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Editor’s note: This post was authored by Seema Shah, director of research for special projects at the Foundation Center. She leads the multi-disciplinary, multi-talented team responsible for developing and maintaining WASHfunders.org.

WASHfunders.org turns one today! And what a year it has been. Over the past year, we’ve seen our reach grow steadily, attracting more than a thousand site visitors a month from foundations, NGOs, and think tanks across all corners of the globe. Our funding map of data on foundation grantmaking for WASH is constantly expanding, with more than 400 new grants added to the site since its inception. We have posted over 50 blog entries, with contributions from a range of emerging and established funders, thought leaders, and rockstar NGOs, lifting up lessons learned from WASH projects on the ground.

We’re confident this is only the start. With support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, we are forging ahead with ambitious and exciting plans to make WASHfunders.org a critical resource for data and information in the sector.  It’s not about data for the sake of data, though. Our hope is that easy access to good quality data and information can guide strategic decision-making, foster new collaborations, and help make the most of limited grant dollars.

In that spirit, we have recently added several new features to the site:

  • Funder Toolkit – For funders new to this line of work, it can be hard to know where to start. Designed especially for new and prospective funders in the sector and developed in partnership with WASH Advocates, the toolkit directs funders to essential data, reading material, videos, and web sites to help them learn, collaborate, and act. 
  • Funders’ Forum – The forum is a password-protected space for funders to communicate exclusively with one another and share strategies, ideas, and lessons learned with fellow funders. 
  • Site Registration – Many users have told us they would like to react to blog content. Our quick and easy site registration process allows users to comment on blog posts to keep the conversation going and stay up-to-date on new site developments.

As excited as we are about how far we have come in a year, we are even more excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. A major focus for us will be integrating additional data streams into the funding map to help paint a more complete picture of funding flows and projects on the ground. Among the data streams we hope to incorporate are government funding data, grantmaking from foundations outside of the U.S., and more detailed project-level information, including progress reports.  

On behalf of the Foundation Center team working on this project, we thank all of you for your support, feedback, and engagement over the past year. As always, keep your comments coming so we can continue to improve the site.

In the meantime, to commemorate our first birthday, we’ve put together an infographic about where we’ve been and where we are headed. Click the image below to view the full infographic. Enjoy!

Click to view the full infographic.

Editor’s Note: Seattle-based nonprofit, A Child’s Right, announces today the decision to change its name to Splash and the launch of its new web site. Since its inception in 2006, Splash has been dedicated to changing the lives of vulnerable children in impoverished urban areas throughout the world by providing clean, safe drinking water to orphanages, schools, children’s hospitals, street shelters, and rescue homes. Its founder and executive director, Eric Stowe, explains why he felt a change was in order, “Where 'A Child's Right' held us back, Splash moves us forward. It allows us to talk about our mission in a way that is positive rather than defensive, collaborative rather than combative." The change in name does not alter the nonprofit’s mission, core work model, or plans for the future. Take a look at the video below, which is reposted here with permission, for an introduction to Splash and its work.

Introducing: Splash from splash on Vimeo.

Kids need clean water to be healthy, to grow and thrive, to attend school regularly, and to fulfill their potential.

Since 2006, Splash has developed a highly effective model to ensure safe water for urban children living at the intersection of these two streets: 'greatest degrees of poverty' and 'worst water quality conditions.' Leveraging world-class water purification technology, sustainable monitoring and maintenance, excellent people, and a rigorous commitment to transparency, Splash will soon announce that every orphanage in China has safe drinking water — and this is just the beginning.

Visit www.splash.org to learn more.

One of Blue Planet Network’s founding members, Project Well, is an organization that brings safe drinking water to rural communities in an arsenic-affected district of West Bengal, India. Credit: Rudi Dundas

One of Blue Planet Network’s founding members, Project Well, is an organization that brings safe drinking water to rural communities in an arsenic-affected district of West Bengal, India. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Editor’s Note: This post highlights Blue Planet Network’s technology, tools, and services, along with learning from successful pilot projects among Blue Planet Network’s global WASH members. It was authored by Silke Knebel, development director of Blue Planet Network

SMS texting is today’s most widely used mobile data service, especially in some of the most rural and marginalized communities around the world. SMS traffic reached 7.8 trillion messages in 2011 globally. As text messaging has grown ubiquitous, so too has its potential as a simple, inexpensive way for NGOs to reach rural communities and address the global water crisis.

Professionals in the WASH sector understand that there are more mobile phones in the global South than toilets. The need for utilizing mobile technologies in designing sustainable water and sanitation systems is clear. 

Blue Planet Network created its SMS-based reporting tool to scale the global efforts of its members. Operating across 27 countries, we connect NGOs, funders, academics, and community members to plan, implement, monitor, and collaborate on safe drinking water projects. We do this through our online technology platform, SMS reporting services, and peer review process. Our technology solutions empower NGOs to increase the impact, efficiency, and sustainability of their water projects.  

Project Well utilizes Blue Planet Network’s SMS reporting tool to provide status reports on water projects that use modern bore-dug wells. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Project Well utilizes Blue Planet Network’s SMS reporting tool to provide status reports on water projects that use modern bore-dug wells. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Earlier this year, Blue Planet Network began a pilot of its simple SMS-based monitoring system in India. India’s population of 1.2 billion is made up of 929 million mobile phone users — a colossal 77% of the population. Blue Planet Network’s service enables communities, and our NGO member organizations equipped with cell phones, to monitor and report on safe drinking water and sanitation installations. If a problem arises, our network members can provide immediate assistance in the form of expert advice to remedy a challenge. Since deployment, 5 of our members: Ekoventure, Gram Vikas, Palmyra, Project Well and Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) have utilized the tool to increase the impact and sustainability of more than 13 water and sanitation projects across India. 

Blue Planet Network CEO Lisa Nash explains that, “The challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector is that a great deal of attention is paid to project implementation — the new ecosan toilet, the new hand-washing station, or the new arsenic-free well. But unfortunately up to half of these projects can fail within the first five years — not because of poor implementation, but because there wasn’t enough thought about sustainability at the outset.” 

Villagers in Endiyur, from the Marakkanam Block of Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu, India, are assessing the durability of toilets during a Palmyra working group training on sanitation and hygiene. Credit: Palmyra

Villagers in Endiyur, from the Marakkanam Block of Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu, India, are assessing the durability of toilets during a Palmyra working group training on sanitation and hygiene. Credit: Palmyra

Palmyra, a WASH implementer in the Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu, India, has partnered with Blue Planet Network since 2010 and uses our platform and SMS mobile texting services to improve their water program monitoring and analysis. Palmyra’s program managers send in weekly field status project reports via SMS texting. These messages are captured and uploaded onto our platform for peers, funders, and WASH implementers to view and monitor project effectiveness and impact. 

Blue Planet Network has dedicated a staff person to work with each SMS pilot participant. We have learned that reinforcing communication has to be ongoing or it’s easy to see a decline in participation. We also had to ensure that our service could be viewed in English (so the entire network could learn) and in the local language (so that field staff and community members can add value and input). 

“The power of SMS is the power to let anyone participate,” says Lisa. “We've already seen text messaging in fundraising, but now we’re seeing how it is enabling communities to take charge of the sustainability of projects and increase transparency across the sector. And this can happen anywhere in the world. Simplicity is power.”

Our SMS-based reporting tool will soon be deployed in the San Joaquin Valley of central California, where arsenic and pesticide-laden drinking water threatens the health of migrant workers.

A woman in San Joaquin Valley, California who is exposed to nitrate and arsenic groundwater contamination. Credit: Erin Lubin

A woman in San Joaquin Valley, California who is exposed to nitrate and arsenic groundwater contamination. Credit: Erin Lubin

One million people in California lack reliable access to clean water; and 1 out of every 10 people living in California's agricultural areas is at risk of exposure to harmful levels of nitrate contamination in their drinking water, according to a report released in March 2012 by the University of California, Davis.

In partnership with our member, Community Water Center, we seek to create a community-driven water solution to mitigate the threat of high levels of nitrate and arsenic groundwater contamination. The program will provide alternative water filtration solutions, sustainable support, and financing for low-income communities in San Joaquin Valley. 

The San Joaquin communities receiving access to clean water through this program will utilize our SMS-based mobile texting service to ensure that their clean water system is delivered and used accurately, and is sustainable and economic to operate. When this program is implemented, over a thousand low-income San Joaquin families will be able to send in text messages about the status of their safe drinking water, a service never before provided in the region. We are thrilled to provide a simple, yet powerful service that could drastically change how communities engage in their water solution.

Blue Planet Network’s SMS-based texting service empowers communities to take charge of their water systems and allows entire organizations to learn and share efficiently. SMS reporting is scaling our efforts to impact greater numbers of communities with measurable need. We have much to learn to make this service even more valuable. In the next few years, we hope to launch our SMS texting service in all 27 countries so that all of our members can increase the long-term impact of their water programs. 

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