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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. 

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. 

Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Shalini Nataraj, director of advocacy and partnerships at Global Fund for Women. Shalini discusses why it is important to address human rights, specifically women’s rights, on the local level to determine context-specific and appropriate WASH solutions. She also highlights the work of three Global Fund grantees based in Vietnam and Kenya who serve as examples of organizations successfully tackling these issues. 

Participant at Global Fund convening in Kenya learning about indigenous plants and organic farming methods. Credit: Global Fund for Women / Margaret Youngs

Participant at Global Fund convening in Kenya learning about indigenous plants and organic farming methods. Credit: Global Fund for Women / Margaret Youngs

A well is a well, right? As a funder, you fund the digging of a well for a community that lacks access to clean water, and the hoped-for outcome is that the problem is now solved. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, it is not so simple. The well’s location might make women more vulnerable to sexual assault, for example. 

As a funder, Global Fund for Women supports organizations that seek to address access to water as a fundamental human rights issue. These organizations address the inequities, and ensure that the rights of the local women are respected.

In July 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council formally adopted a resolution calling on States and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity, and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, and to provide safe, clean, accessible, and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. While this recognition of the human right to water is based on many legal principles, what does ensuring the right to water look like at the local level?

Unless those of us who fund WASH understand that access to water is fundamentally about power relations and systemic societal inequities, with national priorities often working in favor of the powerful and wealthy, funding access to clean water and sanitation is going to be piecemeal and unsustainable.

The first question that needs to be answered is, “Who benefits?” The answer is not simple. In answering that question, the conceptual framework of the human right to water can challenge the underlying structural inequalities plaguing the poor and powerless communities around the world who lack access to water. It offers these communities the tools and arguments to hold the State accountable for implementing its human rights obligations, and to demand that the basic needs of the communities are met over the wishes of the few who have the power and money. It is about funding a range of strategies and interventions that create the enabling context for sustainable WASH programs.

Global Fund prioritizes funding women-led organizations that not only seek to address the immediate needs of communities, but also advocate for the rights of communities. We enable women to access the training and tools to advocate on their own behalf.

Global Fund grantee, Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD), in Vietnam, operates projects to improve water access in several poor riverine communities. Using a holistic approach, it educates the public and the government on the social and environmental impacts of dams and the benefits of alternative methods of energy development.

Women and girls in remote and rural areas of Vietnam are excluded from the decision-making processes in local development projects, especially with regard to natural resource management. WARECOD is particularly focused on fishing villages along the Red River in northern Vietnam that provides water and nutrition to millions of people. WARECOD says that, “social customs and traditional responsibilities relegate fishing women to lower social levels than males, lower even than social levels of other women in rural areas.” In a world where the Food and Agriculture Organization states that women are most often the collectors, users, and managers of water in the household, as well as farmers of crops, WARECOD recognizes the need to ensure women are supported in their vital role in managing environmental resources. WARECOD’s water management projects are designed to increase the capacity and decision-making power of women in the community, and by transferring critical skills and knowledge in their water management program, WARECOD hopes to create a channel for women to exercise their participation and rights.

WARECOD operates several projects to supply local communities with access to clean water, help rebuild elementary schools, and aid farmers in obtaining advanced farming technology to increase their income. Staff are also gathering data on the livelihoods of fishing women and their access to clean water. WARECOD plans to use the research findings to support future advocacy work, so that it can use concrete data in pressuring local governments to improve the living conditions for women and girls in the area. The findings will also be documented and distributed to local authorities and agencies, and presented at conferences.

A long-time Global Fund grantee, Groups of Women in Water & Agricultural Kochieng (GWAKO), works in Kochieng, western Kenya, to improve women’s health, protect girls’ right to education, and boost women’s economic status. The overwhelming majority of Kenyans don’t have access to clean water. Girls’ participation in education is severely restricted because they must spend hours fetching water for their families. Water-related diseases continue to be among the four top causes of death among women on the African continent.

GWAKO activities have resulted in wells in rural communities where women previously traveled for three to six hours to fetch water. The organization also conducts community education about hygiene and sanitation, improves farming methods for women, and installs washing facilities and latrines in schools. It has grown into a consortium of forty-one women’s groups in more than fourteen villages. GWAKO has also improved women’s access to food by training the women in modern farming methods that produce higher yields. Such changes are critical in a region where severe poverty increasingly forces girls into transactional sex to obtain food.

Also based in Kenya, Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS), builds demonstration plots to train women in improved agricultural practices. GROOTS works with women farming groups to provide training on sustainable agricultural practices, such as greenhouse use. More importantly, GROOTS created watchdog committees to safeguard women’s property and advocate for land tenure, housing, property, and inheritance rights of women and children. GROOTS facilitates direct participation of grassroots women in various national, regional, and global conferences, creating a platform for women most impacted by development policies to be heard by decision-makers. Its efforts have resulted in increased women’s representation as village elders, provincial administrators, members of local development funds, and in the management of educational institutions.

These examples seek to illustrate Global Fund’s approach to funding WASH — one that acknowledges the realities in which communities operate — and to creating systemic change in order to ensure long-lasting solutions to WASH issues. Using women’s rights, especially the right to water, as a lens to fund WASH programs is a sustainable way to build just, equitable, and peaceful societies. 

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