Stars Foundation Announces Impact Award Winners for WASH

Editors 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! 

Muna Wehbe, CEO of the Stars Foundation

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.