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Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Patrick Moriarty, CEO of IRC. In his piece, Patrick stresses the importance of creating lasting systems to achieving the Global Goals, particularly for providing sanitation and drinking water services. Patrick shares how funders can help grantees transition from service providers to systems builders. A version of this post originally appeared here.

We all know that "he who pays the piper calls the tune" - but what if the tune is the wrong one for the times? Can pipers push for new tunes? IRC's CEO Patrick Moriarty thinks so.

On September 25, 2015, 193 world leaders committed to 17 Global Goals. One of them is to provide every human on the planet with sanitation and drinking water services. To achieve this we not only need to get sanitation services to 2.6 billion people who currently don't have them - but also to make sure that once received the services work forever.

People who work on the frontline know that building new toilets using charitable money isn't the answer. There's not enough charitable or aid money in the world, and outsiders lack the skills and local market knowledge to ever create something sustainable. So the solution lies not in building new toilets as charitable outsiders, but in building the local systems that can provide sanitation services. Systems that are led by national governments while drawing on the skills of national businesses and citizens organizations to actually provide the services.

Put simply, International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) have to stop being service providers and become systems builders. To do that, we need our donors and supporters to make this change with us.


Photo credit: IRC

Slow, messy and transformative vs. quick, measurable and trivial
"We know that what they're paying us to do is wrong, they do too - but it's where they want to put their bloody money anyway:" (nameless INGO colleague)

More and more sanitation (and drinking water) organizations emphasize the need to support system strengthening. They get that if we just keep doing what we're doing, we'll never reach everyone by 2030. And more seriously, even if we do reach billions of people, progress won't be sustainable with only aid funding.

Yet the bulk of aid money continues to flow to projects delivering new taps and toilets.

This is not surprising given that boards of philanthropies and national parliaments want hard numbers of "people we've helped", numbers that aren't easily extracted from messy and notoriously difficult to measure processes of systems strengthening. The challenge then is how to sell this critical work to either the no-nonsense business people who make up the boards of philanthropies, or parliamentarians representing aid-fatigued voters who want to know that their taxes are being well spent.

Honest donors that challenge themselves
For INGOs to move away from building toilets to building systems capable of providing sanitation services, donors too have to change - and there are positive signs of this. Visionary foundations like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Osprey Foundation are supporting a systems building agenda. The onus is on INGO's to find ways to encourage more donors to follow - in part by findings answers to the entirely legitimate requirement for clear measurement of impact. We need to show it works. We need to show that stronger systems deliver better water and sanitation services. We need to provide answers to questions like: How can we show progress? How can we evidence efficiency and effectiveness over time? This is something that many of us are already engaged in, but it undoubtedly needs further work.

But there's also an onus on donors to be honest with and challenge themselves. To accept that however big they are, their financial contribution is trivial in comparison to the need and ambition set out in the SDGs. They must ask themselves challenging questions about their organizational theories of change, which in non-development jargon means: how can their contributions impact on billions rather than a few thousand? How can they work together with other donors to achieve bigger collective impact and trigger the transformation needed at local and national level to ensure that everyone, everywhere will have access to sanitation service... forever.

How we can make change today
The good news is, we can start to change the way we work by building national systems today. With our partners Aguaconsult, WaterAid and Water for People we've developed a global Agenda for Change with guiding principles. Our ask to both our fellow INGOs and donors (not just our own - but all people who fund work in sanitation and drinking water) is simple but challenging:

1. Join us in the work of system building - district by district, country by country. Share our vision of a world where everyone has access to toilets, a world where aid or charity are not needed to provide sanitation services indefinitely.

2. Accept that the road to change will be long, expensive and messy - and that it will sometimes be difficult to share quick results or explain exactly which share of the change is directly attributable to you. Rather: understand that you are part of an unprecedented movement that changes the world.

3. Hold us - as implementers - to account: demand that we develop the tools and numbers not only to build national systems, but to do so effectively and with evidence. At the same time, provide your boards and ministers and parliamentarians with the data that they rightly demand.

We're convinced that it is only by fundamentally changing and strengthening the national systems that deliver water and sanitation services in a country, that the SDG ambition to achieve sanitation (and water) for everyone will be achieved by 2030. It starts with leadership, from donors and INGO's, challenging lazy assumptions that doing what we have always done has any chance of real success. There is another tune for the piper to play and its time to dance to it.

Find out more and join us:

Or get in touch!

#GlobalGoals #Agenda4change

Follow Patrick Moriarty on Twitter:

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Carlos Hurtado, Manager of Sustainable Management of Water, and Priscilla Treviño, Head of Evaluation, Strategic Planning and Research, at FEMSA Foundation. FEMSA Foundation is the corporate foundation of FEMSA, a conglomerate that operates throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines and is the largest independent bottler of Coca Cola in the world, the owner of a fast-growing convenience store chain in Latin American, and a shareholder of Heineken.For over five years, FEMSA Foundation’s approach to corporate social investment has supported projects and research in the water and nutrition sector.

Investing in the social and environmental sector is not only a responsibility of the business sector; it is also strategic. This guiding principle provides the basis for FEMSA Foundation’s approach towards social investment.

Decision-making for increased effectiveness and efficiency

During a field visit as part of the design evaluation for Water Links in Honduras. In the photograph: Priscilla Treviño and Gabriela Torres (FEMSA Foundation), Iris Pineda (Auditor from KPMG Honduras) and Gisela Contreras (Water For People Honduras). Credit: Elias Assaf (Water For People Honduras)

During a field visit as part of the design evaluation for Water Links in Honduras. In the photograph: Priscilla Treviño and Gabriela Torres (FEMSA Foundation), Iris Pineda (Auditor from KPMG Honduras) and Gisela Contreras (Water For People Honduras). Credit: Elias Assaf (Water For People Honduras)

A corporate foundation has an interesting asset: familiarity with business-based practices and skills. Many of these skills and practices are useful for reducing uncertainty, increasing the likelihood of success, and identifying risks and opportunities for improvement for project design. Drawing on these strengths of the business sector, over the last year FEMSA Foundation has developed and piloted various tools to improve the decision-making processes related to its work in the social sector. One of the most useful has been an outcome and impact forecast methodology that the Foundation has developed for WASH projects.

In the WASH sector, as well as in many other social sectors, anticipating and quantifying the effects of a project is challenging. Diverse intervention strategies are deployed in different and evolving contexts which makes comparisons difficult. However, by making use of forecasting techniques similar to those employed by the business sector, FEMSA Foundation has found that the expected effects of WASH interventions over time can be described and quantified.

FEMSA's conceptual framework for WASH

The conceptual framework developed by FEMSA Foundation as the basis for health effect forecasting. Data drawn from empirical literature and fieldwork research is used for estimating effect sizes on various expected outcomes. Using forecasting techniques, depending on the characteristics of an intervention planned (in red and blue), the expected effect size will vary. Combined with economic valuation techniques, forecasts enable cost-benefit analysis.

As a result of this methodology, FEMSA Foundation has identified triggers of success and social value for WASH projects. One of those is the social insertion component of a project which, based on data, impacts the sustainability of an intervention in the field. Specifically, community participation in decision-making processes, economic contributions from water users to install and sustain water access and infrastructure, and the training of water committees are now part of FEMSA Foundation’s strategy. Over 75% of the Foundation’s total investment in 2013 -- channeled towards various partners such as the Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), Habitat for Humanity and the Avina Foundation -- is now backed up by a strong social insertion component. This has led to important efficiency gains. Under the enhanced social insertion strategy, average costs associated with community fieldwork have increased by 23%, but economically valuated benefits have increased by more than 60%.

Collaboration within the social sector

The gap between NGOs, with experience getting things done on the ground, and institutions with technical expertise useful for planning, implementing, and assessing an intervention can be wide. The Foundation is working towards narrowing this gap between the social sector and other actors interested in tackling social and environmental problems.

Over the past year, FEMSA Foundation has worked closely with social sector organizations, academic partners and business leaders to unify visions and to leverage strengths and expertise for the improved design and management of social projects. One of these projects is Water Links, FEMSA Foundation’s flagship program for WASH service delivery. Water Links is co-financed by MWA and Coca Cola Latin America and operates in México, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia and Nicaragua, where it will benefit more than 110,000 people by 2015.

A hygiene promotion exercise in La Guajira, Colombia conducted together with beneficiaries meant to create awareness regarding waste disposal practices. Credit: Francesca Moschini (Aguayuda)

A hygiene promotion exercise in La Guajira, Colombia conducted together with beneficiaries meant to create awareness regarding waste disposal practices. Credit: Francesca Moschini (Aguayuda)

As a regional and inter-institutional program, Water Links is an outstanding opportunity for exploring various approaches towards WASH-related challenges. Initially, the evaluation strategy for Water Links was set around traditional reporting back to the donor. However, because FEMSA Foundation is committed to improving its decision-making processes, there was strong support for the translation of the initial evaluation model into a framework that was sufficiently sound to identify solutions for WASH-related challenges and yet appropriate to deploy in the field. FEMSA Foundation facilitated this change of vision by mapping information needs for comprehensive learning, providing guidelines for data analysis based in business-oriented practices, and offering technical expertise to enrich the evaluation model. Water Links also engaged with academia to address the benefits to the WASH sector and redesign instruments for data gathering. Finally, technical insight from MWA, the organization that works most closely on project implementation, ensured that the strategy proposed considered the challenges and realities faced in the field.

As a result of this collaboration, Water Links now has a sound monitoring, evaluation and learning model (MEL Framework). The Framework aims to capture relevant findings from the ground during the lifetime of the program through a continuous cycle of activities and instruments that will document the effectiveness of various WASH models of interventions, revealing good practices and pointing out implementation challenges.

The MEL Framework

Figure above exhibits the different stages that shape the continuous cycle of monitoring, evaluation and learning for Water Links meant to capture and translate data into a change of practice.

The MEL Framework, which is set to begin its activities on the ground in May, 2014, has turned Water Links into much more than the materials and activities paid for and implemented on field. It is now a program that is able to evolve to ensure sustainable benefits as well as an instrument to learn from and transform the way FEMSA Foundation and other interested actors work for the better. 

One Drop and Water For People have announced a strategic partnership to end water and sanitation poverty in India's Sheohar district.

To that end, Water For People and One Drop will invest $5.8 million and $5 million, respectively, over five years to increase the scale and impact of their work. Those efforts, which are expected to reach more than 650,000 people by 2018, will leverage One Drop's expertise in sustainable program delivery with Water For People's local connections and experience in providing market-based solutions, comprehensive hygiene education, and district-wide water coverage.

"We share the belief that sustainability and economic empowerment are the foundation of international development," said One Drop CEO Catherine B. Bachand. "This partnership will demonstrate ways the water sector can collaborate to increase the return on investment of funding and, ultimately, achieve the mutual goal of delivering sustainable solutions at scale."

"ONE DROP and Water for People Join Forces to Develop Sustainable Programming to End Water and Sanitation Poverty." One Drop Press Release 02/27/2014. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sierra Leone and Liberia were devastated by civil wars that lasted until about ten years ago. Coming out of the shadow of these conflicts has been a long and slow process. Lack of infrastructure and basic water and sanitation services continue to plague communities.

Over the last few years, WaterAid has been working with local partners to provide safe water and sanitation in particularly hard-to-reach communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. We interviewed WaterAid’s team leader for Sierra Leone and Liberia, Apollos Nwafor, as part of our “Flip” chat series. Watch the video to learn about the unique challenges of implementing WASH services in two post-conflict countries.

Figuring out which communities to target is the first step in the implementation process. Apollos describes WaterAid’s use of baseline data to determine which communities are the poorest and decide how to prioritize them. Establishing indicators and metrics from the start is also key to understanding the effectiveness of services.

Apollos further explains that to effect systemic change, WaterAid works with governments to strengthen policies, build capacity, and stimulate institutional reform. Emphasizing cross-sectors collaboration, he highlights the many areas that WASH services touch: from health to agriculture to women’s empowerment and livelihoods. To him, WASH services are not just about bringing water to a village, but about eradicating poverty and developing communities.

How does your organization approach funding WASH services? Are there lessons learned you can share about funding WASH services that target marginalized communities? Leave us a note in the comments section. 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have partnered to set up a joint trust fund to improve access to sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. Announced at World Water Week, the new Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund will receive a $15 million investment from the Gates Foundation and will leverage more than $28 million in investments from ADB by 2017.

The Trust Fund aims to increase non-sewered sanitation and develop septage management solutions through funding innovative projects and supporting policies for low-income urban communities across Asia. The Trust Fund will be part of ADB’s Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF). Over the last seven years, WFPF has invested $2.5 billion in WASH projects. Through initiatives such as Grand Challenges Exploration and Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the Gates Foundation has funded 85 development and research projects on sanitation.

View the infographic to learn about the Trust Fund’s goals.

Read ADB’s press release for additional details. 

Water for Breakfast

The WASH Grantmakers’ Network, along with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, will co-host the fourth annual peer‐to‐peer breakfast dialogue on innovative grantmaking in the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and health sector called Water for Breakfast. The event will include guests from Xylem Watermark, Procter & Gamble, the Veolia Foundation, the Avina Foundation, and others. 

Water for Breakfast 
Best and Promising Grantmaking Practices in the Global Water and Sanitation Sector 
Wednesday, September 25th, 7:30AM – 9:30AM 
Breakfast at 7:30AM, meeting starts promptly at 8AM 
Midtown Manhattan, New York, NY

This off‐the‐record, invitation-only conversation will provide current and potential grantmakers an opportunity to:

  • Meet other private and corporate philanthropic leaders in the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and health sector
  • Learn from experts on better collaboration, leveraging of public relations, and cost-effective giving practices
  • Exchange best, worst, and promising practices in grantmaking
  • Learn about innovations in access to capital and social entrepreneurship
  • Look for collaborative opportunities between and among private and corporate foundations, water sector experts, and the public sector 

At this year’s event, there will be a unique opportunity to discuss new leadership plans for the Network, and special guest speakers who will answer questions surfaced in previous meetings. A full agenda will follow. 

If you are interested in attending the Water for Breakfast event, please contact Ben Mann at or 571-225-5823.

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Anirudh Rajashekar, business development manager at the World Toilet Organization (WTO). Founded in 2001, the WTO is an international platform for toilet associations, government, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to influence governments to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. Anirudh discusses WTO’s approach to market-based solutions and public private partnerships in this post. 

Kim Un, with wife and 4 daughters, in Kampung Chhnang, Cambodia. Credit: Joy Wong

Kim Un, with wife and 4 daughters, in Kampung Chhnang, Cambodia. Kim Un purchased a SaniShop toilet to ensure the dignity of his family. He believes toilets should be a priority and hopes his toilet will encourage others in his village to invest in one. Credit: Joy Wong

Developing innovative and sustainable market-based approaches to address the sanitation crisis is at the heart of what we do at the World Toilet Organization (WTO). By combining global expertise with local insights, WTO strives to facilitate capacity building, broader understanding and replication of sustainable sanitation solutions. WTO pioneered the creation of SaniShop — a social enterprise that improves sanitation conditions globally by empowering local entrepreneurs. Based on a “social franchise” model that involves training local masons in developing countries to build and sell toilets to their community, SaniShop is now implemented in a diverse range of regions — a marked progress from its humble beginnings in 2008. 

WTO started its market-based approach in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Lien Aid and IDE in Kampung Speu where it built close to 10,000 household latrines in 2010. In 2012, SaniShop Cambodia tested the market in 7 provinces and has since scaled up in Kampung Chnnang where it has trained close to 60 sales people and 15 SaniShop franchisees. In 2012, the SaniShop ecosystem built 1,800 toilets and we expect that this rate of toilet construction will be financially sustainable in the future in each province. The key value proposition of SaniShop is to create a market for sanitation where there previously is none by facilitating the sale and production of toilets with strict quality control standards and fixed affordable pricing. SaniShop has also begun working in Odisha, India and Vietnam since 2012. In Odisha, WTO collaborated with a social enterprise, eKutir; while in Vietnam, WTO has worked with a large multinational to establish Toilet Academies to train sales persons and masons. 

SaniShop aims to restructure local sanitation marketplaces by encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship among local communities. Entrepreneurs are able to build, produce and sell toilets to sustain their livelihoods; therefore, SaniShop is not only bridging sanitation gaps but also acts as a catalyst to better a community’s way of life. 

In addition to its SaniShop operations, WTO is currently embarking on two pivotal public-private partnerships to pilot school sanitation projects for communities in South Africa and Nigeria respectively. In South Africa, WTO is working with Unilever to establish the Domestos Toilet Academy (DTA) in KwaZulu Natal. This is the first program that aims to integrate delivery structure to a community by implementing awareness, capacity building and affordable sanitation technology in schools and communities. Currently at the pilot stage, WTO will be implementing a baseline study; this will then be combined with stakeholder analysis to form a basis for implementation and evaluation before replicating across South Africa. In Nigeria, WTO is working on a partnership with Tolaram Foundation (Singapore) to refurbish 4 school toilet buildings in Lagos, Nigeria. This will also include the implementation of health and hygiene programs; the success of these programs will be measured by monitoring and evaluating students’ hygiene habits, health and school attendance. 

At WTO, we are constantly exploring new ways to reach out to the “toiletless” in sustainable ways. For example, WTO is currently researching new means of waste disposal and also new toilet designs that can tackle problematic terrain including areas with high water tables and areas with hard soil. 

WTO has also undertaken a number of projects beyond its market-based model: 

  • Worked with the Lien Foundation to build 30 toilets in 2006 in Hambatotta and Galle, Sri Lanka. Trained 30,000 individuals in ecosan usage.
  • Worked in Aceh, Indonesia following the tsunami after receiving a million dollar grant from the Singapore Red Cross in 2007. Built 7 community toilets in Banda Aceh and 6 in Meulaboh. Trainings for local engineers, contractors and architects were carried out in both cities to strengthen their capacity to design, construct and maintain sustainable sanitation systems in the future.
  • Worked in Trichy, India with Scope to build 10 ecosan toilets.
  • Worked with Lien Aid in Shanxi, China to build a school toilet block with the Chinese Environment Institute and the China Poverty Alleviation Association (CEEP).

We are currently moving towards a holistic, small scale pilot campaign in Bihar, India where WTO will facilitate the construction of toilets with local mason contractors with a goal of 100% sanitation facilities for all villagers. It is expected to be completed by late 2013.  

From our market-based approaches and public-private partnerships in the sanitation field, we have learnt that through collaborative effort significant progress can be made to improve global sanitation conditions. We look forward to furthering WTO’s mission in bringing health, dignity and well-being to all by continuously engaging with donors, partners and stakeholders in the work we do.

USAID Water and Development Strategy, 2013-2018

Editor’s Note: Today marks the launch of USAID’s first water and development strategy. The strategy addresses global WASH needs and how the organization plans to approach water programming with an emphasis on sustainability by improving health outcomes and managing water for agriculture over the next five years. Read the strategy document here and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #WaterStrategy. In this guest blog, authored by John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates, John examines the USAID strategy closely. A version of this post originally appeared here.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launches its first-ever five-year water strategy today. We’ve all been waiting a long time for this, so some initial and mostly positive reactions follow. 

First of all, congratulations to USAID and its many partners for getting this out the door. Any such strategy involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, particularly so for an issue as wide-ranging and multidisciplinary as water challenges across the globe. So congratulations to USAID (Chris Holmes, John Pasch, many others). A great number of nonprofits, Hill allies, and concerned citizens deserve kudos for their involvement and support as well over the past couple of years. 

What I like about USAID’s water strategy

  • It focuses on safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and does so in a way that also elevates and institutionalizes Integrated Water Resource Management and water for agriculture. The strategy also strongly positions water as foundational to sustainable progress across many other vital development challenges including health, food, education, HIV, gender equality, and climate change. I also welcome its increased emphasis on sanitation, especially since USAID joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership in 2012. “In countries that are off track to meet the [Millennium Development Goal] for sanitation, and where diarrheal disease and under-nutrition are prevalent, Missions must add sanitation as a key element of their water, health, and nutrition activities.” That’s some strong language. Inadequate sanitation — water contaminated with human feces — is what really kills and sickens kids, not simple water scarcity. Those millions of kids are dying because of waterborne illness, not simple thirst, and USAID’s renewed emphasis on sanitation positions the agency to save and improve kids’ lives across the globe.
  • The strategy draws much of its philosophy from USAID Forward, the agency’s attempt to transform itself and develop new models for development. The water strategy provides a refreshed vision of what USAID could/should look like in action across the board, with its focus on decentralized decision-making and ownership, local capacity strengthening, behavior change, and stronger monitoring and evaluation. This is perhaps the most important part of the strategy, and will hopefully be a big part of its implementation: the document leans forward into the sort of foreign assistance we should be supporting — less focused on direct service provision, and more focused on strengthening local capacity so that communities and countries will no longer require foreign assistance.
  • There are hints in the strategy of stronger monitoring and evaluation, and even language which indicates USAID will do so “beyond the typical USAID Program Cycle and... enable reasonable support to issues that arise post implementation.” This is good news, and I am all ears as to how this will be implemented. I know Susan DavisIRCSustainableWASH.orgWASH AdvocatesWater For People, and many others have ideas.
  • Integral to the strategy are a number of smart, flexible approaches to solving development challenges — approaches which also provide USAID much-needed leverage for its work: innovative financing (e.g. through USAID’s Development Credit Authority), policy reform, strengthening enabling environments, strengthening and building local capacity (e.g. through USAID’s Development Grants Program), and more opportunities for real partnerships like those with Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Priority countries, selectivity, and focus: the three tiers of countries make sense (with concerns noted below), as do the different levels of involvement envisioned in disparate countries and regions. Fewer countries (again, with concerns noted below) could provide increased opportunities for meaningful impact at scale, up to and including 100% coverage of WASH within certain discrete geographies (e.g. municipalities, provinces, even countries). This would obviate the debates about how to reach the poorest of the poor, gender focus, outlying farmers, distant huts, and so on. 100% is 100%, as inspired by Water For People’s Everyone Forever.

Perhaps most importantly, this strikes me as a learning strategy, a living document which has the potential to vastly improve USAID’s water programming in ways unforeseen at its launch. One example of something to be learned by the agency is how to differentiate between programming which focuses on first-timeaccess to WASH and that which focuses on improved access, a distinction sometimes lost in D.C. but vitally important in the developing world. Another opportunity is to figure out how to best make sure that projects continue to function as intended long after the program has technically ended. 

Areas on which I look forward to continuing to work with USAID

  • The numbers are under-ambitious: a five year strategy to get safe drinking water to only 10 million people and sanitation to only 6 million? In FY11 alone, the figures were 3.8 million people (water) and 1.9 million people (sanitation). I fully expect USAID to blow these numbers out of the water, both by providing more services, and by strengthening the capacity of local organizations across the globe to solve their own challenges.
  • The strategy does a great job of segmenting its approach into “transformative impact,” “leveraged impact,” and “strategic priority” countries. I get the distinctions, but I remain concerned that there is little in the strategy to prevent the vast majority of resources from going to a small handful of strategic priority countries that may or may not suffer from water and sanitation scarcity. I would have preferred that a clear, specific, and high percentage of funds be explicitly directed to countries and communities where water and sanitation coverage is the lowest in the world, and I look forward to continuing to work with USAID and the Hill on that front. Diplomacy and security concerns often trump development, and the strategy could have leaned further forward into this debate. An added benefit is that a more pro-poor approach to the implementation of the water strategy would more closely align it with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which focuses clearly and explicitly on the world’s poorest countries.
  • On a related note, I’m all for selectivity and focus leading to a smaller number of program countries for the water strategy. Dissipation is the enemy, but cutting from 62 countries to perhaps a couple dozen countries overnight is drastic, and will leave dozens of WASH-poor countries — with strong enabling environments (viz. “opportunity to succeed”) — high and dry. Country selection based on need and ‘opportunity to succeed’ requires very careful management. And a continuing omission is that, outside of Haiti, no country in the Western Hemisphere is a priority country for the Water for the Poor Act implementation. There are vast pockets of need in Latin America and the Caribbean, and I hope USAID takes this into account.
  • With the exception of one key paragraph on page 15, the two Strategic Objectives (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene and Water and Food Security) are inadequately linked. I would have liked to see the nexus of water, sanitation, and nutrition/food security highlighted. The problem is clear: repeated bouts of waterborne diarrheal disease lead to physical stunting and poor cognitive development of kids all around Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The solution is more integrated programming: making sure that children and families have safe drinking water with which to consume their food so that it is properly digested. I know USAID understands this and am surprised this linkage is not more prominent in the strategy. There are other solutions which would tackle concomitantly both Strategic Objectives (rainwater harvesting comes to mind) which aren’t included at all. 

What’s next?

Once the strategy is formally launched, USAID and its many partners across the U.S. and the globe have five years to make this work. The implementation phase of the strategy will build on many of the successes outlined above, and provide further guidance on the strategy’s shortcomings. The implementation of this strategy needs to closely align with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 and maintain and increase USAID’s focus on its core mission, “the eradication of extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, including widespread hunger and preventable child death.”  

Shortly after the strategy is launched, we can expect implementation guidance to better explain how to implement projects aligned with the strategy. That implementation guidance will very much color how the strategy will roll out over the coming years, the number of lives it will positively impact, and the return the U.S. taxpayer gets on his/her dollar. 

I intend to make sure that the right people in both developed and developing countries are aware and supportive, to the extent possible, of this strategy, and are positioned as allies for USAID as it works through the next five years. I envision better donor coordination, and I envision increased demand and supply for water assistance across the globe. I envision USAID reaching out to its philanthropic partners to leverage the taxpayer dollar, and I see millions of lives saved and improved. 

Congratulations again to USAID — looking forward to the implementation phase.

Young girl filling jerricans in the Ogurotapa village of the Pallisa district, Southeast Uganda. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Young girl filling jerricans in the Ogurotapa village of the Pallisa district, Southeast Uganda. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Editor’s Note: We pose four questions to Lisa Nash, CEO of Blue Planet Network, on how collaborative partnerships can scale the impact of multi-sector programs. 

Tell us about the H2O+ Uganda initiative BPN helped to launch last year.

H2O+ is a multi-sector initiative designed to eliminate the root causes of poverty. We developed the H2O+ initiative to reduce morbidity and mortality rates, and promote economic development in Uganda by integrating five related initiatives: (1) improved access to sanitation; (2) improved access to safe water; (3) improved community hygiene practices; (4) strengthened capacity at district and community health facilities; and (5) increased school enrollment of girls. 

ILF drilled a borehole well in the Ogiroi village for the H20+ program. 1,373 children and villagers will have safe drinking water from this water source. Credit: International Lifeline Fund

ILF drilled a borehole well in the Ogiroi village for the H20+ program. 1,373 children and villagers will have safe drinking water from this water source. Credit: International Lifeline Fund

H2O+ was piloted successfully in Pallisa, a district in Southeast Uganda, in 2012. The program brings clean water solutions and improved capacity to health clinics as well as communities. Five borehole wells were constructed near health clinics providing 6,392 villagers living in these five communities with direct access to clean water.  Additionally, those traveling from afar to these health clinics will have access to clean water, which we have calculated as approximately 4,000 visitors per year per health clinic. Because of the strategic placement of the wells, the program will benefit 25,600 people annually in these five communities.

How did BPN set up a private-public partnership to launch H2O+ in Uganda?

Boys playing near the Obutet borehole well where 2,610 people now have access to safe drinking water. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Boys playing near the Obutet borehole well where 2,610 people now have access to safe drinking water. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Once we formed the H2O+ concept, we identified key players at the local, regional, national, and international levels to build a unique collaborative model that could be replicated across Uganda. With a network of nearly 100 WASH members working in 27 countries, we invited one of our members, International Lifeline Fund (ILF), to take the lead on implementing the program. ILF is a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce human suffering through WASH initiatives, fuel-efficient stove programs, and micro-enterprise. They have constructed more than 200 borehole wells in Uganda serving over 150,000 people. Their demonstrated expertise in Uganda and entrepreneurial approach aligned well with the H2O+ model. 

ILF Water and Sanitation Team in Uganda working on the H20 Health+ project. Credit: International Lifeline Fund

ILF Water and Sanitation Team in Uganda working on the H20 Health+ project. Credit: International Lifeline Fund

H2O+ was launched in partnership with ReachScale, a company that brings social innovators, including corporations, NGOs, and governments, together to scale initiatives that increase innovation and impact.

Management Sciences for Health played a critical role in the planning stages of H2O+. They manage healthcare clinics throughout Uganda, and around the world, and implement WASH activities through advocacy, community mobilization, and hygiene and health education.

Local governments in the district of Palissa and community leaders were involved in H2O+ planning, baseline research, and analysis and implementation. Africa AHEAD  joined H2O+ and will introduce Community Health Clubs in Phase II as the best way to ensure a community-led approach to water and sanitation program development.

What was BPN’s approach to integrating the 5 related initiatives (water, sanitation, hygiene, health, and education) and identifying metrics?

The H2O+ initiative recognizes that health, water, sanitation, hygiene, and education are inextricably linked at the local level, as shown in the diagram below. H2O+ partners have experience leveraging their work to solve multiple community issues. BPN asked its partners: “How can we impact multiple aspects of community poverty?” rather than “How can we increase clean water, or how can we decrease visits to the health clinic?” The answers led to H2O+, an integrated approach to poverty alleviation. BPN worked with its partners to agree upon the project model, planning, implementation, and monitoring components. H2O+ partners agreed upon a common set of metrics that will be reported and analyzed on BPN’s platform.  

Source: Management Sciences for Health, BPN and Reach Scale

Source: Management Sciences for Health, BPN and Reach Scale

What were the challenges, lessons learned, and positive outcomes of coordinating the different stakeholders and getting everyone on board?

A girl from the Ogurotapa village where the Obutet borehole well was drilled in January 2013. Credit: Rudi Dundas

A girl from the Ogurotapa village where the Obutet borehole well was drilled in January 2013. Credit: Rudi Dundas

Agreeing on how to operate together was the largest challenge of H2O+, given the multi-level commitment of each partner. 

H2O+ planning was launched with several virtual planning meetings, and followed up with a site visit in Kampala, Uganda with representatives of several H2O+ partners. The program structure, metrics, and roles were discussed virtually, while the in-country visit was essential for building trust amongst district officials and H2O+ partners. As Dan Wolf, ILF’s founder and executive director explains, “The lesson always is to lay the groundwork well in advance of beginning operations.” Dan and his team realized that building collaborative relationships with local government officials was difficult without a foundation of understanding. “The problem was a lack of familiarity and trust with a new organization. We learned that we can always do a better job of explaining and leveraging our experience to show the District Water Offices the benefits of our partnership.”

H2O+ partners are now looking at economic development opportunities for women. Empowering women to make and sell clean cook stoves is a unique addition to a traditional water or health program. Carbon accreditation will generate a revenue stream that pays for equipment maintenance and community education. This multi-sector model has attracted funders because they see the opportunity to leverage partner integration for greater program outcomes.

The takeaways are:

  • Detail planning and role delineation up front is key. 
  • Combine the virtual with the physical. Being virtual encourages creative solutions.  Getting together in person builds trust that strengthens partnerships.
  • Be honest about evaluating progress and results. Always be open to refining the process for greater impact and stronger partnership. Measure, measure, measure.
  • Celebrate successes together, no matter how small. Partnerships are hard work, so it’s important to remind people every time you make progress toward your common goal. 

Editor’s Note: This post highlights an interview with John Anner of the East Meets West Foundation on how a technology platform and online collaborative network can solve barriers to growth, and scale the impact of their WASH programs. It was authored by Lisa Nash, CEO of Blue Planet Network.

How do you see technology scaling your Clean Water and Sanitation Program to provide more people in impoverished, rural areas with greater access to safe water and improved sanitation?

A 5-year-old girl in Da Nang, Vietnam benefits from an East Meets West Foundation project, which is tracked and managed on Blue Planet Network’s platform. Credit: Christine Krieg

A 5-year-old girl in Da Nang, Vietnam benefits from an East Meets West Foundation project, which is tracked and managed on Blue Planet Network’s platform. Credit: Christine Krieg

East Meets West Foundation (EMW) has partnered with Blue Planet Network since 2006 to plan, manage, and track over 40 WASH projects. We needed to find a partner whose technology services could help us scale and be more effective. We have uploaded nearly $1,000,000 worth of WASH projects on Blue Planet Network’s technology platform, increasing the impact of our projects for nearly 60,000 people in Cambodia and Vietnam. Blue Planet Network programs and services allows us  to spend less time inputting our project data and more time planning and implementing sustainable projects and learning from other NGOs doing similar work. Through the technology platform, we track our projects to make them even more scalable.

Can you provide an example of one of your WASH projects and how a tracking and management system is helping to scale your work even further?

Soramarith Secondary School students drinking clean water from a new water system at their school. Credit: Christine Krieg

Soramarith Secondary School students drinking clean water from a new water system at their school. Credit: Christine Krieg

One project in particular that we piloted in Cambodia was our Safe Water in Soramarith Secondary School project in the Kampong Chhnang Province, located 90 km east of Phnom Penh and one of the poorest provinces in the country. This is the first EMW clean water and sanitation project in Cambodia. We were able to secure funding for this pilot project and to expand our work further in Cambodia. The project enhanced the quality of life for 4,175 people in this area by increasing their access to clean water and improving hygienic and sanitary conditions. Today, we have four Cambodia projects helping approximately 12,000 people gain access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Being able to plan and track this project on an online technology platform that both our head office and our field offices could access improved communication and sped up our expansion plans without increasing cost.

Uploading the majority of our project data on an open-access system allows us to easily share the impact of our work and critical information on how we are improving WASH practices with international agencies, foundations, and state, federal, and local governments. 

How do you see the use of technology helping you launch new initiatives?

Recently, we were awarded a $10.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This grant will enable us to improve sanitation and hygiene practices among the rural poor in Vietnam and Cambodia. The right technology support is critical to our output-based approach and the success of our program. Since our expertise lies in program design and field work, and we don’t have the capacity, know-how, or resources to build our own WASH technology system, we use Blue Planet Network’s tools and services to help us plan, implement, and monitor our international programs. 

How exactly will monitoring and reporting help you achieve your Gates Foundation grant goals?

Screenshot of EMW’s Safe Water in Soramarith Secondary School project on Blue Planet Network’s platform.

Screenshot of EMW’s Safe Water in Soramarith Secondary School project on Blue Planet Network’s platform.

Using a project tracking and management system will help us increase the effectiveness and impact of our Gates Foundation $10.9 million program. We need to be able to track 1.7 million people in 344,000 households and 290 communes in Vietnam and Cambodia on the platform. We need a technology system that focuses on the full life of a project — from planning to implementation, and post implementation/monitoring — not just the final well or toilet. Other data we plan to track includes: region and time period, project challenges and successes, diversity and quantity of people impacted (women, children, low income), water volume and quality, water and sanitation usage, and more. And, we need to deliver ongoing project progress, data, and long-term monitoring reports online for easy access and full transparency to all our funders. This is invaluable data that we can share with stakeholders, and share with other NGOs so they can learn what worked best for us and the challenges we faced. We can even show funders or other NGOs how the communities are actively involved from the start, and empowered to manage everything from maintenance to financing to ensuring all community members live up to their commitments. The ability to customize the platform to meet all these needs will enable us to achieve greater results.

Going forward, we also want to use Blue Planet Network’s SMS reporting service to enable our cell phone-equipped communities, partners, and personnel to monitor and report on all our safe drinking water and sanitation installations. If a problem arises, we will be able to quickly see the reported texts and to provide immediate advice to remedy a challenge. SMS is a practical technology for us because most of our projects are located in very rural and marginalized communities of Cambodia and Vietnam. This service will scale the sustainability of our programs by reaching thousands of children and families living in some of the most high-need villages and empowering them to monitor and sustain their own community-led WASH systems.  

How would collaborating with other NGOs benefit your work and increase accountability?

Soramarith Secondary School students celebrating clean drinking water. Credit: Christine Krieg

Soramarith Secondary School students celebrating clean drinking water. Credit: Christine Krieg

As a member of Blue Planet Network, we participate actively in a semi-annual peer review process to share best practices with other implementing organizations working on similar programs around the world. We have reviewed 34 WASH applications since we joined the network in 2006. This has been a valuable learning experience for us. Additionally, 11 of our applications have been peer reviewed by other NGO members on the platform. These WASH organizations and leaders have included Dr. Meera Smith of Project Well, Lynn Roberts of Agua Para La Salud, and Carolyn Meub of Pure Water for the World. In order to complete the peer review process, we have to answer very technical and in-depth questions about our projects.

During our 2011 Cambodia project peer review, Lynn Roberts noted, “The Andoung Snay and Andoung Chrey Clean Water Project systems seem dependent on electricity. How reliable is the supply and is the cost included in the maintenance?” That discussion made us think more about contingencies on many levels. We welcome questions from fellow experts who aren't too close to our work. They help us make sure our project plans are designed for sustainability and have the full potential of addressing the WASH challenges in rural communities throughout Cambodia and Vietnam. 

Our former Water, Sanitation, & Environment Specialist with over 25 years of experience in planning, managing, and evaluating rural development projects, Rick McGowan believes that, “People who have more experience in the water development business have an obligation to help tutor and encourage those who have less experience...” And we couldn't agree more! We know that together — as one network, made up of many minds and sharing one purpose — we can collaborate and share learning to better plan, implement, and monitor sustainable water programs globally. 

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