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Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation in the UK. Last month on WASHfunders, Muna described the Foundation’s annual Impact Awards program -- which recognizes outstanding organizations working to improve the lives of children – and explained the reasoning behind their decision to add a category for WASH. This month Muna is back to announce the 2013 winners in this inaugural category! 

Just last month, I wrote about Stars Foundation’s recent experience adding Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) as a new category for our flagship Impact Awards programme.

Today, I can announce the inaugural winners. But not before I attempt the blogging equivalent of a tension-building drumroll…

The Impact Awards recognise and reward effective, well-managed local organisations working to transform the lives of vulnerable children. Using a rigorous selection process developed with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, we assess applicants against criteria that together reflect hallmarks of effective practice in development. This includes administration and finance, governance, innovation, delivery and impact.

And while the process ensures we identify outstanding local organisations improving the life chances of children in the countries with the highest rates of under-five mortality, that can be where the similarities among the organizations end.

This initially seemed true when comparing Stars Foundation’s first ever WASH Impact Award winners:

Water School Uganda (Impact Award winner for WASH, Africa-Middle East) has operated in Uganda since 2007. Its annual income is approximately US$400,000 (our threshold is US$200,000), and there are just 13 full-time members of staff. The organisation uses SODIS technology (solar water disinfection) and ‘Tippy Taps’ to help with proper hand-washing as some of its key interventions.

Gram Vikas (Impact Award winner for WASH, Asia-Pacific) on the other hand, has been working in India since 1971. Its annual income is roughly US$2million, and it has more than 350 staff members. Gram Vikas’ model relies on 100% community participation to change defecation behaviour and hygiene practices, building Indian-style toilets and bathing rooms and piping clean water into every home.

But despite these differences in organisational heritage, budget, size and intervention method, both are doing remarkable things to improve the water access, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices of their communities.

In fact, as you dig deeper, it’s striking just how similar these two organisations are, as they both rely on pillars of community-led development to deliver life-saving results:

  • Participation

Both organisations seek to ensure sustainability of their programmes through engendering community ownership. Water School Uganda mobilises a network of volunteers, Village Health Teams and school WASH clubs. And Gram Vikas establishes committees made up of village representatives, with the expectation that the entire community contributes (financially and otherwise) to the building and maintenance of WASH interventions.

Women wait outside the Community Piped Water Supply and Sanitation Project building in Harandango before a women's meeting. Credit: Suchit Nanda/Majority World

Women wait outside the Community Piped Water Supply and Sanitation Project building in Harandango before a women's meeting. Credit: Suchit Nanda/Majority World

  • Environmental context

Each organisation works hard to ensure the programmes they run are responsive and sensitive to the community context as well as the natural environment. Water School Uganda’s use of SODIS solar-powered technology to disinfect water is easy to use and affordable for the poor, rural communities in which they operate. Part of their work includes the construction of composting pits to help with food waste disposal and encourage ground fertility. Wastewater from Gram Vikas bathing rooms is used to irrigate community gardens, and families plant soft-rooted trees like banana and papaya trees near toilet leach pits. In both cases, this has led to better nutrition results for beneficiaries.

  • Entry-point intervention

I don’t need to preach to anyone here about the multiplying effects WASH interventions can have on the health outcomes amongst vulnerable communities. But its effects on education are equally felt. Since Gram Vikas introduced piped water into households, limiting the burden of domestic chores on girls, the organisation has seen an 80% increase in school attendance. In a 2010 study of Water School Uganda’s programmes, major reductions in cases of diarrhoea and dysentery were followed by an increase in school attendance of up to 25%.

A girl washes her hands using a 'Tippy Tap' outside her family's clean pit latrine in Busibembe, Busia. She and her six siblings have not suffered from waterborne diseases since the family enrolled in the Water School Uganda sanitation programme. Credit: Jimmy Adriko/Majority World

A girl washes her hands using a 'Tippy Tap' outside her family's clean pit latrine in Busibembe, Busia. She and her six siblings have not suffered from waterborne diseases since the family enrolled in the Water School Uganda sanitation programme. Credit: Jimmy Adriko/Majority World

  • Inclusion

Access to water is about dignity, and both organisations see safe water and sanitation as a right for all members of their communities. Sixty percent of Gram Vikas’ beneficiaries have been from ‘Scheduled’ tribes and castes – families who have faced social discrimination and marginalisation for centuries – but the 100% community inclusion policy ensures every family, regardless of social standing, takes part in their programmes. Water School Uganda does a great deal of work in secular or multi-faith schools to ensure hygiene and sanitation messages are being communicated to minority groups as well.

Unrestricted funding

Another similarity is that neither organisation has ever received unrestricted funding. Part of the Impact Awards prize package is US$100,000 of unrestricted funding (as well as US$20,000 in consultancy services and additional media and PR support), and both will now begin the exciting work of planning how to direct that funding to grow, to innovate, to strengthen internal systems, and become more resilient against external risks.

This is the part we are always most excited by at Stars Foundation, watching Impact Award winners unlock their own potential through the catalytic effect of flexible funding. I look forward to reporting back here on this blog about the work our inaugural WASH winners achieve.

Representatives from Gram Vikas and Water School Uganda will join winners in the remaining three Stars Impact Award categories – Health, Education, and Protection – at the annual Impact Awards ceremony at Kensington Palace in London on December 14.

Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Muna Wehbe, CEO of the UK-based Stars Foundation. In the piece, Muna describes the foundation’s Impact Awards, a cornerstone of its programming, and explains why the award categories were expanded this year to recognize local organizations that have made an impact on the lives of children through interventions in WASH.

 At the Stars Foundation, we have spent the last 12 years identifying and investing in exceptional organizations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Since 2007, we have focused our energy on the annual Impact Awards – a program that recognizes and rewards outstanding local organizations operating in the countries with the highest rates of under-five mortality.

Initially, we only accepted applications from local charities in Africa, but gradually expanded to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific by 2010. Winners were awarded for both their effective management and impact on the lives of children in one of three categories: Health, Education or Protection.

Using this model, we have established relationships with some of the best local organizations in the developing world; organizations that are embedded in their communities, responding to local needs with innovative and effective development programs that, admittedly, are always more integrated than the reductive category headlines above would have you believe.

This was certainly true for Restless Development Nepal and Action for Integrated Sustainable Development Association (AISDA) in Ethiopia. While they were ostensibly awarded for their impacts in education and health respectively, a large proportion of their development interventions involved water — improving access to it, and raising awareness of the hygiene and sanitation issues that surround it.

This is symptomatic of many of our local partners.

The connections between health, education and water are undeniable. And after a comprehensive strategic review last year, in which we interrogated our proxy measure for need — UNICEF’s under-five mortality index (PDF) — it was clear how crucial improving water, sanitation and hygiene is to child survival, and to effecting lasting impact at scale. Unsafe or inaccessible water and poor sanitation and hygiene contribute significantly to the number of preventable child deaths each year.

But our Awards program did not reflect that.

So, in recognition of its enormous impact on child survival, Stars will be awarding its first two Impact Awards in the WASH category this year, no longer conflating it with health or education.

Marketing to, assessing and awarding in a new category has not been without its challenges.

In every category of the Impact Awards, we remain fairly agnostic about the specific interventions themselves, and instead focus on the overall impact the organization is having on the lives of children, as well as evaluate its management and governance practices. 

And while we’re thrilled with the results of the 2013 Awards, we recognize additional adjustments to the process may be needed as the level of technical expertise associated with assessing interventions in the WASH sector seem to be even more pronounced than in other categories.

We cannot reveal the names of the inaugural Stars Impact Award winners in WASH just yet (they will be announced at a ceremony in mid-December and we’ll post the winners here as well). But we can disclose that, unsurprisingly, local organizations working to improve the lives of children do not ever focus on just one development issue in isolation. Rather, they employ a range of projects and interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities’ most vulnerable members.

That is the strength of local organizations. And we’re delighted that adapting our award strategy accordingly with the addition of the WASH category means we can now support even more of them.

Eric Stowe, Founder of Splash

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Eric Stowe, founder and executive director of Splash, a nonprofit that aims to change the lives of vulnerable children in impoverished urban areas through WASH interventions in orphanages, schools, children’s hospitals, street shelters, and rescue homes. Eric introduces the concept of killing one’s charity and why an exit strategy is important for organizations that want to succeed at their missions and have lasting impact.    

I have spent virtually every waking moment for the last six years building my international charity, Splash. As of this month, we implement WASH projects serving 250,000 children in seven countries every day — and we are fast on our way to doing so for more than one million children. In the coming months, we will achieve our largest goal yet: bringing clean water to every orphanage in China! 

Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of this work, of the phenomenal team undertaking it, and of the mounting progress we’ve made. I see significant growth in our future — operationally, financially, programmatically — and even greater impact for the thousands of children we serve. 

Yet, despite this significant progress, I want nothing more than to kill my charity. 

I know that may seem kind of blunt for someone who has worked in the nonprofit world my entire professional career and in the WASH sector for the better part of a decade. Yet I can state without hesitation that I am tired of the same ineffective international nonprofit model and I am desperate to see a change. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply love my job, but ultimately I want to kill the organization that provides it.  

For years, I have worked within and seen up close traditional international charities operating with the firm belief that they are THE solution to any problem they are tackling. I don’t agree. We’ve seen little proof in the long term that these conventional mentalities actually scale real and lasting solutions —  solutions that end the perpetual cycle of their work altogether. So when I look out at the landscape of the charitable sector, I have reservations about the rapid proliferation of new charities wanting to implement or fund projects internationally. 

When I first started Splash, in 2007, there were more than 12,000 U.S. charities working internationally. Six years later, there are nearly 17,000. Collectively, these nonprofits represent more than $30 billion dollars in total annual donations. 

$30 billion. That is a lot of money with the potential to achieve dramatic change of the systems, and significant impact on the challenges, we in the sector work with and on. And every year forward that amount is projected to increase as will the number of charities it supports. 

Now here is a critical question: how many of those organizations do you believe will go out of business, not because of poor stewardship, egregious acts, or lackluster fundraising, but because they actually accomplished their missions and can ethically and effectively close up shop? Can you name more than a handful that ever have? Conversely, how many do you believe will simply continue to grow or live on indefinitely with no end in sight? The latter is most assuredly the norm, yet the former is what every international charity claims is their long-range vision: to see a day when our work is no longer needed. 

If redundancy is the goal, shouldn’t we be planning for it, then? 

I started Splash believing charity at its best can solve any massive problem only by enabling the communities we serve to take over our work, do it better, more efficiently, and at greater scale in the future. Building on local strengths, facilitating locally appropriate funding streams, nurturing local community support, aligning local governmental investment and national policy, and co-creating the local businesses to serve as our replacements — all with the end goal of fundamentally erasing the necessity for our foreign charity’s presence — is not aspirational, nor is it isolated just to WASH projects. It is both an appropriate and realistic goal for virtually every organization working in the international sector: health, education, poverty, conservation, housing, and food; whether focused on kids or the elderly; working for men, women, boys, or girls. 

Really, what would it look like if even a fraction of the 17,000 U.S. international charities were planning for their exits as methodically and with as much precision as they were their next gala? 

There is a clear way forward that requires a disciplined way out, because charity is a means —it cannot be the end. 

I recently spoke at TEDxSeattle where I highlighted what I believe are the five appropriate steps for “How To Kill Your Charity.” I urge you to watch this talk and ask the question — can the nonprofit sector be more effective? I say yes.  


I welcome your comments below. You can also reach me on Twitter: @ericstowe. Please join the conversation, and learn more about how I plan to kill my charity.   

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Catarina Fonseca, director of WASHCost and economist and Senior Programme Officer at the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. A five-year initiative ending this year, WASHCost has worked with countries to identify the long-term costs of sustaining rural and peri-urban water and sanitation services. This initiative has embedded the concept of life-cycle costing with donors, national and local governments and NGOs, so that services continue to meet national standards reliably for generations. Catarina discusses the challenges of the team’s recent work in Bangladesh.

Catarina testing questionnaires with BRAC team in Mymensing, North Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Catarina testing questionnaires with BRAC team in Mymensing, North Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Over the last year, there have been many requests to the WASHCost team to adapt the life-cycle cost approach to other sub-sectors. One of them is WASH in schools. Programme managers and funders want to know the costs for the provision of WASH in schools and how to fund the desired outcomes over at least a 10 year period. 

IRC-International Water and Sanitation Centre has been providing support to the BRAC WASH programme in Bangladesh. BRAC is interested in the life-cycle cost approach to seek improvements in the long-term sustainability of their programmes and in this context, we have taken up the challenge: we have started by searching, discussing and defining what is considered a basic service level for WASH in schools. 

These questions become even more pertinent in the context of the proposals for the global goals in the post-2015 agenda. It has been recognised that future global water, sanitation and hygiene targets must extend beyond household level and include a wide range of settings including schools, workplaces, markets, transit hubs, health centres, etc. Schools and health centres are at the top of the priority list because of the potential health benefits to a large number of children and people. Specifically, handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are considered to be universal priorities to be reached by 2030 so that girls are given the same opportunities and access to education. 

For the work in Bangladesh, our starting point was the WASHCost life-cycle cost methodology, which was developed specifically for rural water and sanitation services in developing countries. Together, with a BRAC team of 15 project and programme officers, over a period of three weeks in June 2013, we developed and tested a service ladder, criteria and indicators for WASH in schools. 

The first step was the development of a draft service ladder for WASH in schools with the key criteria that define a basic level of service. The draft service ladder was developed by the team and based on the international literature, Bangladesh and BRAC standards. The ladder included the following key indicators of services for WASH in schools: access (number of latrines per student), safe use and maintenance, reliability of water for drinking, flushing and handwashing, environmental protection and menstrual hygiene management. 

To get all the information required for the proposed criteria, we ended up with a 16-page questionnaire, which was tested twice in six schools and covered every indicator and sub-indicator required in national and international norms, including questions about how water is collected and accessed, as well as access to facilities by those with disabilities. 

The first challenge started with establishing the benchmark for the most obvious indicator: the number of latrines per student. What is good enough? International experts were consulted and the answers were far from consistent. Therefore we focused on the written literature.

The international standard was developed by WHO in 2009 for schools in low-income settings. The standard recommends one toilet per 25 girls and one toilet plus one urinal for 50 boys. The most important recommendation is that boys’ and girls’ facilities should be in separate toilet blocks or be separated by solid walls and separate entrances. In short, toilets need to provide privacy and security if they are going to be used. This is a very high standard for many developing and developed countries. Even my secondary school in (not so low-income) Lisbon, Portugal would not meet these standards, which one might think of as “aspirational” instead of “good enough”. 

Secondary school girl in Meymensing, Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Secondary school girl in Meymensing, Bangladesh. Credit: Catarina Fonseca

Looking further, we found out that Bangladesh has actually adopted a national standard in 2011 for WASH in schools. The national standards are “more realistic” and include “1 toilet for 50 children and, when possible, girls’ and boys’ toilets must be completely separated”. Interestingly, “when possible” is not adequate wording for a standard and BRAC took the national norm a step further, closer to the international norm, and adopted “that toilets for boys and girls MUST be separate”. Additionally, a recent innovative study done in Kenya has found considerable difference in the required student to toilet ratios between boys and girls because the time they need to use the toilet also differs. 

From testing the methodology in six primary and secondary schools (both government- and BRAC-supported), we found that the toilet ratio was one toilet for anywhere from 71 to 150 students — all well above the national standard and therefore not considered “a basic level of service”, but closer to “below-standard”. However, all of the toilets were clean; some had excellent menstrual hygiene management facilities available, as well as washing basins, soap and safe drinking water. 

It would seem unfair to label some of these schools as “below standard” especially when interviews with school girls noted that they were happy and using their toilets. However, a monitoring tool is about measuring whether a standard is met. For all schools, it might appear that the standard is not met, but the takeaway for the team is that both the international and the Bangladesh access benchmark for WASH in schools is at the aspirational level. 

The testing has confirmed some other challenges mentioned in a 2012 UNICEF state-of-the-art report of WASH in schools in Bangladesh: that on average there is a toilet for every 130 students and that the majority of facilities is in extensive need of repair (see graph below), making it urgent to deliberate how and who can cover maintenance costs. Interestingly, collecting information about the cost of constructing, maintaining and repairing the latrines, was a rather simple task. Most of the schools track all expenses in their account books, including who funded which component — a topic for another blog. 

WASH in schools Bangladesh, 2012 UNICEF. Source: UNICEF WASH for School Children South Asia Report

WASH in schools Bangladesh, 2012 UNICEF. Source: UNICEF WASH for School Children South Asia Report

Over the next six months BRAC will roll out the methodology in about 100 schools covering a diverse range of settings. We expect the data to inform the final “service ladder” and the methodology will be available early next year. To read the draft methodology and questionnaires, please contact

Editor’s Note: PSI and Unilever announced a new initiative with local governments in Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe to improve hand-washing behaviors in schools. A version of this story originally appeared here.

A mother washing her child’s hands in Benin. Credit: Ollivier Girard

A mother washing her child’s hands in Benin. Credit: Ollivier Girard

Although many people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at critical moments — such as after using the toilet, while cleaning a child, and before handling food. If hand-washing with soap became a standard practice, health experts estimate that deaths from diarrhea could be reduced by one half and that one in four deaths from acute respiratory infections would be averted.

This year, a new initiative launched between Lifebuoy (Unilever’s leading soap brand), PSI (one of the Unilever Foundation's global partners), and local governments is focusing on establishing behavior change programs in schools and communities across Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe — three countries where hand-washing with soap practices are low. In Kenya, for example, 28 percent of school children report washing their hands with water at key times during the day, yet only 1 percent report using soap.

The new Unilever-PSI initiative will help children get into a habit of correctly and consistently washing their hands with soap at critical times of the day. Using Lifebuoy soap products and communication materials, teachers and community health workers will work to change behaviors among school-aged kids through hand-washing programs and activities, such as song writing, comic books, and even hand-washing pledges. When children learn and understand healthy behaviors, they help pass life-saving information to their families at home and to future generations — setting off a powerful ripple effect.

Together PSI and Unilever aim to reach more than 250,000 school-aged children and their families in Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe over the next year. Through these three pilot programs, Lifebuoy, the Unilever Foundation, and PSI hope to prove the efficacy of this approach, and replicate the program at scale across a number of countries.

PSI joined Unilever and CSRWire for a Twitter chat to discuss the importance of hand-washing. Check out the highlights from the conversation, including questions and discussion from the audience. Continue the conversation with Unilever, PSI, and its partners at #IWashMyHands and become part of a worldwide dialogue to push hand-washing up the global health agenda. 

School girl from Jogimara, Nepal, washing her hands at a Restless Development Nepal water supply. (2011 Asia-Pacific Health Award Winner) Credit: Kristian Buus

School girl from Jogimara, Nepal, washing her hands at a Restless Development Nepal water supply. (2011 Asia-Pacific Health Award Winner) Credit: Kristian Buus

Editor’s Note: The STARS Foundation is a London-based organization that provides grants to nonprofits working with disadvantaged children. The Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2013 Impact Awards, including their new WASH category, which recognizes the impact that WASH solutions can have on improving the well-being of children.     

The STARS Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 STARS Impact Awards recognizing outstanding organizations that achieve excellence in the provision of services to disadvantaged children.

In response to a growing demand for flexible funding, STARS invites NGOs to apply for up to 16 Impact Awards and, for the first time, has added a new category — Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) — due to the impact that improvements in this area can have on child survival and well-being.

Organizations working with children in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific are invited to apply.

The main Impact Award will be given to four winners per region — one in each of the following categories: Health, Education, Protection, and WASH. Winners will each receive $100,000 of unrestricted funding together with a bespoke package of consultancy, PR, and media support. Each organization will also benefit from the opportunity to work together with STARS for up to one year to promote their plans to other donors and seek to raise additional funding.

In addition to these main Impact Awards, smaller awards of different sizes will be made at the discretion of STARS’ board of trustees.

To find information regarding the application process, the eligibility criteria, and to apply online, please visit the Foundation's web site.

The closing date for applications is 1PM GMT Monday, November 12, 2012.

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