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Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Participation

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

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

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

  • Environmental context

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

  • Entry-point intervention

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

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

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

  • Inclusion

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

Unrestricted funding

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

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

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

Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

This is symptomatic of many of our local partners.

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

But our Awards program did not reflect that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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