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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.

Dr. Kerstin Danert, Skat Foundation

Editor’s Note:This guest blog was authored by Dr. Kerstin Danert, water and sanitation specialist at the Swiss-based Skat Foundation. Kerstin discusses country-led monitoring and why it’s important for developing country governments to lead the WASH monitoring process. An online community is being formed around country-led monitoring efforts. If you’d like to learn more about it, you may contact country_led_monitor@dgroups.org

In April 2013, I had the privilege of facilitating six sessions on country-led monitoring at the Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium in Addis Ababa. This blog is a reflection on the papers, presentations, and discussions from that event.

International statements such as the Paris Declaration, the Busan Partnership, and the New Deal for Fragile States call for country-led development. The statements also promote results-based development and highlight the importance of monitoring — specifically monitoring that is country-led.

Monitoring refers to an ongoing process by which stakeholders obtain regular feedback on the progress being made towards goals and objectives. Country-led means that the country, rather than external actors, leads the monitoring process. Institutional and individual capacity needs should be developed gradually, and as necessary, depending on what is needed.

I would argue that many rural water supply projects, whether large or small, whether short or longer-term undertake very little monitoring at all. Progress may be checked and expenditure may be compared with outputs. A report will be written for the funders — who are often very far from where the work is taking place. Monitoring ends there. In parallel, national statistics offices monitor poverty changes. Water ministries may or may not monitor systematically. There is often very little interaction between these.

Now is this a problem?
I think that it is a major problem. Firstly, for a country to make progress, for example towards safe drinking water for all, it needs to learn along the way. If good information — about the successes and challenges and about what works and what does not — remains fragmented in the hands of countless organizations, it is very hard for the country as a whole to learn. Secondly, if there is no reliable feedback about progress to political leaders and rural citizens, accountability is undermined. Democracy is undermined. Governance is undermined. Joint action is difficult.

Hope on the horizon
Fortunately the growing number of Joint Sector Reviews, which bring together a diverse range of stakeholders to reflect on progress, signals winds of change. And gradually governments, together with development partners, are trying to define what to monitor, by whom, and with what means. This may even be taking place in the country that you are working in.

Rural realities
The sheer cost of visiting distant and often hard to reach rural dwellers is a major barrier to understanding their needs, and reflecting on how lives can be improved as a whole. External organizations often focus on one particular group or village, reporting on what has been achieved to their funders. In parallel, local governments are generally massively under-resourced and struggle to monitor and follow up with communities once an intervention is completed.

Better understanding — stronger partnerships
Every external organization working in rural water supplies should take some time to truly understand the wider context in which they work. And they should try to engage with country institutions in a meaningful and constructive way. This means listening and talking to both local and national governments; understanding their strengths and challenges; finding ways to plan together; and being highly transparent. It may require several attempts. On the flip side, governments and other country institutions, such as religious bodies, should try to foster strong partnerships with external organizations, ensuring that all are moving in the same direction.

Often funding agencies and non-government organisations do not trust developing country governments. In addition, they report and account to their funders, bypassing country governments completely. One may consider whether this is acceptable or not, but it certainly does not enable real partnership. 

Joint monitoring as a stepping stone
Finding clever ways to monitor together provides a stepping stone towards stronger partnerships. At least that is what we can learn from innovations taking place in Malawi. Here an external NGO has been explicitly working with local governments to catalyze data collection, analysis, and use of the information in planning. The collaborations have widened to join up with national government. In Uganda, the Water and Environment Sector Performance Measurement process brings diverse stakeholders together to reflect on progress for the country as a whole.

There are other interesting examples out there. If you know of any, please share them in the comments section below.

Dr. Kerstin Danert, Skat Foundation

Editor’s Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, Dr. Kerstin Danert, water and sanitation specialist at the Swiss-based Skat Foundation, shares her thoughts on community engagement, the power of networks, and more in response to our questions. 

1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?

Collectively, we have the means, the methods, and the technology to enable everyone to access safe and sustainable drinking water and sanitation services. However, we need much more consideration of PPPs — People, Power, and Politics. In other words, people’s different needs and abilities, the huge global, national, and local power imbalances, and political pressure, as well as political response.

2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.

Skat Foundation hosts the secretariat for the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN), a network that enables practitioners, professionals, and, ultimately, water users to make informed decisions on how to improve and maintain access to safe water in rural areas. As a network, from 2011 onward we have very much tried to boost the interaction, building up of trust, and sharing of experiences (positive and negative) between practitioners and professionals working in rural water supplies. This is through online communities as well as face-to-face events.  As I observe the exchanges in several of these communities, which enable people in different countries and contexts to realise that they face some of the same problems, and learn how others have overcome them, I am convinced that there is much more potential to catalyse change through networking.

3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?

The Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) now has over 2,600 members — people working directly with communities, as well as those more removed from the “front line”. There is a wide range in how these practitioners and professionals (and the organisations that they work for) engage with communities. However, cutting across all of them, I think that there is need for much more serious consideration of how to encourage and support water users to directly help themselves, in incremental ways, such as through self-supply. We are also learning that community management needs ongoing support to be successful. And in the case of larger, multi-village schemes, professional management and regulation may be the only way to support a reliable service. We still need to understand more about why services are working and failing within the specifics of the context in which they operate and to learn from these.

4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years?

I still stand true to the last of our seven myths that we published in the Myths of the Rural Water Supply Sector in 2009, that there is no magic bullet or one simple solution.  Fundamentally there is need for much more cooperation between organisations.  And I am encouraged to see this happening in some countries and certain localities. I get excited when I hear, see, and read about organisations (and individuals) really working with others to solve problems and do good quality work. Government, NGO, development partners and others can really come together to work out how to build on their strengths for the country, or local area, as a whole. Steady, joined up ways of working can have a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5 to 25 years.

5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately (besides WASHfunders, of course)?  

It would be too obvious to talk about the wonderful water point mapping work that seems to have grown in popularity recently. When we prepared our recent publication on Finding Information in Rural Water Supplies, I was struck by just how much information is actually out there. So let me talk about what I have not seen — and that is a web site which intelligently pulls together the WASH (and water resources) information and links from different sources country by country (or state by state in the case of large countries) in a very accessible manner. I think that this could make a difference — not only to productivity, but also to the discussion — and to politics. 

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter who is the communication specialist for the Project WET Foundation, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, Montana, and active in more than 65 countries. Nicole discusses Project WET’s evaluation work, including its innovative use of mobile technology and collaboration with Engineers Without Borders. All of the WASH education materials referenced are available for free download on the Project WET web site, including formal reports regarding the northern Uganda evaluation process.

Teachers in rural northern Uganda used mobile phones to complete follow-up surveys about the impact of WASH education. Credit: © Project WET Foundation

Teachers in rural northern Uganda used mobile phones to complete follow-up surveys about the impact of WASH education. Credit: © Project WET Foundation

The Lake Victoria Primary School (LVS) in Uganda offers an object lesson for anyone curious about the importance of WASH education. As part of a water provision project, gutters and downspouts were constructed and a water tank was provided to LVS to allow the school to harvest rainwater. What wasn’t provided as part of the project was education — either about the benefits of rainwater harvesting or the way such a system would be set up. As a result, the water tank ended up unused and in storage with small, potentially contaminated containers capturing only a tiny fraction of the usable water. Meanwhile the school was shelling out US$600 per month for municipal water that was available from only one tap.

Enter Aggrey Oluka, LVS’s head science teacher. Fed up with high rates of waterborne illness and unsustainable water bills, Oluka went looking for solutions. He found the Project WET Foundation, which was launching a new program in Africa with USAID to create culturally appropriate WASH-related educator guides, children’s books, and classroom posters, and to train teachers to use them. He participated in writing workshops for the materials and enthusiastically adopted them for use at LVS. Applying the knowledge he and his students had gained, Aggrey was able to finally get the rainwater harvesting system implemented — to the benefit of the students’ health and the school’s budget. The municipal water bill dropped to just US$30 per month, and students had increased access to clean water for healthy habits such as hand-washing.

Thanks to experiences like this one, the value of WASH education is finally being recognized. The WASH Sustainability Charter gives WASH education top billing, with the preamble singling out “the lasting provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene education” as a “leading development priority of our time.” (For more information on the Charter, read this WASHfunders guest post.)

Given the growing influence of WASH education, finding ways to measure and evaluate educational programs and projects is also increasingly important and challenging. While it stands to reason that a populace educated in the basics of water, sanitation, and hygiene will be better able and more likely to actively participate in sustaining water provision projects, the evidence surrounding WASH education’s impact on behavior remains in early stages.

As a longtime proponent and provider of WASH education, the Project WET Foundation is exploring new and innovative ways to evaluate the results of its WASH education materials implementation. Targeting youth through school and community educators, Project WET materials, including educator guides and lesson plans, colorful children’s activity booklets, and durable classroom posters, teach children, parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials  about WASH using games, songs, role-plays, whole-body learning, subject integration, and other interactive pedagogical methods.  Educators learn to use the materials through a train-the-trainer process, and students share the lessons they learn at home and in the community. Materials have been translated and localized on three continents, reaching millions of children.

So what happens after the intervention? Getting to that answer is critical for all WASH education actors, but it is not easy. Partnerships and novel approaches can help.

Following implementation in rural northern Uganda in 2009, Project WET used traditional site visit and survey techniques to evaluate results in 2010. However, recognizing the limitations of those techniques — particularly the lack of reliable internet connectivity for e-mail follow-up, the prevalence of teacher transfer, and the time constraints for staff — Project WET teamed up with Adam Lerer, a PhD candidate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lerer’s thesis work focused on using the Open Data Kit voice system, a web-based interactive voice response technology that allows the user to design and record survey calls to be received on any kind of mobile phone. 

The innovative combination of mobile phone technology plus traditional techniques, allowed successful follow-up with 92 of the 500 schools where educational materials were implemented at a cost of US$5.90 per teacher and US$.06 per student. The mobile phone surveys allowed teachers and schools to respond quickly and easily, boosting return rates. The data collected showed that of the schools who responded to the follow-up, 90 percent were still using WASH education materials with their students a year after implementation, and 92 percent reported positive changes in student behavior related to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Increased hand-washing behavior and facilities were most often reported, as well as healthy behaviors relating to water storage, cleaning of the latrine, and water sources. At least 25 percent of users reported that the materials had also been shared with the wider community, supporting the notion of schools as gardens where ideas can grow and be shared.

While mobile phone surveys provide a promising, low-cost evaluation technique, extended on-the-ground monitoring is likely to remain the gold standard for independent assessment. However, many nonprofit organizations cannot afford to carry out such programs on their own. By partnering with the Montana State University chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Project WET has been able to both wrap education around water provision projects EWB has underway in Kenya and tap EWB student leaders to carry out year-by-year site evaluations in areas where Project WET materials have been implemented. The results of this three-year study — due out in 2015 — should shed light on the effects of WASH education on water provision projects and communities. 

By partnering inside and outside the WASH sector, experimenting with innovative techniques, and — most importantly — sharing lessons learned, WASH education practitioners can improve the work being done and secure education’s place at the center of WASH sustainability.

Water access and hand-washing programs in Guatemala help to reduce the transmission of diseases such as soil-transmitted helminths and trachoma. Credit: Stephanie Ogden

Water access and hand-washing programs in Guatemala help to reduce the transmission of diseases such as soil-transmitted helminths and trachoma. Credit: Stephanie Ogden

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Stephanie Ogden, WASH/ NTD coordinator for Emory’s Center for Global Safe Water and the Task Force for Global Health. In it, she discusses the need for a coordinated partnership between the WASH and health communities to help control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). She outlines concrete measures that the WASH sector can take and provides examples of successful partnerships already under way.

Years ago, I trained women in rural and remote areas of Central America to be community visual health promoters. They knew the very basics of eye disease and visual impairments, and could offer solutions to simple problems, or referrals to expert, affordable care. But, we never thought of eye disease as related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). We never thought that encouraging families to wash their faces, or that ensuring water access and building latrines, could help to prevent blindness in one person every fifteen minutes worldwide. 

Now, at the Task Force for Global Health, I help coordinate WASH activities to control a group of diseases with tongue-twister names: soil-transmitted helminths, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and blinding trachoma. They are a diverse set of diseases that comprise a group known as the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Together they account for nearly one billion cases of blindness, debilitating swelling of the limbs, chronic abdominal pain, malnutrition, and diminished livelihoods and well-being. Not to mention, the NTDs affect as many people with pain and suffering, lost educational opportunity, and economic loss as HIV or malaria. Many of these diseases can be treated with medicine, but they can only be prevented by improved access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

The NTDs are diseases of poverty, and have been relatively neglected by research and large-scale political action. But, for years, the WASH sector has been working in and impacting the communities where these diseases are endemic. WASH programs have acted as a silent weapon against the NTDs, but this impact isn’t being measured. As it is, WASH has an underfunded and under-applauded role in ongoing NTD control strategies. More than just lip service, a coordinated, targeted approach between the WASH and health communities is needed to ensure long-term health gains in endemic areas. Real mechanisms for coordination, measurement, and monitoring must be established and supported from both sides of the sector divide.

Hygiene education materials in Lao PDR which depict common transmission pathways of intestinal worms. Credit: Kim Koporc

Hygiene education materials in Lao PDR which depict common transmission pathways of intestinal worms. Credit: Kim Koporc

Earlier this year, a global public-private partnership, formalized by the London Declaration on NTDs, pledged to eliminate or control 10 NTDs by 2020. In some ways, it seems like an easy win. A few pills can treat many of the current infections, and generous drug donations by companies, like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline, have enabled countries to conduct mass drug administration (MDA) to treat infection at a national scale. But drugs do not prevent re-infection, nor do they address the underlying causes that lead to infection in the first place. The focus on NTDs must shift from treatment to a more balanced approach that includes both treatment and prevention. This is where the WASH sector is essential. After all, addressing the primary environmental factors that lead to transmission of disease, such as water access, safe excreta disposal, and hygiene, is the WASH sector’s bread and butter. While continuing its good work, the WASH sector should also push for partnership with the Health sector to measure impact beyond immediate WASH coverage. Both sectors must realize that eliminating the NTDs is a three-legged race. Treatment, through drug administration, and prevention, via WASH programs, are tied together, and one will cross the finish line only at the pace of both together.

There have been remarkable examples of joint-sector collaboration and integrated programs. The health and WASH communities continue to collaborate to eradicate guinea worm worldwide — a campaign that has been markedly successful from a disease control perspective; in twenty years, cases of guinea worm infection have dropped from 3.5 million to less than 5,000 globally. This shouldn’t be a one-off case of collaboration among sectors. We need more of this kind of joint-sector collaboration in order to reach the goal of controlling 10 NTDs by 2020. The health community and private partnerships have pledged to work together towards this goal, but the involvement of the WASH sector is indispensable. 

That is why it’s especially timely that Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water, Children Without Worms (CWW) and the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), have committed to a partnership that will help to encourage actionable dialogue and increased coordination between the NTD and WASH sectors. This partnership aims to call stakeholders in the WASH and NTD sectors to better understand each other, to define common indicators, explore integrated mapping and targeting, and determine further opportunities for collaboration. 

So how exactly should the WASH sector get involved? I suggest we start with the simplest measures:

  • Partner with the NTD sector to champion the role of WASH in prevention of the most common NTDs that affect more than 800 million people worldwide.
  • Hold WASH and NTD organizations jointly accountable for measuring and monitoring impact on decreasing the burden of disease.
  • Seize opportunities for integrated data collection regarding NTDs in WASH program areas.
  • Add WASH indicators to health programs, and NTD indicators to WASH programs, to help ensure the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of each.
  • Use these indicators to draw the connection between WASH programs and lowered NTD rates in annual reports and program assessments.
  • Continue to allocate resources to research and development of sustainable sanitation programs, as safe sanitation may have the greatest single impact on decreasing the burden of disease. 

The conversation about how these two sectors can work together is still in the early stages. What’s vital now is to promote dialogue and keep this momentum going. We know there is a critical link between improved WASH access and lower NTD rates, but we still have a lot to learn about how one affects the other. For example, what elements of WASH most effectively impact the transmission of diseases, like soil-transmitted helminths, schistosomiasis, and trachoma? Do all types of sanitation facilities have equal impact on reduction of these diseases? If not, which have the most impact? Collaboration, coordination, and open dialogue are important first steps in answering these questions. And ensuring partnership between the WASH and Health sectors — between treatment and effective prevention — is the only route to sustainable long-term control of disease.

Editor’s Note: Our Spotlight On... series shines a light on funders and NGOs working to bring critical solutions to water, sanitation, and hygiene issues. This guest blog, the second in our series, was authored by Maggie Kohn, director of corporate responsibility at Merck. A global health care company, Merck discovers, manufactures, and sells medicines, vaccines, and animal health products. Recently, Merck has become an emerging player in the WASH sector as well. 

Spotlight On... Merck

Merck and Safe Water Network are working together to bring sustainable water solutions to the rural poor in India. The new partnership will provide safe water access to another 20,000-30,000 people, such as this mother and child in Warangal in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

I sense the question on everyone's mind when I introduce myself at a WASH event: "Merck is a global health care company. So, why is she here?" 

The explanation is quite simple: Merck's mission is to help the world be well. Clean water is at the foundation of this promise.

Merck's entrance into the WASH arena is relatively recent, and occurred in parallel with the expansion of our business into emerging markets such as India, Brazil, China, and countries in sub-Saharan Africa. As Merck began to ask local ministers of health in these countries how we could help them address their greatest health challenges, the issue that came up often was lack of access to clean water and its huge toll on the health of their people. 

Until the most basic health needs — access to food, water, sanitation, and hygiene — are addressed, large segments of populations in emerging markets cannot benefit from our products, including life-saving vaccines. For Merck to be a true partner and commit to helping our customers address their most formidable challenges, we realized WASH must be part of the overall strategy. 

Starting in 2010, we spent about a year determining how to "dip our toe" into the WASH field. While we have a long history in public-private health partnerships, none have been specific to clean water. Luckily, we found that many of our existing partners, including CARE, the World Bank, PSI, UNICEF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are also involved in WASH. We engaged them in conversations about their work, joined groups such as Global Water Challenge, and made connections with companies such as Coke, Dow, Pepsi, and P&G who are already doing good work in this field. We also talked to shareholders such as the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and became a signatory to the UN's CEO Water Mandate. 

These conversations confirmed for us the critical importance of addressing WASH (we were on the right path!), but also that we could not do it on our own. We needed to team up with the right partners. Many people we spoke with suggested starting with one geographic focus — rather than pilots in several countries, as we had initially been considering — and then expanding from there. Keeping their input in mind, we identified our initial focus area of southern and central India — both important markets for our business and both severely affected regions by WASH issues.

Our conversations also made us think hard about the kind of investment we wanted to make and the kind of impact we wanted to have. By that, I mean did we want to simply invest our money in bricks and mortar for hundreds of new water stations, which would basically require writing a check? Or did we want to invest in research-based projects that sought to determine the most effective ways to address the WASH challenge and thus create sustainable long-term approaches? What appealed to us about this latter approach is that we could apply the skills of our employees to help develop health impact studies, behavior change communications, and public advocacy outreach strategies. 

Out of this we developed our WASH strategy for India, which mirrors our core mission: to help the Indian population be well. Wherever we operate, the key to achieving this mission is a strong understanding of the health needs of our customers. Our strategy in India includes our products that address water-related diseases and our work with partners to change behaviors related to sanitation and hygiene. 

On World Water Day 2012, we announced a three-year partnership with the Safe Water Network (SWN). What we like about SWN is that they work through their projects to gain a better understanding of the environmental, socioeconomic, behavioral, and market challenges that prevent access to clean water. They pilot various approaches and models, and then take the learnings to identify sustainable models that can be scaled on a wide-spread basis. Our work with them will focus on Andhra Pradesh in southern India, where we will work to increase awareness of the importance of clean water and hygiene to drive behavior change. We plan to share key findings with the WASH sector and policy makers to help lead to more wide-scale change. Later this year, we will also be lending four or five Merck employees ("Fellows") to SWN for three to six months to work on a variety of projects, including a health outcomes assessment study, behavior change and quality assurance. These employees will benefit by gaining valuable insights about behaviors in these markets. 

We also decided to partner with UNHABITAT, Coca-Cola, and NDTV on a partnership called "Support My School" (SMS), which is working with local NGO partners to install water filtration systems, improved sanitation facilities, libraries, and new sports equipment to schools across India. In deciding to join, we felt that there is no place more important to start than with children. Not only do we want to improve the health of India's youngest citizens, but we want to ensure they are able to stay in school and get the education they need to lead India in the years to come. Children are also important messengers as they deliver WASH messages back to their families. In visiting schools outside Bhopal earlier this year, the impact was clear: the children were eager to show us their new latrines, and teachers indicated that attendance was up (some students were riding their bikes five miles to school). Students from near-by private schools had even switched to the SMS schools due to the better bathroom facilities. 

Our goals in both partnerships are to increase the number of people with access to clean water and increase awareness about sanitation and proper hygiene. In doing so, we expect to see decreased mortality and illness due to water-related disease, increased school attendance — particularly among adolescent girls, and increased economic productivity in those areas where we are focused — these will be the measurements we examine and build into our public reporting. 

While it's still early days for us, we've already learned a great deal. There are so many great partners out there and projects worthy of investment. But it's vital that we focus on what we want our impact to be and what we want to get out of this work as a business. This will not only lead to positive outcomes for the communities in which we invest, but also to the sustainability of Merck's involvement in this important space. 

Lisa Nash, CEO of Blue Planet Network

Editor’s Note: This post highlights Blue Planet Network’s long-standing peer review and crowd-sourcing platform, along with examples of collaboration and knowledge sharing among BPN’s members. It was authored by Lisa Nash, CEO of Blue Planet Network

What if there was a way for the WASH sector to unlock the hidden knowledge of sustainable safe drinking water and sanitation programs? 

Blue Planet Network (BPN), an online global platform and network of 90+ WASH funders and implementing organizations, is designed to encourage collaboration, increase impact, and promote a cross-sector focus on project results and lessons learned. This is complemented by an expert crowd-sourcing process — the heart of BPN. Members “peer review” other organizations seeking feedback on their project implementation plans. Utilized collaboratively in a safe space, the peer review process is aimed at unlocking the tremendous knowledge of the global WASH sector. After five years of peer reviewing and crowd-sourcing, we have seen an increase in member standards, discussion, and accountability. 

BPN’s WASH community began in 2006 when five WASH NGOs — recognized for their innovation and impact — came together to build a collaborative online forum to improve each other’s programs. Introducing the peer review concept was a new challenge; we knew it would take time to build a large community of NGOs and funders committed to sharing their valuable project knowledge for the good of the sector. Over time, however, these efforts paid off. Our members have shown us so many ways to use our platform.

The BPN member stories below show how the WASH sector — empowered by technology — can collaborate, share learning lessons, and continually help improve WASH sector program impact.

  • Photo by Annette Fay, Blue Planet Network

    Community Water Center (CWC) and BPN are developing a program in San Joaquin Valley, CA, to help 2,600 people living with nitrate and arsenic-contaminated drinking water. The groundwater has been contaminated with nitrates from the heavy agricultural pesticides used, and from naturally occurring arsenic. Project Well, a BPN member working on arsenic-free wells in West Bengal, India, will support CWC’s efforts by sharing their experience.
  • Aguayuda, from Colombia, changed their local staffing plans after applying for membership and discussing staffing options with BPN members Agua Para La VidaEl Porvenir (Nicaragua), and Agua Para La Salud (Guatemala). 
  • East Meets West (Vietnam, Cambodia) suggested improvements to hygiene practices of a project by Indian BPN member, Ekoventure, that reduced overall costs and improved project sustainability. 
  • The Chagrin Valley, Ohio Rotary Club, a BPN funding member, facilitated the independent monitoring of projects implemented by member Aqua Clara International in Kenya by local Kenyan Rotarians. 
  • “Peer visits” in 2011 were launched to empower members from a common region to connect with others in the field, suggest improvements, and train together. The Samburu Project hosted fellow members, Tanzania Mission to the Poor and Disabled (PADI), Aqua Clara International, Sabore Oyie in Kenya and Rajesh Shah of BPN to review their work in northern Kenya, suggest ways to improve sustainability, and share field experiences.  
  • Gram Vikas and WOTR, Indian BPN members — and the first two recipients of the Kyoto World Water Grand Prize — have advised members on their MANTRA and participatory watershed development programs. The 2012 Kyoto World Water Grand Prize winner, Katosi Women Development Trust (Uganda), is connected to BPN through a long-time member, Global Women’s Water Initiative, and we hope to promote collaboration among these grassroots leaders. 

We have seen a significant increase of funder interest in WASH projects because BPN directly connects funders to NGOs and project communities. Although funders may be continents away, they still have an up-close look and hands-on tool to monitor and track project planning, implementation, and impact through our platform. This transparent process increases funder engagement and builds confidence in future funding and investment.  

Funding ongoing monitoring efforts is also a cost-effective way to ensure investment dollars continue to have the impact funders seek. Currently, approximately 30 funders, WASH experts and observers, and over 60 international agencies track WASH projects on BPN’s online platform. 

Through our close work with WASH funders, NGOs, and communities, we have come to understand that there is no “one size fits all” solution to address the global WASH crisis. Each community and culture is unique, reinforcing the need for an innovative community-owned strategy. By bringing people together to transfer and share knowledge, we enable them to learn what’s been tried, what works, and what doesn't, and then to apply that knowledge to their own unique context. Establishing a culture of learning within and among organizations is vital to improve project outcomes, lower costs, and increase accountability.  

Building upon experience and member input, BPN is launching its next generation online platform, “BPN 2.0,” in late 2012. With the growing demand for BPN’s WASH platform, there also comes the need for expanded reporting and analytics, more funder-focused services, project post-implementation tracking, and simplified user experience. BPN will be sharing its work in the coming months with members and other interested organizations in the WASH sector. We look forward to learning from the experience of others to make our offering as valuable as it can be in our common effort to enable sustainable safe drinking water and sanitation for all.   

Merck and the Safe Water Network have announced a three-year, $1.5 million partnership to increase access to safe water and reduce the effects of water-borne disease in impoverished communities in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Building on SWN's field activities in the region, the collaboration is designed to provide clean water to additional villages in Andhra Pradesh and develop demand-generation programs that increase household usage. The initiative addresses a critical need in India, where an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of disease is related to water contamination and poor sanitation and where more than a hundred and twenty thousand children under the age of five die each year from rotavirus diarrhea.

Together, Merck and Safe Water Network also will work to increase awareness of the importance of clean water and hygiene and drive behavior change. The campaigns will be assessed to measure their impact on safe water usage and improved health.

"Clean water is fundamental to the world's health and to Merck's mission of fighting disease and helping the world be well. Nowhere is this more true than in India, which faces a significant challenge related to clean water," said K.G. Ananthakrishnan, managing director of Merck in India. "Our partnership with Safe Water Network is a testament of our commitment to help reduce the impact of water-related illness in India and of Merck's overall efforts to improve health globally."

Source: “Merck and Safe Water Network Launch Initiative to Improve Water Access and Help Reduce the Impact of Water-Borne Disease in India.” Merck Company Press Release 3/20/12.

For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org.

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