Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by David Winder, CEO of WaterAid America. In it, David discusses WaterAid’s work with communities in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and India to help them improve water and sanitation conditions in innovative and entrepreneurial ways. A version of the story originally appeared here.
The ongoing sustainability of the world's water usage is a hot topic. Not a week goes by without headlines announcing water wars, falling water tables or droughts. Water is a commodity in high demand by competing sectors (industry, agriculture and drinking water) and many people are seeking answers to how we might survive with a finite pool of it.
The ten percent of people worldwide who already live without safe drinking water don't need headlines to know that life without water is near impossible — every day they struggle for survival without access to this most basic of human rights. More often than not, they are without basic sanitation facilities, also causing disease and death.
But sparks of entrepreneurial spirit are shining brightly through the doom and gloom surrounding the global water and sanitation crisis, even in the most remote corners of the planet. Some of the world's poorest communities are inspiring us with their willingness and commitment to develop low-cost, innovative solutions to their water and sanitation problems. In many cases, these same solutions are bringing about even wider benefits for the communities involved, including improved health, agricultural and business opportunities.
Human waste can be a massive health risk — without proper sanitation facilities, diarrheal diseases such as typhoid and cholera are prevalent. In fact 2,000 children die every day from water-related diseases. But WaterAid is finding success working with communities willing to experiment with turning their human waste into a source of income and increased crop yields.
Urban slums are notorious for a lack of garbage disposal and sewerage systems, leaving residents vulnerable to poor health. But in the slums just outside of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, a women's collective is transforming the health and well-being of their community. With a little help and encouragement from WaterAid, this group of enterprising women runs a café, selling food cooked with biogas that is fueled by methane from human and other waste. In addition to offering healthy meals, community members are encouraged to take advantage of the café's toilets and shower facilities, which customers can use for a small fee. The café offers vital sanitation services for the community, and provides the women with a source of income and social standing.
The café has also spurred on other entrepreneurial activity. Twenty-four year-old Tigist started up her own garbage removal service, which has not only cleaned up her area and helps prevent disease, but empowered her to demand wages equal to those paid to men in her community. She's now earning ten times more than she was before, and is hiring four staff to help her collect the garbage. The garbage is then given to the café to use to help produce the biogas to fuel the kitchen.
In Niassa province in Mozambique, WaterAid is working with communities to turn their human waste into safe, renewable and highly effective compost. This compost is proving invaluable to otherwise poor farmers, who are now reaping the benefits of more robust harvests — and incomes. Known as ecological sanitation (EcoSan) or composting latrines, each toilet has twin pits. While one is in use, the other is sealed, and the contents, which are mixed with dirt and ash, decompose into rich compost that can then be dug out and used on fields.
Trials have shown that the composting latrines are significantly boosting crop yields. In one district in Niassa, the community saw unusually high rainfall, causing traditionally planted crops to rot. However, crops planted in soil mixed with the contents of EcoSan toilets thrived. The difference was startling. In fact, the maize plants grown with compost from the latrines towered over neighboring plants and fruit trees planted with the compost were the only ones laden with fruit. In another area of the province facing drought, farmers harvested a huge tobacco crop from a field planted with EcoSan compost, while nearby fields failed to sprout.
Similar innovations are revolutionizing poor people's access to water and helping them to earn a living. In India, where many water pumps lie disused due to ill-repair, WaterAid and local partner organizations have helped budding entrepreneurs to start pump and well repair businesses. These businesses ensure the sustainability of water supplies, while at the same time providing jobs to community members.
The mechanic training program in the district of Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh is a perfect example of this. In an area where 4,000 water pumps lie broken, WaterAid has worked with local people to set up a storefront and buy tools, bikes and water quality testing equipment. After training people from the community to become mechanics, including seven women, they started repairing pumps for any village willing to pay.
It worked. The mechanics have fixed over 300 pumps: pumps that help prevent disease, and that supply 30,000 people with fresh, clean water. What's more, the female mechanics have earned the respect of community members and feel empowered.
Such entrepreneurship is driving improvements in women's rights, prosperity, health and nutrition. Although small, these innovative water and sanitation projects are inspiring. In the face of adversity, communities are showing that a little creativity and the determined will to work hard to control their own destiny go a long way in helping escape the grips of poverty and providing a more secure future for their children.
Editor’s Note: In this guest post, Wherever the Need, a UK-based charity that develops and builds eco-toilets, discusses its Sanitation First project in Tamil Nadu, India. A version of the piece originally appeared here.
Tamil Nadu, on the Southeast coast of India, is considered to be one of the wealthiest states in the country, but behind the economic and industrial growth lies another story — one of acute poverty.
We have started to work with six of the poorest villages in rural Tamil Nadu. Not a single family in these communities has access to a toilet, which means that the local environment and water sources are polluted, spreading illness and disease. Diarrhoea remains one of the biggest killers of children in the region.
So what are we doing?
We are putting Sanitation First, and working to make sure every person in all six villages has access to good sanitation facilities. We are building ecosan (composting) toilets for each and every family within the villages.
Why is this innovative?
What’s new and exciting is that we are providing a sanitation service to maintain the programme. We are employing a care-taking team to empty the toilets and make sure the facilities are well-maintained and clean.
How do we pay for this?
This is the great bit — there is money to be made from poo! We store and compost the waste collected from the toilets, and sell it to generate income. This means that the programme is not just ecologically sustainable, but financially sustainable too.
Using this model we can support a cluster of 5-6 villages in one area. In due course we hope to roll out the programme to new areas and communities.
Initial trials have been so successful that our work has come to the attention of both local and central government in India. The Tamil Nadu State government is so impressed that they are subsidising the programme, providing 35% funding for every family ecosan toilet that we build.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Trupthi Basavaraj and Rachel Findlay of the charity think tank and consultancy NPC, which provides strategic support to the Stone Family Foundation and has coordinated the Stone Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water. Here they share some of the key lessons that NPC has learnt from running the Prize. A version of this story also appeared in Alliance magazine.
Prizes have long been successful at inspiring technological innovation, from determining a ship’s longitude to creating a toilet that costs less than five cents per user per day to operate. What is less common is using a prize as a tool to stimulate innovation in service delivery. So when the Stone Family Foundation set up the Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water, it was all about doing just that.
As a part of our wider strategy to support entrepreneurial initiatives in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, we launched the £100,000 Stone Prize earlier this year. After an extensive eight-month process of identifying and short-listing candidates, we finally found our Prize winner — Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) in Kenya — and four other organisations that we hope to support outside of the Prize.
The Prize came about as a way to identify early stage water initiatives that the Foundation could support, and eventually help scale up. The search was for innovative approaches to delivering safe water in a sustainable and cost-effective manner to those without access in sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. For the Foundation, running the Prize has been an exciting process, and one that has taught us several key lessons, three of which we have highlighted here.
Firstly, to attract the right type of initiatives and ultimately short-list candidates, it was important to set clear criteria — without being overly prescriptive. We identified six criteria for the Prize, but with a particular emphasis on two areas: a) innovation in technology or service delivery, typically in response to a specific need, and b) innovation in financial model, looking to harness the power of the private sector.
DSW meets both of these requirements. It addresses a clear need in rural Kenya: its water purification technology, a simple dispenser, is filled with chlorine and placed near a communal water source, allowing individuals to treat their water free of cost with the correct dose of chlorine. (To learn more about DSW's work, read this post.) But what makes this initiative truly exciting are two innovative financial models. First, the dispensers generate carbon credits by reducing the demand for boiling water using firewood, which DSW will eventually be able to sell. Second, DSW is able to bundle the dispenser as part of a wider package of agricultural goods sold by its partner, One Acre Fund. If successful, both models offer new ways of making water purification accessible and sustainable for low-income communities. It will also allow DSW to expand the Kenya Chlorine Dispenser System program into other countries.
Secondly, running a prize scheme is not just about funding. It’s also about generating publicity in a way that reactive grants programmes cannot. Getting publicity right is important not only for attracting applicants, but also for promoting the winning candidate and its approach. Our strategy was to identify the right partners and to leverage their extensive networks, reaching out to organisations both within the WASH sector and outside it. At the end of the first round, the Foundation received 179 applications from 39 different countries. We hope the Prize will not only help DSW gain recognition and attract further support from other funders, but also stimulate wider discussion on what innovation means for the water sector.
Finally, we also learnt that it was important to have the right reward in place. The promise of £100,000 for scaling up the winning initiative attracted a pool of strong applications, but as we narrowed down the candidates, it became clear that the level and type of funding offered through the Prize was not necessarily appropriate for all. As a result, the Foundation is now looking at the best way to support four highly commended candidates outside the Prize framework — this could be through providing investment or smaller grants to further test an aspect of the approach, or simply by helping to identify partners to move an initiative from pilot to scale.
For the Stone Family Foundation, the Prize has been a successful endeavour. It has enabled us to find some exceptionally strong grantees for the Foundation that we might not otherwise have discovered. It has also given us a sense of the wide range of innovations within the WASH sector, especially in countries such as Kenya, India, and Cambodia where the local environment has led to a growth in entrepreneurial initiatives. Much depends on what a funder is looking for and how a prize is structured, but we feel prizes can be an incredibly powerful tool for identifying and driving innovation.
The Rockefeller Foundation, Context Partners, and NextBillion invite you to hear first-hand from NGO leaders about how their organizations leverage networks to build and maintain their capacity to innovate. This webinar is especially salient to WASH sector organizations interested in learning about the best practices of NGOs, like Winrock International, who are paving the way forward with holistic and innovative approaches to water solutions.
Tuesday, October 2nd (1PM – 2PM ET)
The free, hour-long webinar, “Engaging Networks for Systemic Impact,” will include the following panelists:
- Kippy Joseph, The Rockefeller Foundation, Associate Director, Innovation
- Erik Hersman, Ushahidi, Co-founder
- Mary Renwick, Winrock International, Innovation Program Officer
- Mark Frohardt, Internews Center for Innovation & Learning, Executive Director
The discussion will cover tools and tactics to build and grow your organization's network, approaches to increase on-the-ground impact, and source solutions and resources beyond your staff.
For more information and to register, click here. To participate in the conversation on Twitter, follow the #EngagedNetworks hashtag.
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, John Thomas, fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, speaks about the role that philanthropic investment can play in cultivating innovative WASH solutions. In yesterday’s post, Braimah Apambire discussed the importance of advocacy for the WASH sector.
1. Describe what your organization does and what your role is.
I’m currently a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, where I conduct research and work with our partners and grantees to support the strategic development of various initiatives ranging from climate smart agriculture to fisheries management to water service delivery for poor or vulnerable populations.
The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission to promote the well-being of people throughout the world has remained unchanged since its founding in 1913. Today, that mission is applied to an era of rapid globalization. Our vision is that this century will be one in which globalization’s benefits are more widely shared and its challenges are more easily weathered.
To realize this vision, the Foundation seeks to achieve two fundamental goals in our work. First, we seek to build resilience that enhances individual, community and institutional capacity to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of acute crises and chronic stresses. Second, we seek to promote growth with equity in which the poor and vulnerable have more access to opportunities that improve their lives. In order to achieve these goals, the Foundation constructs its work into time-bound initiatives that have defined objectives and strategies for impact. These initiatives address challenges that lie either within or at the intersections of five issue areas: basic survival safeguards, global health, environment and climate change, urbanization, and social and economic security. For more information, please visit our web site.
2. Tell us one provocative question or issue you hope to tackle on the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH panel, and why.
One theme of the U.S. Philanthropy and WASH panel is innovation, which is perhaps one of the most over-used words in the English language. While philanthropic funds are often viewed as ‘risk capital’ and in theory foundations should have greater latitude to support ideas, organizations, and people that are pushing the boundaries of accepted practice, in reality foundations often choose the sure bets over the promising new idea, resulting in a critical gap.
I’m excited to chat with Rockefeller Foundation’s partner, Mary Renwick from Winrock International, about her experience as an innovator in the field of water and sanitation, and to really push the foundation community to be clear about what it is we mean by innovation, and how we support innovation in the water, health, and sanitation field.
3. What are you most looking forward to about Stockholm and/or World Water Week?
While there certainly are an incredible array of panels, seminars, and speakers to hear, I’m most excited for the chance encounters in the hallway after the seminars, or the coffee shop conversations where I can learn about interesting new work, and meet people who I haven’t met before, to learn in an unfiltered and informal way about the state of the field.
Editor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a press release announcing the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Over the course of a year, eight finalists were chosen and Bill Gates announced the winning team yesterday at the two-day Toilet Fair at the Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. Big congratulations to the winning team and to everyone who participated in this creative challenge.
Yesterday Bill Gates announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in Seattle — an effort to develop “next-generation” toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it. The awards recognize researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.
California Institute of Technology in the United States received the $100,000 first prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom won the $60,000 second place prize for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. University of Toronto in Canada won the third place prize of $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Special recognition and $40,000 went to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.
One year ago, the foundation issued a challenge to universities to design toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price.
The first, second, and third place winning prototypes were recognized for most closely matching the criteria presented in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.
Teams have been showcasing their prototypes and projects at a two-day event held at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle on August 14 and 15. The Reinvent the Toilet Fair is bringing together participants from 29 countries, including researchers, designers, investors, advocates, and representatives of the communities who will ultimately adopt these new inventions.
“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” said foundation Co-chair Bill Gates. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”
Unsafe methods to capture and treat human waste result in serious health problems and death. Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year. Most of these deaths could be prevented with the introduction of proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene.
Improving access to sanitation can also bring substantial economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, improved sanitation delivers up to $9 in social and economic benefits for every $1 invested because it increases productivity, reduces healthcare costs, and prevents illness, disability, and early death.
Other projects featured at the fair include better ways to empty latrines, user-centered designs for public toilet facilities, and insect-based latrines that decompose feces faster.
“Imagine what’s possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead,” said Gates. “Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations.”
Gates added: “All the participants are united by a common desire to create a better world — a world where no child dies needlessly from a lack of safe sanitation and where all people can live healthy, dignified lives.”
The Water, Sanitation & Hygiene initiative is part of the foundation’s Global Development Program, which addresses issues such as agricultural development and financial services — problems that affect the world’s poorest people but do not receive adequate attention. The initiative has committed more than $370 million to this area, with a focus on developing sustainable sanitation services that work for everyone, including the poor.
The foundation also announced a second round of Reinvent the Toilet Challenge grants totaling nearly $3.4 million. The grants were awarded to: Cranfield University (United Kingdom); Eram Scientific Solutions Private Limited (India); Research Triangle Institute (United States); and the University of Colorado Boulder (United States).
Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Diane Scott, senior communications officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and originally appeared on their blog, Impatient Optimists. Last year, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to create a toilet without piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity for less than 5 cents per user a day. At this year’s Reinvent the Toilet Fair on August 14-15, eight finalists will display working prototypes and full scale models, and Bill Gates will announce the winners.
I’d like to think I’m beyond giggling when I see “Synthetic Feces Update” on a meeting agenda. But let’s face it, I’m not. At the foundation’s main campus in Seattle, Washington, we’re talking about “fake poop” quite a bit these days as we get ready to host the Reinvent the Toilet Fair on August 14 and 15. We’ll be featuring toilet prototypes created over the last year by our grantees, some of which will be vying for the coveted “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge Award.”
The reinvented toilet is the brainchild of our Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program that aims to bring sanitation (i.e. toilets) to those who don’t have it and must resort to extremely unsanitary means (open defecation — as in doing it out in the open) to relieve themselves. And, to give these newfangled toilet prototypes a test drive while at the fair, we need synthetic feces. About 50 gallons of it.
Why do we even need to reinvent the toilet? First, there hasn’t been much serious innovation in the flush toilet for nearly 200 years. In public health terms, the flush toilet has improved health immensely; it has done a phenomenal job saving lives by helping safely dispose of urine, feces and nasty pathogens. But, it uses a lot of water, and isn’t a realistic solution for people in the developing world, where pipes aren’t already under neighborhoods to carry away the water and sewage, and there isn’t the money and electricity needed to treat sewage properly. Too many people still do not have access to a toilet. How many people? We’re talking about 2.5 billion people.
Here’s the theory behind the “reinvent the toilet” initiative: Innovation in science and technology has done amazing things to help people lead better lives from the introduction of vaccines to prevent against deadly diseases, to the increasingly widespread use of mobile phones in remote areas of the world to share information, transfer money and even pay bills.
Why can’t that same creative thinking be used to solve the problem of dealing with human waste? We believe it can.
Imagine a toilet that isn’t connected to the sewer or electricity — one that takes waste and converts it to energy, is affordable for people in the developing world and is so fabulous that everyone will want to use it. These are the ideas the Reinvent the Toilet Fair is looking to highlight.
But I digress from the topic of synthetic feces (and yes, I did just write that without snickering). Researchers from around the globe are bringing their reinvented toilet prototypes to the fair, and we need synthetic feces for the demonstrations. (And no, we can’t use real feces). Figuring out how much to order is just one part. The other piece of the puzzle is answering questions from exhibitors who need to know all about the “fake poop”: What’s the density? What’s the recipe? What stool size will you be giving us? Does it contain the right amount of energy? (I’m not really sure what that means, but it’s somehow important.) And, finally, will it have an odor?
We know that these “commode creators” are hard at work right now. We’ll be writing blog posts at Impatient Optimists and at partner publications around the web over the next few weeks about the reinvented toilet to get the perspectives on this fascinating issue from environmentalists, social good-doers, technologists and others, so stay tuned.
And, for those inquiring minds, what are synthetic feces made of? The recipe for the fair is simply soybean paste and rice — there’s a more complex recipe for hard-core research and development work. Finally, no, the synthetic feces won’t be scented — even my great recommendation for rose-scented fake poop didn’t fly!
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Alexandra Fielden, policy coordinator for Dispensers for Safe Water at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). In it, she discusses the benefits of IPA’s Chlorine Dispenser System, an innovative water treatment solution, and how the system has been implemented in villages in western Kenya. (Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals involved.)
Following the death of her daughter, Adimu was left to take care of her HIV-positive granddaughter, Tabia.
HIV has severely weakened Tabia’s immune system, making her especially vulnerable to waterborne diseases. “She would always need to go to the hospital,” says Adimu, “due to her weak immunity, she suffered from diarrhea regularly.” Visits to the local clinic to treat Tabia’s diarrhea were costly, uncomfortable, and time-consuming.
But since IPA’s Chlorine Dispenser System was set up in her community in Khasolo, western Kenya, Tabia has experienced far fewer cases of diarrhea and she is doing extremely well in school. “Chlorine has improved my granddaughter’s health since she no longer suffers from diarrhea,” says Adimu, with a smile.
In poor rural areas where constructing piped water systems are prohibitively expensive, the government and donor response has generally been to fund new water sources such as wells or boreholes.
However, this approach fails to ensure the safety of water during transportation and storage at the home. Because of unhygienic water collection behaviors and unsafe storage practices, re-contamination presents a major challenge in many settings. A study in western Kenya showed that spring protection led to a 66 percent reduction in fecal contamination at the water source, but the reductions were only 24 percent in water stored in people’s homes.
One inexpensive, safe, and effective option to improve water quality while protecting against re-contamination is to treat water with chlorine using IPA’s innovative Chlorine Dispenser System.
Installed at a communal water source, users simply turn a valve on the dispenser to release a metered dose of chlorine into their jerricans, which they then fill with water as usual. The chlorine mixes with the water and kills the germs that cause many diarrheal diseases. The chlorine provides protection from recontamination for up to 48 hours, and achieves an average diarrhea reduction of 41 percent.
Five-and-a-half miles northeast of Adimu and Tabia’s village lies Laban Springs, another community with access to the Chlorine Dispenser System. Here, Caroline explains that “the dispenser is easy to use, and being next to the water source reminds you to use it.” To encourage adoption, IPA partners with community volunteers, like Caroline, who serve as “dispenser promoters.” They work to educate the community about the dangers of contaminated water, to encourage use of the technology, and to ensure that a consistent supply of chlorine is available.
Results from a randomized trial in western Kenya documented that the CDS increases chlorine use six-fold compared to the existing approach of selling small bottles of chlorine through retail outlets. In target communities, preliminary studies showed that 50-61 percent of households had sustained detectable chlorine levels in household drinking water during unannounced visits over 3 years after CDS implementation, compared to 6-14 percent with access to the standard retail model.
A majority of the funding for CDS programs to date has been provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, some early funding commitments were made by local governments in Kenya, the Kenyan Ministry of Education, and a Kenyan water services board for CDS pilot projects. The World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, as well as private foundations and individuals, have also contributed to start-up costs of the program.
Over the last several years, Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) has been working in close collaboration with national ministries and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, to implement its programs in Kenya. Together, DSW and its partners have installed enough dispensers to provide access to safe water for more than 400,000 people across western Kenya.
DSW conducts regular spot checks to monitor the condition of the dispenser and its source, and to test that the dispenser is stocked with chlorine at the correct concentration and quality. In addition, the selection of responsible dispenser promoters and set-up of a local “hotline” for communities to report issues ensure that problems with the dispenser hardware are rapidly identified and remedied.
In 2012, DSW will continue to work with its partners to expand dispenser coverage; to pilot dispensers in other high-priority regions of Kenya; and to explore new areas where dispensers could lead to a significant reduction in diarrheal disease rates.
DSW also works in Haiti, Somalia, India, Bangladesh, Swaziland, and Uganda, and continues to explore the possibilities for piloting and scaling up dispensers in a number of target countries in sub-Saharan Africa. DSW aims to provide access to safe water for millions of people like Adimu, Tabia, and Caroline through the innovative Chlorine Dispenser System, a Proven Impact Initiative at IPA. To find out more, contact Dispensers for Safe Water: email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Our new Spotlight On... series shines a light on funders and NGOs working to bring critical solutions to water, sanitation, and hygiene issues. This guest blog is the first in the series. It is authored by Adrian Fradd, senior consultant at New Philanthropy Capital, who is in charge of the day-to-day management of the Stone Family Foundation and provides strategic support to its trustees.
Being a new funder in the WASH sector has sometimes felt like being the new kid in high school. It can be hard to know where you fit in — particularly when you’re not that big, or experienced, or well-connected. You have to decipher a whole new language and get up to speed on all the unspoken power dynamics and history. And there’s the danger you’ll fall in with the wrong crowd, try and be something you’re not, or get frustrated, drop out, and go it alone.
Of course the analogy only goes so far, and also has the effect of making people think I had a very unhappy time at high school. But I guess in a way it highlights some of challenges that a new, mid-sized funder faces when trying to work out its strategy, and the importance of initiatives like WASHfunders.org.
For us at the Stone Family Foundation, we still feel very much like the new kids, but we’re getting a clearer idea of the direction we’re heading in and the way we want to spend our annual WASH budget of £4m ($6.25m).
Our current approach is based on three main hypotheses. First, that market-based solutions, have the potential to provide sustainable, scalable, and efficient water and sanitation services to low-income households. Second, that more grant funding is needed to help these initiatives to transition from a successful pilot to operating at scale. And third, that the Stone Family Foundation is well-placed to fill this funding gap. We can provide grants of a meaningful scale, we have an appetite for risk, and we can take advantage of the business skills and experience of our trustee board and their contacts.
Since the end of 2010, we’ve started to put in place specific funding programs to refine, develop, and test these hypotheses. And as we seem to like to do things in threes, this has coalesced around three main initiatives.
The first, the major grants program, is focused on three countries, Cambodia, Zambia and Tanzania, where the foundation is making a small number of grants, with an average size of £1m ($1.6m). In Cambodia, it is funding a cluster of work in sanitation marketing — two programs are scaling up their work with local entrepreneurs, and then a third is exploring how to integrate sanitation marketing into a portfolio of approaches (such as targeted subsidies, CTLS, and government regulation) in order to achieve 100% sanitation coverage in a specific area.
The second, an innovation grants program, is looking to reach further down the food chain, identifying projects that are at an earlier stage of their development. In sanitation we are continuing with a proactive model — as promising ideas have been relatively straightforward to source — but with water, we’ve taken a different approach and have set up the Stone Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water. (First round applications close on 22nd March.)
And then the third, more nascent initiative, is a strategic grants program looking at how the foundation can help strengthen the resources and the support available to organisations looking to develop and scale their work. So for example, the foundation is funding Monitor Inclusive Markets to support a group of Indian organisations to test and strengthen the business model of their urban water purification. And it is exploring potential ways to open up sources of finance, by partnering with social impact investors and microfinance providers, as well as potentially supporting organisations to access carbon financing.
This is where we are at the moment. It’s all quite early stage, but also quite exciting, and we feel we’ve already learnt a lot, and are starting to refine and challenge some of our working hypotheses — for example, the specific role and potential of market-based solutions, and also the extra capacity the SFF will need to fund in this space.
As we learn more and our partners start to report back on the progress of their projects, we’ll post and blog the lessons on this site, and we’re happy to talk with others off-line and share our experiences in more detail — like why we chose Cambodia, Zambia and Tanzania as a focus for our major grants program. We’re also currently writing up a short report on what we’ve done to date, which should be out at the beginning of April.