5 Questions for… Ned Breslin of Water For People

Editors Note: This is the first in our new “5 Questions for…” series, where we pose five questions to foundation, NGO, and thought leaders in the WASH sector. In this post, Water For People’s CEO, Ned Breslin, discusses FLOW, tariff systems, sensors, and more in response to our questions.   

Ned Breslin, CEO of Water For People

If you are interested in participating in this series, send us an e-mail at: WASHfunders@foundationcenter.org.

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

That, as a sector, if we continue to muddle through with small-scale projects, and with programs that have no chance of scale or replication, and if we continue complaining about a lack of finance and poor political will, we won’t solve the water and sanitation crisis. We need to have the courage of a comprehensive polio eradication-type campaign and movement. We are ready to make a bolder move. All investments in water and sanitation need to last, because we can no longer accept girls walking back to polluted water sources past broken handpumps and taps. It’s time we begin to think seriously about creative financial models to replace water and sanitation facilities over time. As a sector, we need to lead the world in issues of transparency with longer-term monitoring that helps us understand what works and why. We are ready for this leap, we just need to take it.

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

I am extremely excited about our new partnership with Akvo on the future development of FLOW. As many know, Water For People developed FLOW as a way to meet our commitment to 10 years post-implementation monitoring. FLOW is great but we were overwhelmed by the demand for FLOW by other agencies. So we decided Akvo will take this process forward. Through the process of creating a partnership, the thing I learned the most is that alignment around values, organizational culture, and vision is vital to a partnership moving forward. Challenges will emerge but we can always move forward if aligned with a bigger vision in mind.

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

We focus on payment and tariffs. The days of sweat equity alone being sufficient for ownership are gone, thankfully. The challenge is to develop tariff systems that finance operations and maintenance (O&M), and also contribute in part to the eventual replacement of these systems over time while ensuring that all have access to water regardless of economic capacity. But someone has to pay, and ownership and sustainability will be elusive unless we embrace the fact that payment matters. We can debate who pays all we want, but someone has to pay — someone actually has to own that responsibility. Water For People works very hard at this issue. It’s not easy but it’s vital to all real discussions on ownership and sustainability.

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 love the potential of sensors in the water and sanitation sector. The ability to truly understand issues related to consumption patterns and, most importantly, functionality will be a big game changer. If sensors tell us when water systems are down, when they are repaired, and what is happening with water resources, we will be in a much stronger position to understand and respond to sustainability challenges. The one group I am watching now is SWEETLab — really good work there!

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)?  

The one resource I am inspired by is A Child’s Right program called “Proving It” (discussed in detail in this WASHfunders post). It’s early stages but it is a really nice attempt to track actual users over time. The web page will show you what is working and highlight when a system is down (leading to a reduction in the number of beneficiaries). This is a big step and should be supported when talking about aid transparency and all.

We are launching something called “Re-Imagining Reporting” in August at Stockholm Water Week. May be of interest for people as well. To follow the progress, keep track of our tweets via @NedBreslin and @waterforpeople.