Editor's Note: In this post, Tal Woolsey, an International Technical Advisor with CAWST who works in areas across Africa, including Zambia, Ethiopia and Uganda, tells a powerful story of what capacity building means in the WASH sector. This post originally appeared on the CAWST blog, to view the original post click here.
The term capacity building is used a lot in international development and the water sector. It’s a nice, compact phrase that tries—but fails—to capture just how powerful it can be in peoples’ lives.
Sure we need clean, universal phrases to help standardize communication, but they can sterilize emotion and impact: the very things that compel us to take action.
Robinson Mufumbilwa’s story is what “capacity building” means to me. It takes more than two words to communicate his story, and stories like his. But it’s these stories that leave me with no doubt about the effect of “capacity building” on a person’s life, and how it empowers that person to then impact others.
It was 2009 and I was in Zambia as a CAWST International Technical Advisor, working with a local organization called Seeds of Hope. I was sitting in a quiet room when suddenly there was a knock on the door, and a young man walked in, introducing himself as Robinson. He had completed a three-month community development program through a local college, been to a biosand filter seminar and was raring to go. The problem was, he didn’t really know how to go. He was excited and was hoping Seeds of Hope would commit to building biosand filters in his village.
I told him to remember what he’d learned about needs assessments. They were the best way to get an agency to commit because they helped to determine whether there was demand or need for filters in a village. I told him it wouldn’t take much more than some photocopying and going door to door in his village, and asked how much he thought it would cost.
Robinson said he thought it would cost about 50 Kwacha, the equivalent of nine Canadian dollars, which I told him didn’t sound like all that much.
Not much, but it was money Robinson didn’t have. So I pulled the equivalent of ten dollars out of my pocket and gave it to Robinson, who thanked me and walked out of the room.
Over the next few weeks, I visited several other African countries as I continued my work for CAWST. I never thought I’d see Robinson again and if I did, I guessed he had spent his money on something other than doing a needs assessment in his community.
Much to my surprise, when I returned to Zambia weeks later, I found Robinson sitting in an office at Seeds of Hope with a neat stack of papers on his lap, waiting to speak to someone. He had all these sheets of his needs assessment, and they had been compiled into percentages of houses visited and so on, all the stuff he’d learned to do.
Robinson wanted to hand the pile of information to someone at Seeds of Hope. So, I advised him to go straight to the Biosand Filter Centre and to present his research directly to management. That’s exactly what Robinson did. Through his research, Seeds of Hope understood the need and subsequently supplied filters to people in his village.
Three months passed when I again found Robinson, this time working in the Biosand Filter Centre, building the very filters that would benefit his village with his own two hands.
In later years, I returned to Zambia to teach seminars on rainwater harvesting, monitoring and evaluation, water quality testing and so on. Robinson was a participant in all of them, an avid learner and an increasingly valuable asset.
In 2012 I discovered Robinson had become Manager of the Biosand Filter Centre. Since then, he has been going through the CAWST Competency Validation Process and has achieved the designation of Lead Trainer. He has delivered training in Zambia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and, I expect as time goes by, many more African countries. He has become a leader and a subject matter authority in water issues.
I often wonder what would have happened if Robinson hadn’t taken that first seminar on the biosand filter and what would have happened if I didn’t have ten bucks in my pocket that day.
For me, this is the story of capacity building. Investing in knowledge and people is what makes a difference. Yes, it’s capacity building, but what does that really mean? It is believing in human beings and their ability to learn, to teach and to change lives. It’s an idea that may take longer to communicate, but which is far more compelling.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Sarah Fry, WASHplus activity manager for the USAID-funded project, SPLASH, which works to ensure that proper WASH facilities and hygiene education exist in schools. As the project nears its end, Sarah describes a surprise visit she took to SPLASH sites in Zambia’s Eastern Province and details a number of positive changes she witnessed, particularly in regards to engagement and ownership around WASH -- both within the schools as well as the broader communities. This post originally appeared here on the WASHplus Blog.
That’s literally, not figuratively, building bridges. Two weeks ago I would not have been able to even understand that question, but today I have a story to share with you. First of all, hello from Zambia. As the WASHplus activity manager for the USAID funded activity called SPLASH (Schools Promoting Learning Achievement through Sanitation and Hygiene), I have been here since early July working with our team to see this activity to its end on September 30th.
SPLASH began in early 2012, and since then has built over 3,000 school toilets, drilled, equipped or rehabilitated over 400 water points for schools, provided permanent handwashing and drinking water stations, and worked with teachers, the national government and local government to ensure that good hygiene practices and stronger systems for operating and maintaining school WASH facilities are put in place, and will stay in place. These activities have taken place in Zambia’s Eastern Province.
Before SPLASH started, Chief of Party Justin Lupele and I went on a “Road Show” out to the districts, where we introduced SPLASH to the government officials and local committees and started to build ownership and participation. The last three years have been a whirlwind of activity -- construction, training, community mobilizing, monitoring, publicizing, documenting. Justin and I thought that as the project nears its end, it would be good to go on another grand tour to get a solid sense of what has happened, what has changed, and maybe, what does it all mean. The only requirement we set was to not alert any schools that we were coming to visit.
Zambia is a vast, not densely populated country. Visiting schools requires spending a lot of time in vehicles riding on rough and dusty country roads. These distances impressed upon me how much staff and building contractor time and effort it took to reach the schools to carry out SPLASH activities. Bumping along, I had a chance to think and look forward to what we would find. I certainly expected to see positive changes and improvements at SPLASH schools. However, nothing prepared me for the sea of change that unfolded before us as we made our way to about 20 schools, mostly rural, but a few urban ones as well.
In 2012, we heard many complaints from schools about how communities were misusing their boreholes and denying any responsibility when they broke down. Now, every school has active WASH committee and pupil WASH Club and all are engaged in some form of joint school-community fundraising for maintenance and repair of the borehole. Handwashing after toilet use and before eating was a nearly universal practice by pupils, a habit acquired even if group handwashing hadn’t been inaugurated yet.
A major achievement was the presence of soap at almost all handwashing stations -- stealing soap is a thing of the past, we were told, because pupils want and like to wash their hands. Through the WASH Clubs peer education, they feel that the stations and the soap belong to them. Going beyond peer education, some WASH Clubs are visiting local health centers and performing hygiene skits and poems for women gathered for pre-natal and under-five clinics. In addition, Teachers were delighted with drinking water stations close to the classrooms because time away from lessons was reduced.
Possibly the biggest change was the universal acceptance of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) as a necessary and welcome part of the school program. Zambia, like many African countries, has taboos, myths and restrictions around menstruation, which is almost never discussed openly. Facilities and support for menstruating girls in schools is nearly absent, causing girls to stay home and miss weeks of lessons during the school year. Girls at SPLASH schools were thrilled with their beautiful washrooms -- shower/toilet structures built to accommodate MHM.
However, no one had anticipated the envy of the boys, who are now demanding their own washrooms to clean up after sports. MHM has entered into the vocabulary and into the culture, to the point where one WASH Committee was holding pad making parties for the girls, but then headed out into the community to distribute them to women in need. The taboos around menstruation seem to have melted away.
While the news from schools is very good -- and we will soon be able to quantify what kind of effect SPLASH had on the schools -- we encountered even more good news during this visit, outcomes that I can only call “unexpected consequences” of WASH in schools, and that frankly, I was unprepared for. The big apparent message is that WASH in schools can lift an entire community up and can bring about changes that were previously not possible.
Launching SPLASH with School Led Total Sanitation “triggering” shifted social norms in surrounding communities around open defecation practices to such a degree that we heard of headmen ordering all households to build latrines or pay a fine! Over a thousand household latrines have been built as a result.
In one school receiving a water point, a new classroom block was built where previously there was only a thatched shelter. Teachers’ houses have gone up, and a new water source at another school enabled a clinic to be built nearby.
Every single school stocked soap and toilet paper -- a miracle right there -- and consequently local shops were seeing a rise in sales of hygiene products. Some schools have a “one child one bottle” policy, leading local businesses to stock up on drinks to satisfy the demand for bottles.
One of the best “unexpected outcome” is the engagement of artisans in building the latrines and washrooms, and who, in the process, have gained marketable skills.
They have found work on road crews (may the work be speeded up!) and other local construction projects and in one case were solicited by a health center next to a school that has decided to build an exact replica of a SPLASH toilet.
Leading the parade of successful new entrepreneurs is the ex-SPLASH artisan who proved so competent that once the latrine construction was done, he was hired to oversee the building of a new bridge. And that’s what WASH in schools and building bridges have in common!
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.