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John Sauer, Senior Technical Advisor for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at Population Services International (PSI)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by John Sauer, Senior Technical Advisor for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at Population Services International (PSI). In his piece, John lauds the growing appreciation among WASH practitioners for market-based, holistic approaches to challenges in the sector, but also notes that this enthusiasm has been slow to translate into action. He lists several reasons for this sluggish adoption and describes what PSI is doing to apply the principles of market development to its projects on the ground.

With the excitement and buzz of World Water Day behind us I’m left both inspired and concerned. I’m inspired because there is a growing understanding by WASH professionals that it will take market development and systemic change to truly solve the problem. These methods look overall at what is working and not working in terms of WASH services for populations at risk across value chains and within the market system, and then, based on that analysis, develop targeted interventions with pro-poor innovations to make markets work. What is also exciting is the impact that adopting and implementing these approaches might have on the development sector in general.

What is concerning is that I still only see a handful of WASH projects and organizations fully focused on market development and systemic change. In other words there is a lot of talk but no action. Why?

I think there are a few reasons that I hope will change quickly for the sake of WASH and for development overall.

1)    WASH players are still learning how to do market development

While there have been some great thought pieces written recently about why market development approaches to WASH are critical to success, very few projects are modeling and testing these approaches. We need more players involved with market development approaches. We need more UN agencies, donors, foundations and governments asking for and demanding market development approaches to WASH programs. NGOs and other players should do market development systematically, learn from implementation (through state-of-the-art monitoring and evaluation), and share their findings with the WASH sector, as well as the wider community of practice. These findings should include real examples of what works and what doesn’t.

Fortunately for the WASH sector this energy for exploring market development comes at a time when the wider market development community (traditionally in the agriculture sector) is actively compiling and publishing practitioner resources. The market development community is also trying to get wider adoption from the health sector, in particular WASH.

2)    Funders are still learning how to fund market development

Funders need evidence to drive their funding decisions (rightfully so), and market development work in WASH is in its early days. But we also know that traditional programming focused only on the number of boreholes installed or toilets constructed does not yield transformative change and is often unsustainable. And market development is also a field with some serious discipline and evidence-based thinking behind it (driven by DCED, BEAM Exchange and others). Donors looking to increase their impact should seriously consider funding new market development approaches, so long as those approaches have a rigorous evaluation process tied to them.

3)    Market Development ≠ Marketing

Make no mistake; marketing is an important part of market development. Market development, though, is much wider and looks at understanding the total market as it is now and its potential for sustainable growth. It includes but goes beyond enterprise level support, as market failures will be at other levels too, especially in sanitation.

As for action, I’ve just joined PSI as Senior Technical Advisor for its WASH program and a primary driver for my move here was my new employers’ commitment to market development approaches in health.  Recently, PSI has been adopting market development work into WASH, and sanitation particularly, and plans to continue to expand this work globally.

One of the programs I’m most excited about is a market development program we’ve just launched with USAID funding in West Africa (Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana) to improve sanitation and fecal sludge management services for a projected one million people. The program, called Sanitation Service Delivery, involves partners PATH and WSUP, and will support interventions based on a market landscape and analysis in product and service design, business model development, government partnerships, and demand- and supply-side financing. There is also a strong component focused on shared learning that starts with this blog and that will continue in a variety of channels.

So learn with us and follow our progress as we build the evidence that market-based solutions in WASH work. In doing so, we hope to prompt those who are still skeptical to action as well. 

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. 

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