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Paani, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was founded in 2017 to create a public health-based impact in response to the growing water crisis in Pakistan. The organization is led by young professionals and University of Michigan students, and is entirely volunteer-based. 

This year, in celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, an Islamic holiday, Paani raised $905,155 to fund projects for Pakistani populations in need. Last Ramadan, Paani raised over $250,000 to provide 2.7 million meals to families in need and over 1800 wells to provide clean water to communities.

The organization set up a LaunchGood campaign for donations and also enabled others to set up their own fundraising efforts to maximize their outreach, said Sonny Khan, Business alum and Paani founder and director.

“In addition to the work we’ve done with Michigan students, people from all across the world are involved in this mission,” Khan said.

On the first day of Ramadan, Paani recruited several celebrities including Phill Lewis, Lindsay Lohan, Drake Bell and Tony Hawk to participate in a video wishing everyone a happy Ramadan. The video received over 771,000 views on Twitter and circulated on other social media platforms.

LSA junior Shayaan Aqil, creative director of Paani, said the organization wanted to find a way to get other people who haven’t heard about Paani involved. 

“When you go into the comments, it was a lot of people very excited about celebrities from their childhood wishing them a blessed Ramadan,” Aqil said.

LSA senior Shewar Ibadat, a Paani member, said all of Paani’s fundraising efforts this year were digital because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this helped make their organization more accessible and made their presence felt, Ibadat said it was not the sole cause of their success.

“We were able to grow because of transparency,” Ibadat said.

Khan said Paani began as four Pakistani-American students at the University with a goal to raise $1,000 and build a well in Pakistan. However, after they raised the money and made the donation, Khan said there was a lack of transparency in how the funds were being used.

“We handed off the money to another organization, but we didn’t see who we were helping, and I felt like there wasn’t a relationship between our dollar and our donation,” Khan said. “I wasn’t comfortable with that.”

Today, Paani has fostered relationships with construction partners and points of contact within communities in Pakistan. They maintain zero overhead costs and all of the donations are directed to rural communities supported by the organization, Ibadat said. According to Khan, these partnerships were made carefully and intentionally.

“I wanted to make sure there was a line of communication and verification, so I looked for (non-governmental organizations) on the ground in Pakistan that worked with the (United Nations) and (United States Agency for International Development) that work with large-scale problems,”Khan said. “Instead of large-scale infrequent projects, we partnered to do small-scale projects frequently. With that conversation we were able to take it to a full form contract. This is a level of transparency that people enjoy.”

Khan clarified that the people building the wells are day-to-day laborers who spend time searching for opportunities. Khan stated he felt it is important to make sure that these laborers are compensated fairly when Paani directs donations to fund these projects.

When a donation is made for a well, the donor will receive an entire Google Drive album of 60 photos and a video from the process, including photos of the members of the community benefiting from the final result. 

“From start to finish, people see who they’re helping, and that has resonated so well because people want to see what’s happening,” Khan said.

Some members of Paani discussed the wider impact of their organization on communities in need and other methods used to ensure people can see the impact of their donation. During this Ramadan fundraiser, the organization donated food packs to Pakistani families in need.

“Say you donated a food pack for a family of five,” Ibadat said. We’re putting a sticker with your name on it to show that that’s where your money is going.”

This Ramadan, Paani also donated clothes to over 350 orphans in Pakistan to celebrate Eid, another Islamic holiday, Aqil said.

Paani’s team in Pakistan, according to their fundraising website, ensures strict compliance to regulations set by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in the United Nations on the safest methods of food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Khan, all of Paani’s operations are data-driven to determine which type of well a community would benefit from most; 65% of the wells built are hand pumps, 30% are deep wells and 5% are wells that use solar power or reverse osmosis. 

“We go to an area and conduct a needs assessment to identify and build the correct kind of well,” Khan said. “This (has) a direct impact for over 100,000 families in Pakistan.”

Sustainability is also an important value that Paani highlights in their humanitarian efforts. The founders emphasized the effect they hope their program could leave on the Pakistani community as a whole.

“It’s very important that what we do is sustainable and long-lasting,” Ibadat said. “I can go into a village and give them water bottles, but how long will that last? We want the wells to last years, and they will with proper maintenance.”

Khan credits some of Paani’s success to the supportive environment at the University and the rest to the values of the nonprofit organization.

“We wanted to do something meaningful with our time at Michigan,” Khan said. “There is no other time in your life where you have access to this level of resources, time and people who want to help.”

The Ramadan fundraiser this year brought in more donations than all of Paani’s fundraising over the last four years, Khan said. Looking forward, he said Paani hopes to continue growing and expand to support other humanitarian struggles by building relationships with organizations in India and other areas with apparent need for resources.

“Four guys selling donuts were able to start this nonprofit,” Khan said. “This Ramadan, we raised over $30,000 in one night, and it feels surreal to see that growth. We want to continue transparent support, and our job isn’t done just with Pakistan.”

Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at