is the Water Finance and Private Sector Engagement Lead in USAID’s Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security. She supports the design, implementation and monitoring of water and sanitation programs in USAID missions around the world. Ella has a bachelor’s degree in Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley, a master's degree in Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was a Fulbright Fellow in Brazil.

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USAID Center for Water
Stephanie Maurissen, Ella Lazarte