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John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates. John describes a session he chaired at the World Justice Forum IV in July that explored the nexus between water challenges and rule of law — two areas often seen as representing separate development sectors. In the post, he explains how water solutions and rule of law can be mutually reinforcing and cites ongoing projects in which communities and their governments are working together to address challenges in WASH. A version of this post originally appeared here

I had the honor of chairing a session on Sustainable Water Solutions and the Rule of Law at the World Justice Forum IV in The Hague. During the vigorous two hour dialogue, it became clear that the street between water and rule of law runs both ways: A solid rule of law foundation will likely enhance the sustainability and scalability of water programs by increasing collaboration with and leadership from governments, and effective water programs will fortify rule of law by strengthening the social contract between citizens and their governments.

I spent years implementing democracy and governance programs in Africa on behalf of the U.S. government, and jumped at the opportunity to build this bridge between that world and my current water portfolio — two seemingly distinct development sectors. In framing the panel, I positioned rule of law — broadly defined, as in Wikipedia’s “authority and influence of law in society” — as an enabler, as a catalyst, of sustainable, institutionalized progress toward all global development challenges. On the flipside, I also see more progress on water challenges as one of many ways to strengthen the rule of law. For example, the most interesting question asked during the opening plenary of the World Justice Forum was “Is there a primary school for rule of law, or does one have to wait until graduate school to learn about it?” I assert that there is indeed a primary school for the rule of law: a village water committee anywhere in the world. The first experience many people — especially women — have in the developing world with rule of law and with participatory democracy is via their participation on local committees designed to identify and sustainably address local challenges. Tip O’Neill, a famous American politician, said “All politics is local.” Well, so are development challenges and solutions, especially those related to water. So that village water committee in rural India is a primary school for rule of law. An HIV support group in South Africa is a primary school for rule of law, solving its own community challenges, often alongside its government. A women’s neighborhood group focused on sanitation in Nairobi or Mexico City is a primary school for rule of law, as are local school boards, housing committees, and the like.

Water challenges at local, national, and transboundary levels all offer individuals an opportunity to strengthen the social contract between themselves and their governments. To achieve universal coverage of safe drinking water on the planet, in the compressed timeframe for which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy advocated at the Forum, governments must work hand-in-hand with their constituents.

Here are a handful of rule of law/water solutions underway, and worth tracking and supporting:

  • Community water boards by the thousands are becoming stronger throughout Latin America with the help of la Fundación Avina, making safe water more accessible to millions of Latin Americans, and at the same time creating more open, democratic societies.
  • Rule of law is making water more accessible and safer across the globe: e.g., cities are adding rainwater harvesting to building codes in India, and municipal development plans are incorporating community sanitation facilities in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
  • The Nile Basin Initiative continues to strengthen the capacity of the Nile’s riparian states to stay ahead of the water conflict predicted by many for the region.
  • Water For People’s Everyone Forever effort focuses first and foremost on the interaction between citizens and their governments, with the international community playing a catalytic role; this will eventually obviate the need for any outside assistance.
  • The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership attracts Finance Ministers to its High Level Meeting every two years. Stronger political will makes it possible for those Finance Ministers to do what they already want to do: increase budgets and strengthen policies for water in their countries by making and meeting tangible, time-bound commitments.
  • Civil society organizations across the developing world are now using this toolkit “How to Campaign on Water and Sanitation Issues During an Election” to make sure that elected leaders have committed to tackling water challenges long before their terms in office. This toolkit should be used in every election tracked by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

The water challenges across the globe are grave. But they are solvable, and being solved by communities and governments as I write. My ambition is that rule of law and water communities will find more ways to work together across a number of platforms, and that both communities will emerge stronger from those collaborative efforts.

African Ministers' Council on Water

The African Ministers' Council on Water, an initiative of the African Union, has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build its capacity for sanitation policy development, monitoring and evaluation coverage, and WASH-related advocacy across the continent.

Awarded through the foundation's global development program, the grant will be used to provide training and technical assistance in four countries working to develop and adopt effective sanitation and hygiene policies and plans; organize the fourth AfricaSan conference as a mechanism for tracking progress, refining targets, and enabling peer support and advocacy for implementation of the 2008 eThekwini Declaration and AfricaSan Action Plan; and help countries fulfill their obligations to report to the AU.

"We face tremendous challenges of diminishing access to clean water and safe sanitation," said AMCOW executive secretary Bai Mass Taal. "AMCOW is committed to working with partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce this scourge and improve access to safe sanitation, thereby achieving our overall goal of decreasing poverty and disease in the continent."

Source: “African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) Gets US$2 Million Grant to Improve Sanitation Coverage in Africa.” African Ministers' Council on Water Press Release 12/18/12.

John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates

Editor’s Note: Leading up to the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH seminar at World Water Week on Wednesday, August 29th, in Stockholm, we decided to pose three questions to the panel’s esteemed group of foundation and NGO leaders to give you a preview of their conversation. We will post a new interview each day this week so check back daily or sign up for e-mail updates. In this post, John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates, discusses the need for stronger political will to solve the WASH crisis, as well as the link between WASH and nutrition. In yesterday’s post, John Thomas examined the role that philanthropic investment can play in cultivating innovative WASH solutions.

1. Describe what your organization does and what your role is.

WASH Advocates is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative entirely dedicated to helping solve the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenge. Our mission is to raise awareness of WASH issues, and convert that heightened awareness into increased financial and political capital throughout the developing world.

The only way the world will achieve universal coverage of safe drinking water and sanitation is if every government (at national, provincial, and municipal levels) prioritizes WASH for all of its citizens. As the CEO, I look for ways to influence WASH-related public policy and country budgets, and I look for advocacy allies from civil society groups, philanthropists, corporations, and faith communities across the globe.

2. Tell us one provocative question or issue you hope to tackle on the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH panel, and why.

People interested in solving the global WASH challenge often ask “Why is there still a WASH problem in 2012?” A recurring answer from many in the sector is: “…because of a lack of political will,” but then the conversation dies since no one really knows what that means. The question I’d like to see this panel tackle is “How does one create political will in each developing country with high rates of WASH poverty, and how can the international donor community help catalyze and convert that strengthened political will into stronger policies and increased budgets for WASH in those countries?”

WASH Advocates works with a number of global, regional, and local partners around the world who are encouraging their own governments to increasingly prioritize WASH. We are looking for ways to strengthen the capacity of country-level civil society groups to work more closely with their elected leaders, because the ‘end game’ for the global WASH challenge is not what we in the international donor community can do, but rather what public sector leaders in developing countries can accomplish sustainably with their own taxpayer resources.

Working with governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is often contentious and time-consuming. However, WASH Advocates contends that the quickest way to true scale in the WASH sector is to involve governments from day one of the design phase of any sizeable WASH programs. This will lead to increased program sustainability in the short-term, and to scale (not just scalability) over the long run.

3. What are you most looking forward to about Stockholm and/or World Water Week?

WASH Advocates is attending World Water Week 2012 to explore the myriad connections between political leaders and WASH across the globe, both in developed and developing countries. Advocacy is not (yet) sexy, and we will be looking for ways to make WASH advocacy more tangible and attractive to civil society leaders, WASH program experts, and the international donor community.

Every political leader anywhere in the developed and developing world wants to prioritize WASH in his or her budget; it is not difficult to garner support for this issue. Our job at WASH Advocates is to help change the political equation, e.g., to minimize the political risk that political leaders must incur if they prioritize WASH among many other equally important development challenges. Political leaders are motivated to act if they hear about a challenge from their own people, and if they understand how the challenge is solvable.

During World Water Week, I am also particularly interested in the linkages between WASH and under-nutrition in children in developing countries. It is under-recognized that unsafe water and inadequate sanitation cause approximately half of childhood under-nutrition. This year’s World Water Week theme will facilitate opportunities for the WASH and nutrition sectors to discuss more integrated programming. 

Braimah Apambire, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Editor’s Note: Leading up to the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH seminar at World Water Week next Wednesday, August 29th, in Stockholm, we decided to pose three questions to the panel’s esteemed group of foundation and NGO leaders to give you a preview of their conversation. We will post a new interview each day this week so check back daily or sign up for e-mail updates. In this post, Braimah Apambire, who leads the WASH Initiative at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, speaks about the importance of advocacy for the WASH sector. In yesterday’s post, David Rothschild discussed funder-grantee relationships.

1. Describe what your organization does and what your role is.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world's disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in five priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance abuse, caring for vulnerable children, and extending Conrad Hilton's support for the work of Catholic Sisters. Following selection by an independent international jury, the Foundation annually awards the $1.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to a nonprofit organization doing extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering. From its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants and in 2011 distributed $82 million to organizations in the U.S. and throughout the world. The Foundation's current assets are approximately $2 billion. For more information, please visit our web site.

Since 1990, the Foundation has awarded more than $114 million in grants toward programs in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, India and Mexico. These programs have provided access to safe water for more than 2 million people. The Foundation’s five-year strategy focuses on safe water access, as part of the broader WASH+ (water, sanitation, hygiene, and improved livelihoods) approach, for the poorest and hardest-to-reach populations. Central to the Foundation’s grantmaking approach are long-term partnerships and leveraging resources. Key initiatives of our current work include supporting sustainable and scalable water access, strengthening the enabling environment for WASH interventions, and disseminating and adopting sector-wide knowledge.

I lead the Foundation’s water initiative and spearheaded the development of the Foundation’s strategic plan for WASH programming in Africa, Mexico, and India.

2. Tell us one provocative question or issue you hope to tackle on the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH panel, and why. 

My hope is that participants will get to know the importance of and opportunities for advocacy in the WASH sector. Many people see advocacy as influencing Congress to increase USG funding to the WASH sector. However, advocacy goes beyond that to include engaging local governments, civic and faith societies, corporations, philanthropists, grasstops and grassroots about the issue at hand and how it can be solved.

Why advocacy? Foundations can’t solve the global WASH crisis through direct service delivery by their grantees alone — advocacy is needed to increase the amount and effectiveness of WASH grantmaking.

3. What are you most looking forward to about Stockholm and/or World Water Week?

Networking with colleagues.

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