Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates. John describes a session he chaired at the World Justice Forum IV in July that explored the nexus between water challenges and rule of law — two areas often seen as representing separate development sectors. In the post, he explains how water solutions and rule of law can be mutually reinforcing and cites ongoing projects in which communities and their governments are working together to address challenges in WASH. A version of this post originally appeared here.
I had the honor of chairing a session on Sustainable Water Solutions and the Rule of Law at the World Justice Forum IV in The Hague. During the vigorous two hour dialogue, it became clear that the street between water and rule of law runs both ways: A solid rule of law foundation will likely enhance the sustainability and scalability of water programs by increasing collaboration with and leadership from governments, and effective water programs will fortify rule of law by strengthening the social contract between citizens and their governments.
I spent years implementing democracy and governance programs in Africa on behalf of the U.S. government, and jumped at the opportunity to build this bridge between that world and my current water portfolio — two seemingly distinct development sectors. In framing the panel, I positioned rule of law — broadly defined, as in Wikipedia’s “authority and influence of law in society” — as an enabler, as a catalyst, of sustainable, institutionalized progress toward all global development challenges. On the flipside, I also see more progress on water challenges as one of many ways to strengthen the rule of law. For example, the most interesting question asked during the opening plenary of the World Justice Forum was “Is there a primary school for rule of law, or does one have to wait until graduate school to learn about it?” I assert that there is indeed a primary school for the rule of law: a village water committee anywhere in the world. The first experience many people — especially women — have in the developing world with rule of law and with participatory democracy is via their participation on local committees designed to identify and sustainably address local challenges. Tip O’Neill, a famous American politician, said “All politics is local.” Well, so are development challenges and solutions, especially those related to water. So that village water committee in rural India is a primary school for rule of law. An HIV support group in South Africa is a primary school for rule of law, solving its own community challenges, often alongside its government. A women’s neighborhood group focused on sanitation in Nairobi or Mexico City is a primary school for rule of law, as are local school boards, housing committees, and the like.
Water challenges at local, national, and transboundary levels all offer individuals an opportunity to strengthen the social contract between themselves and their governments. To achieve universal coverage of safe drinking water on the planet, in the compressed timeframe for which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy advocated at the Forum, governments must work hand-in-hand with their constituents.
Here are a handful of rule of law/water solutions underway, and worth tracking and supporting:
- Community water boards by the thousands are becoming stronger throughout Latin America with the help of la Fundación Avina, making safe water more accessible to millions of Latin Americans, and at the same time creating more open, democratic societies.
- Rule of law is making water more accessible and safer across the globe: e.g., cities are adding rainwater harvesting to building codes in India, and municipal development plans are incorporating community sanitation facilities in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
- The Nile Basin Initiative continues to strengthen the capacity of the Nile’s riparian states to stay ahead of the water conflict predicted by many for the region.
- Water For People’s Everyone Forever effort focuses first and foremost on the interaction between citizens and their governments, with the international community playing a catalytic role; this will eventually obviate the need for any outside assistance.
- The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership attracts Finance Ministers to its High Level Meeting every two years. Stronger political will makes it possible for those Finance Ministers to do what they already want to do: increase budgets and strengthen policies for water in their countries by making and meeting tangible, time-bound commitments.
- Civil society organizations across the developing world are now using this toolkit “How to Campaign on Water and Sanitation Issues During an Election” to make sure that elected leaders have committed to tackling water challenges long before their terms in office. This toolkit should be used in every election tracked by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
The water challenges across the globe are grave. But they are solvable, and being solved by communities and governments as I write. My ambition is that rule of law and water communities will find more ways to work together across a number of platforms, and that both communities will emerge stronger from those collaborative efforts.
In an effort to improve the health and productivity of their employees worldwide, several large multinational companies have signed the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) “Pledge for Access to Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the Workplace.”
WBCSD’s pledge calls on companies to provide access to WASH for employees across the globe within three years and already counts a number of big names in business as participants. Companies such as Nestle, Grief, Borealis AG, EDF, Deloitte LLP, Roche Group, Unilever, and the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) are among the current signatories and the WBCSD is calling on more business leaders to sign on.
The pledge recognizes that billions of people live without access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation and reflects a commitment to WBCSD’s Vision 2050, which envisions nine billion people living well within the limits of the planet.
The pledge’s initial focus is to provide access to WASH for those directly employed by participating companies. In the long term, the intention is to promote access for all workers along the value chain and, ultimately, improve WASH access in the communities in which they live.
The WBCSD’s Water Working Group, the pledge’s originator, has an international membership of approximately 60 companies and 18 regional network partners. More details about the pledge — and the business incentives associated with improved access to WASH — can be found here. Read the full pledge and guiding principles.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sierra Leone and Liberia were devastated by civil wars that lasted until about ten years ago. Coming out of the shadow of these conflicts has been a long and slow process. Lack of infrastructure and basic water and sanitation services continue to plague communities.
Over the last few years, WaterAid has been working with local partners to provide safe water and sanitation in particularly hard-to-reach communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. We interviewed WaterAid’s team leader for Sierra Leone and Liberia, Apollos Nwafor, as part of our “Flip” chat series. Watch the video to learn about the unique challenges of implementing WASH services in two post-conflict countries.
Figuring out which communities to target is the first step in the implementation process. Apollos describes WaterAid’s use of baseline data to determine which communities are the poorest and decide how to prioritize them. Establishing indicators and metrics from the start is also key to understanding the effectiveness of services.
Apollos further explains that to effect systemic change, WaterAid works with governments to strengthen policies, build capacity, and stimulate institutional reform. Emphasizing cross-sectors collaboration, he highlights the many areas that WASH services touch: from health to agriculture to women’s empowerment and livelihoods. To him, WASH services are not just about bringing water to a village, but about eradicating poverty and developing communities.
How does your organization approach funding WASH services? Are there lessons learned you can share about funding WASH services that target marginalized communities? Leave us a note in the comments section.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog was authored by Eric Stowe, founder and executive director of Splash, a nonprofit that aims to change the lives of vulnerable children in impoverished urban areas through WASH interventions in orphanages, schools, children’s hospitals, street shelters, and rescue homes. Eric introduces the concept of killing one’s charity and why an exit strategy is important for organizations that want to succeed at their missions and have lasting impact.
I have spent virtually every waking moment for the last six years building my international charity, Splash. As of this month, we implement WASH projects serving 250,000 children in seven countries every day — and we are fast on our way to doing so for more than one million children. In the coming months, we will achieve our largest goal yet: bringing clean water to every orphanage in China!
Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of this work, of the phenomenal team undertaking it, and of the mounting progress we’ve made. I see significant growth in our future — operationally, financially, programmatically — and even greater impact for the thousands of children we serve.
Yet, despite this significant progress, I want nothing more than to kill my charity.
I know that may seem kind of blunt for someone who has worked in the nonprofit world my entire professional career and in the WASH sector for the better part of a decade. Yet I can state without hesitation that I am tired of the same ineffective international nonprofit model and I am desperate to see a change. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply love my job, but ultimately I want to kill the organization that provides it.
For years, I have worked within and seen up close traditional international charities operating with the firm belief that they are THE solution to any problem they are tackling. I don’t agree. We’ve seen little proof in the long term that these conventional mentalities actually scale real and lasting solutions — solutions that end the perpetual cycle of their work altogether. So when I look out at the landscape of the charitable sector, I have reservations about the rapid proliferation of new charities wanting to implement or fund projects internationally.
When I first started Splash, in 2007, there were more than 12,000 U.S. charities working internationally. Six years later, there are nearly 17,000. Collectively, these nonprofits represent more than $30 billion dollars in total annual donations.
$30 billion. That is a lot of money with the potential to achieve dramatic change of the systems, and significant impact on the challenges, we in the sector work with and on. And every year forward that amount is projected to increase as will the number of charities it supports.
Now here is a critical question: how many of those organizations do you believe will go out of business, not because of poor stewardship, egregious acts, or lackluster fundraising, but because they actually accomplished their missions and can ethically and effectively close up shop? Can you name more than a handful that ever have? Conversely, how many do you believe will simply continue to grow or live on indefinitely with no end in sight? The latter is most assuredly the norm, yet the former is what every international charity claims is their long-range vision: to see a day when our work is no longer needed.
If redundancy is the goal, shouldn’t we be planning for it, then?
I started Splash believing charity at its best can solve any massive problem only by enabling the communities we serve to take over our work, do it better, more efficiently, and at greater scale in the future. Building on local strengths, facilitating locally appropriate funding streams, nurturing local community support, aligning local governmental investment and national policy, and co-creating the local businesses to serve as our replacements — all with the end goal of fundamentally erasing the necessity for our foreign charity’s presence — is not aspirational, nor is it isolated just to WASH projects. It is both an appropriate and realistic goal for virtually every organization working in the international sector: health, education, poverty, conservation, housing, and food; whether focused on kids or the elderly; working for men, women, boys, or girls.
Really, what would it look like if even a fraction of the 17,000 U.S. international charities were planning for their exits as methodically and with as much precision as they were their next gala?
There is a clear way forward that requires a disciplined way out, because charity is a means —it cannot be the end.
I recently spoke at TEDxSeattle where I highlighted what I believe are the five appropriate steps for “How To Kill Your Charity.” I urge you to watch this talk and ask the question — can the nonprofit sector be more effective? I say yes.
I welcome your comments below. You can also reach me on Twitter: @ericstowe. Please join the conversation, and learn more about how I plan to kill my charity.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO). Founded in 2001, the WTO is an international platform for toilet associations, government, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to influence governments to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. Jack discusses inscribing World Toilet Day as November 19th in the UN calendar to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis.
When I turned 40, I knew it was half-time. The average Singaporean’s lifespan is 80 years and this meant I only had 14,600 days left. The fear of living a futile life infused me with a sense of urgency to do something meaningful before the impending expiry date. I decided to devote the rest of my days to neglected social issues.
This desire to make the most out of life propelled me to start the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998 with the aim to clean up public toilets. It was then that I realized the sanitation agenda was grossly neglected by the media. In the humanitarian sector, the subject of water and sanitation was bundled into one agenda called WatSan; this resulted in sanitation being overshadowed by the more prominent agenda of water. Sanitation was literally the ugly sister nobody wanted to speak about. Politicians would not have their photos taken next to a toilet. For years, academia relied heavily on jargon like ‘fecal sludge management’ when writing about sanitation. Inevitably, this made the topic even more difficult for journalists to grasp, let alone convey in simple terms to the masses.
The taboo surrounding toilets and our reluctance to talk about the sanitation crisis have created a neglect of epic proportion. What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.
To break this silence and to mobilize a global sanitation movement, we founded the World Toilet Organization (WTO) in 2001. To commemorate WTO’s founding day and to spotlight the often-ignored sanitation crisis, we declared 19 November as World Toilet Day. On the same day, WTO held its inaugural World Toilet Summit in Singapore. The choice of name for our organization was deliberate — a clever pun on the other WTO, the World Trade Organization. I have been advised by countless people to change the name of the organization to something more ‘respectable’ and not risk being laughed at. I told them it’s okay to be laughed at — our mission is to break the taboo on sanitation and if people laugh, they’ll listen to what we have to say.
Our strategy was simple: we called a spade a spade and spoke about the sanitation crisis in a language that resonated with everyone. It was our ability to convey serious facts through humor which caught the attention of the global media and this pushed the sanitation agenda to the centre stage of global media coverage.
When we started out on this journey to break the taboo surrounding toilets, we found that there was a great reluctance on the part of governments and other stakeholders to understand the importance of investing in sanitation. WTO addressed this challenge by using the World Toilet Summit to educate governments, toilet associations, civil society organizations, and the private sector on the benefits of investing in a sustainable sanitation ecosystem.
From a shunned topic, WTO’s advocacy efforts and initiatives made the topic of toilets and sanitation more palatable for politicians, academia, civil society organizations and funders. Over the last 12 years, World Toilet Day has been observed and celebrated around the world by NGOs, UN agencies, governments and the international community. By 2012, our digital media reach was at 3.3 billion viewers. This is a remarkable feat for a small NGO with no budget for global media coverage.
WTO has achieved many key milestones over the years and we firmly believed it was time to take the global sanitation movement to another level. It was an audacious move and in true WTO spirit, we went on to request the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs to table a resolution at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to inscribe 19 November as World Toilet Day in the UN calendar.
They were skeptical at first, but soon realized the magnitude of the sanitation crisis and WTO’s track record over the years. Soon the resolution was ready to be drafted.
It was a lot of hard work meeting dignitaries and ambassadors from UN member countries in New York. The reactions were mixed — at first, many were against having another UN day, but most were convinced that the sanitation crisis is too crucial to ignore. The negotiations were sometimes difficult as different parties would negotiate and change the wordings in the text. 19 November also happened to be Monaco’s National Day and Indira Gandhi’s birthday — in the end, Monaco was a co-sponsor to the resolution while India abstained.
On 24 July 2013, the “Sanitation for All” Resolution was tabled by Singapore at the UNGA. The resolution was sponsored by 122 countries and the UNGA declared World Toilet Day an Official UN Day. This was also the first time Singapore has tabled a major UN resolution in 48 years.
It is an honor for any NGO to have their founding day enshrined as an Official UN Day and personally I felt like I won the Nobel Prize for Sanitation as it marks an important milestone in WTO’s history. This is a crucial breakthrough for the 2.5 billion who still lack access to proper sanitation. With the official UN designation, we hope all UN member countries will mobilize resources to address the global sanitation crisis. With strong political will, effective policies, and sustainable approaches to address sanitation challenges, I hope we will meet the target set for sanitation in the coming years. We can’t afford to wait any longer.
The journey has just begun and I invite each one of you to walk with me. Let’s work relentlessly until the day everyone has access to a safe and clean toilet, anytime, anywhere.
If you would like to get involved in World Toilet Day, get in touch by e-mailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The WASH Grantmakers’ Network, along with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, will co-host the fourth annual peer‐to‐peer breakfast dialogue on innovative grantmaking in the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and health sector called Water for Breakfast. The event will include guests from Xylem Watermark, Procter & Gamble, the Veolia Foundation, the Avina Foundation, and others.
Water for Breakfast
Best and Promising Grantmaking Practices in the Global Water and Sanitation Sector
Wednesday, September 25th, 7:30AM – 9:30AM
Breakfast at 7:30AM, meeting starts promptly at 8AM
Midtown Manhattan, New York, NY
This off‐the‐record, invitation-only conversation will provide current and potential grantmakers an opportunity to:
- Meet other private and corporate philanthropic leaders in the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and health sector
- Learn from experts on better collaboration, leveraging of public relations, and cost-effective giving practices
- Exchange best, worst, and promising practices in grantmaking
- Learn about innovations in access to capital and social entrepreneurship
- Look for collaborative opportunities between and among private and corporate foundations, water sector experts, and the public sector
At this year’s event, there will be a unique opportunity to discuss new leadership plans for the Network, and special guest speakers who will answer questions surfaced in previous meetings. A full agenda will follow.
If you are interested in attending the Water for Breakfast event, please contact Ben Mann at bmann@WASHadvocates.org or 571-225-5823.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Malaika Cheney-Coker, learning and influencing advisor of the Water Team at CARE USA. Malaika reflects on CARE’s recent and first-ever global assessment of its water portfolio, Water+Impact Report: Walking the Talk. The report aims to answer questions such as: What happens after CARE leaves? Is CARE creating the right type of change? What differences has CARE made in the lives of women and girls? It offers a comprehensive meta analysis of 51 different project evaluations from around the world. (The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of CARE.)
Here’s one reason not to do a global impact report: you might not like the results. When the Water Team at CARE headquarters decided to do one, we, were enthusiastic about having a global picture for water performance that hadn’t existed before. That global picture was a mixed bag. Through a fairly subjective review of 51 results-focused documents dating from 2006-2010, we came up with scores: 6 out of 10 for our direct service delivery work, and 4 out of 10 for both our work with policies, institutions, and social norms and for our work in promoting gender-equitable control over water and related resources.
When we presented these findings in-house, our colleagues felt that we had been too self-critical and asked how our work compared with that of others in the sector. Very well indeed, it turned out — at least in 2011 when Philanthropedia ranked CARE International #5 among 116 different nonprofits working in the field of water, sanitation, and hygiene.
So then logical follow-up questions would be: Do we stand by our ranking? (We do.); What does this say of overall performance in the WASH sector? (That there are systemic problems of which the recent sustainability dialogues are one indicator.); And, does a ranking even matter? (Yes and no, I’d contend.)
Let’s take the “yes” answer — that the grade does matter. The grade matters because, quite simply, we can do better. If the effects of our work, or even the infrastructure we set up, were consistently found present and functionial, or even sputtering along, 10 years after project implementation, there would be room to contest the grades. If achieving influence at large scale, rather than in a few hundred communities per country, was routine, the score would be higher. We have decades worth of programming that proves we have a relatively smooth operation of installing infrastructure, organizing committees, and training hygiene promoters. But we want more than this for our work and we know that good development demands more.
What does more look like? Many things is the answer, including the thorny policy and policy implementation, governance, societal norms, and knowledge gaps issues — all of which must be addressed while tackling gender equity and other forms of social injustice (all areas which led to lower scores in our assessment than our direct service delivery work). It is part science, part alchemy; it is part the ingenuity of the humble tippy tap, and part the trick to coax innovations like it into being. Don’t get me wrong, we have work that does all of these things. But if that work was consistent across the board, if the results of the work were permanent, or at least durable, and had the irresistible logic or appeal that makes something go viral, then the score would be higher.
For a look at the “no” answer, the truth is that examples of global impact (of a positive, desirable kind) abound. An impact report can grade itself on such a curve that a satisfying report is assured. But to grade tough with a worthy yardstick is about vigorously seeking change at the cost of self-exposure.
Furthermore, development work is complicated enough and the scale of problems such as depleted natural resources, social oppression, and gender bias is immense enough that even with the most cutting edge programming must strike a balance between ambition and realism. A score implies we know what the ultimate solution to the problem is and can judge our progress relative to it. Development has often come at the expense of the environment, human rights, or the advancement of other nations. We recognize all these things as important but there are wildly varying opinions of the optimum balance of these elements. Even if we were to come to a consensus on such a balance, we all know it would vary by context. And whatever agreements we can cobble together today will not serve us adequately tomorrow as our understanding of development will and must continue to evolve.
In addition, we face limitations in how we design and implement programs. Our funding cycles are not always conducive to investing in long-term results or even allowing for the ability to monitor over the long term. But we must find ways to do so. Measuring impact works muscles of self-inquiry and programming discipline. It illuminates a global picture that exposes the cobwebs in our thinking and programming while also turning up some of the gems in our work. The measurement process itself is a workout, despite the actual score.
In sum, there are reasons why the score matters and at least as many why it doesn’t. So a fair question to ask is, “how did they score themselves?”; a better question to ask is, “how much do they want to change?”
Editor’s Note: This post is the first in our new series, Dilemmas of a WASH Funder, and was guest authored by David Rothschild, principal of the Skoll Foundation’s portfolio team. David explores the dilemmas that he confronts as a WASH funder, including the challenges and opportunities associated with setting ambitious goals and taking risks. If you are a WASH funder and would like to contribute to this series, contact us at: WASHfunders@foundationcenter.org.
What a moment! At an April press conference, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, held up a handwritten number and announced, “2030. This is it. This is the global target to end poverty.”
That historic moment also served to underscore some of the dilemmas that I and other WASH (clean water, sanitation, and hygiene) funders grapple with. How do we establish audacious — yet realistic — goals? How do we announce an ambitious goal — such as full water and sanitation coverage in a number of countries — and have confidence that we have a reasonable chance of achieving it?
What should our role as funders be, if not to push boundaries? If we just continue to provide incremental progress, we may never solve this problem. If the president of the World Bank can put forth aggressive goals, then foundation funders can — and should — do the same. After all, moving the needle on the world’s most pressing problems should be our moral imperative.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not making a “pity-the-poor-funder” type argument. The hard work in the WASH space is being done by governments, NGOs, companies, local water committees, and others that provide frontline solutions. My role as a WASH funder is to look for solutions that can help people and communities solve their water and sanitation challenges in a way that is scalable and changes the paradigm of incremental change. I cannot justify funding projects that simply dig more wells.
But there are serious dilemmas inherent in establishing ambitious goals. Aggressive long-term goals are not the same as project-level goals. They demand that we consider questions related to systems, dependencies, and adjacencies, such as:
- How do we avoid falling into the trap of providing poor solutions for poor people? Is it okay to be comfortable with the stated World Health Organization goal of every household being within 500 meters of a water point — a rather low bar — or should we strive to help communities move themselves out of poverty sooner rather than later by bringing them a greater level of service? Is it okay to sacrifice greater geographic reach in order to provide a smaller number of people with better services?
- How do we square the fact that while water provision and sanitation provision are different endeavors requiring different skill sets and organizational approaches, we often ask organizations and institutions to do both? Is it acceptable to provide access to clean water without providing sanitation? If we are serious about the health benefits of clean water and sanitation provision, shouldn’t we aim for full sanitation coverage? And is it possible to reach 100 percent sanitation coverage without resorting to shaming tactics?
- According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, 30 percent to 60 percent of many water points fail in their first two years.People walk past broken taps and return to polluted water sources. If funders demand sustainable services after a project is implemented, how should we insist on accountability years after projects are implemented and funds accounted for? Might an emphasis on sustainable service commitments lead communities to depend on implementing agencies in ways that are unhealthy?
- Should we insist on full coverage in areas where a portion of the local population isn’t interested in water or sanitation services? Are we comfortable with the idea of 100 percent coverage if it means government forcing the hand of a small reticent population?
- Water is a scarce commodity. We need to fund WASH solutions that consider aquifer depletion and other water resource management issues. Yet WASH organizations often are not engaged on regional water use issues such as water for agricultural use. How can we improve access to water and sanitation while also improving water scarcity situations?
- The vast majority of fresh water is used by the agricultural sector. Why aren’t more linkages made between the agricultural and WASH sectors? How can agricultural water use planning incorporate WASH planning?
While these are tough questions, there are answers to all of them. (Indeed, I can almost hear my friends in the WASH space responding as they read them.) Please post responses in the comments section below — and keep an eye out for a series of articles on these questions on SkollWorldForum.org soon. As WASH funders, we have to tackle these questions, but we should not let that stop us from setting big goals. We should welcome the risk and hold ourselves accountable to our goals.
It is imperative for us to be innovative. The financial contributions of foundations and NGOs in the WASH world are miniscule compared to the total amount spent on WASH activities. The vast majority of WASH projects are implemented by governments and are often supported by multi- or bilateral financial institutions. Indeed, the vast majority of piped water is delivered by publicly-owned entities. The size of the global sanitation “market” over the period 2007-2020 is estimated by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program to be about US $152 billion. (See the WASHfunders funding map for side-by-side comparisons of foundation funding and bi- and multilateral funding.) So what can foundations and other private funders do to make sure our modest financial support for WASH activities is catalytic and ultimately makes a difference?
As a foundation funder, it can be easy to fall into the feel-good trap of simply providing more access to wells. Although that will help people, in the larger scheme of things it won’t move us closer to a global solution to the WASH crisis. As funders of social entrepreneurship in the WASH field, we at the Skoll Foundation have an obligation to push the envelope and establish aggressive long-term goals. We need to find those institutions that are shifting the paradigm, opening new markets, changing systems and demonstrating success at scale. We are proud of the groundbreaking work our grantees are doing. Organizations like EcoPeace, Gram Vikas, Water for People, and Water.org are challenging the status quo and bringing innovation and long-term solutions to the water and sanitation field.
As funders, we need to push the sector to work at scale, improve or abandon failing systems, and not accept incremental change. Indeed, that is much of what social entrepreneurship is about. Doing any less than that would mean we were just one more drop of help in an ocean of problems.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Catarina Fonseca, director of WASHCost and economist and Senior Programme Officer at the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. A five-year initiative ending this year, WASHCost has worked with countries to identify the long-term costs of sustaining rural and peri-urban water and sanitation services. This initiative has embedded the concept of life-cycle costing with donors, national and local governments and NGOs, so that services continue to meet national standards reliably for generations. Catarina discusses the challenges of the team’s recent work in Bangladesh.
Over the last year, there have been many requests to the WASHCost team to adapt the life-cycle cost approach to other sub-sectors. One of them is WASH in schools. Programme managers and funders want to know the costs for the provision of WASH in schools and how to fund the desired outcomes over at least a 10 year period.
IRC-International Water and Sanitation Centre has been providing support to the BRAC WASH programme in Bangladesh. BRAC is interested in the life-cycle cost approach to seek improvements in the long-term sustainability of their programmes and in this context, we have taken up the challenge: we have started by searching, discussing and defining what is considered a basic service level for WASH in schools.
These questions become even more pertinent in the context of the proposals for the global goals in the post-2015 agenda. It has been recognised that future global water, sanitation and hygiene targets must extend beyond household level and include a wide range of settings including schools, workplaces, markets, transit hubs, health centres, etc. Schools and health centres are at the top of the priority list because of the potential health benefits to a large number of children and people. Specifically, handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are considered to be universal priorities to be reached by 2030 so that girls are given the same opportunities and access to education.
For the work in Bangladesh, our starting point was the WASHCost life-cycle cost methodology, which was developed specifically for rural water and sanitation services in developing countries. Together, with a BRAC team of 15 project and programme officers, over a period of three weeks in June 2013, we developed and tested a service ladder, criteria and indicators for WASH in schools.
The first step was the development of a draft service ladder for WASH in schools with the key criteria that define a basic level of service. The draft service ladder was developed by the team and based on the international literature, Bangladesh and BRAC standards. The ladder included the following key indicators of services for WASH in schools: access (number of latrines per student), safe use and maintenance, reliability of water for drinking, flushing and handwashing, environmental protection and menstrual hygiene management.
To get all the information required for the proposed criteria, we ended up with a 16-page questionnaire, which was tested twice in six schools and covered every indicator and sub-indicator required in national and international norms, including questions about how water is collected and accessed, as well as access to facilities by those with disabilities.
The first challenge started with establishing the benchmark for the most obvious indicator: the number of latrines per student. What is good enough? International experts were consulted and the answers were far from consistent. Therefore we focused on the written literature.
The international standard was developed by WHO in 2009 for schools in low-income settings. The standard recommends one toilet per 25 girls and one toilet plus one urinal for 50 boys. The most important recommendation is that boys’ and girls’ facilities should be in separate toilet blocks or be separated by solid walls and separate entrances. In short, toilets need to provide privacy and security if they are going to be used. This is a very high standard for many developing and developed countries. Even my secondary school in (not so low-income) Lisbon, Portugal would not meet these standards, which one might think of as “aspirational” instead of “good enough”.
Looking further, we found out that Bangladesh has actually adopted a national standard in 2011 for WASH in schools. The national standards are “more realistic” and include “1 toilet for 50 children and, when possible, girls’ and boys’ toilets must be completely separated”. Interestingly, “when possible” is not adequate wording for a standard and BRAC took the national norm a step further, closer to the international norm, and adopted “that toilets for boys and girls MUST be separate”. Additionally, a recent innovative study done in Kenya has found considerable difference in the required student to toilet ratios between boys and girls because the time they need to use the toilet also differs.
From testing the methodology in six primary and secondary schools (both government- and BRAC-supported), we found that the toilet ratio was one toilet for anywhere from 71 to 150 students — all well above the national standard and therefore not considered “a basic level of service”, but closer to “below-standard”. However, all of the toilets were clean; some had excellent menstrual hygiene management facilities available, as well as washing basins, soap and safe drinking water.
It would seem unfair to label some of these schools as “below standard” especially when interviews with school girls noted that they were happy and using their toilets. However, a monitoring tool is about measuring whether a standard is met. For all schools, it might appear that the standard is not met, but the takeaway for the team is that both the international and the Bangladesh access benchmark for WASH in schools is at the aspirational level.
The testing has confirmed some other challenges mentioned in a 2012 UNICEF state-of-the-art report of WASH in schools in Bangladesh: that on average there is a toilet for every 130 students and that the majority of facilities is in extensive need of repair (see graph below), making it urgent to deliberate how and who can cover maintenance costs. Interestingly, collecting information about the cost of constructing, maintaining and repairing the latrines, was a rather simple task. Most of the schools track all expenses in their account books, including who funded which component — a topic for another blog.
Over the next six months BRAC will roll out the methodology in about 100 schools covering a diverse range of settings. We expect the data to inform the final “service ladder” and the methodology will be available early next year. To read the draft methodology and questionnaires, please contact WASHCost@irc.nl.