5 Questions for… Dr. Kerstin Danert of Skat Foundation

Editors Note: We pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector as part of our “5 Questions for…” series. In this post, Dr. Kerstin Danert, water and sanitation specialist at the Swiss-based Skat Foundation, shares her thoughts on community engagement, the power of networks, and more in response to our questions. 

Dr. Kerstin Danert, Skat Foundation

1. What is the number one most critical issue facing the WASH sector today?

Collectively, we have the means, the methods, and the technology to enable everyone to access safe and sustainable drinking water and sanitation services. However, we need much more consideration of PPPs — People, Power, and Politics. In other words, people’s different needs and abilities, the huge global, national, and local power imbalances, and political pressure, as well as political response.

2. Tell us about one collaboration or partnership your organization undertook and the lessons learned from that experience.

Skat Foundation hosts the secretariat for the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN), a network that enables practitioners, professionals, and, ultimately, water users to make informed decisions on how to improve and maintain access to safe water in rural areas. As a network, from 2011 onward we have very much tried to boost the interaction, building up of trust, and sharing of experiences (positive and negative) between practitioners and professionals working in rural water supplies. This is through online communities as well as face-to-face events.  As I observe the exchanges in several of these communities, which enable people in different countries and contexts to realise that they face some of the same problems, and learn how others have overcome them, I am convinced that there is much more potential to catalyse change through networking.

3. How do you work with local communities to promote project ownership and sustainability?

The Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) now has over 2,600 members — people working directly with communities, as well as those more removed from the “front line”. There is a wide range in how these practitioners and professionals (and the organisations that they work for) engage with communities. However, cutting across all of them, I think that there is need for much more serious consideration of how to encourage and support water users to directly help themselves, in incremental ways, such as through self-supply. We are also learning that community management needs ongoing support to be successful. And in the case of larger, multi-village schemes, professional management and regulation may be the only way to support a reliable service. We still need to understand more about why services are working and failing within the specifics of the context in which they operate and to learn from these.

4. Tell us about an emerging technology or solution that excites you and that you think will make a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5-10 years?

I still stand true to the last of our seven myths that we published in the Myths of the Rural Water Supply Sector in 2009, that there is no magic bullet or one simple solution.  Fundamentally there is need for much more cooperation between organisations.  And I am encouraged to see this happening in some countries and certain localities. I get excited when I hear, see, and read about organisations (and individuals) really working with others to solve problems and do good quality work. Government, NGO, development partners and others can really come together to work out how to build on their strengths for the country, or local area, as a whole. Steady, joined up ways of working can have a big impact in the WASH sector over the next 5 to 25 years.

5. There are lots of great WASH resources, ranging from striking data visualizations to good, old-fashioned reports. What’s caught your eye lately (besides WASHfunders, of course)?  

It would be too obvious to talk about the wonderful water point mapping work that seems to have grown in popularity recently. When we prepared our recent publication on Finding Information in Rural Water Supplies, I was struck by just how much information is actually out there. So let me talk about what I have not seen — and that is a web site which intelligently pulls together the WASH (and water resources) information and links from different sources country by country (or state by state in the case of large countries) in a very accessible manner. I think that this could make a difference — not only to productivity, but also to the discussion — and to politics.