Lessons Learned During 20 Years of Water For People
February 28, 2011
By Eileen Lambert
In the early 1980s, the late Ken Miller, with American Water Works Association (AWWA); Wayne Weiss, with Black & Veatch; and the late John B. Mannion, with AWWA, shared a vision of a world in which all people have access to improved water, sanitation, and basic health services. In 1991 their dream became a reality as Water For People was incorporated as a 501(c)3 international development organization.
On February 28, 2011, Water For People marked its 20th anniversary. At Water For People, it is a celebration of many lessons learned and many successes in water and sanitation programs throughout the world. But it’s also a reminder that the work is not finished until everyone has access to improved water and sanitation.
From day one, Water For People placed high value on asking tough questions of itself, challenging sector norms, and embracing innovative change to transform lives.
Throughout the years, the structure of the organization shifted dramatically to leverage the people, partners and resources in each area we work. Initially, water professionals from the United States served as volunteer project managers, and many traveled to the areas of work to observe and evaluate the projects. Now, Water For People has local staff in 10 countries who come from the communities they serve. Volunteers from the United States and Canada comprise more than 60 committees focused on fundraising and increasing awareness. In addition, more than a hundred World Water Corps volunteers assist the organization every year in monitoring and evaluation, baseline assessments, and other research.
For many years, Water For People worked on individual projects and counted up beneficiaries to report back to donors. In a strategic plan released in 2010, Water For People announced a new approach. Yearly beneficiary counts only tell us what happened that year. At Water For People, it’s important to us to know if our work is sustainable and what challenges occur today, tomorrow, and in years to come. To better monitor and report, we developed FLOW, Field Level Operations Watch in 2010, which allows us to get a clear view of what’s working in the field, what’s on the verge of disrepair, and what’s broken. The technology utilizes cutting edge technology, including Android cell phone technology and Google Earth software, to provide anyone on the Internet access to crucial data for projects supported by Water For People.
As time went on and Water For People grew in staff, countries, resources, and influence, the organization was also able to broach the concept of full coverage—the idea that EVERYONE should be helped when we work in a targeted area. This means every family, every clinic and every school. There are no exceptions for hard to reach communities, politically marginalized communities or poor families who are often neglected or "hidden". When Water For People works in an area, it works with local partners, the government, the private sector, and individual communities to develop strategies that will help every person in the municipality to have on-going water and sanitation services forever.
Today we thank you for your support over the past 20 years. We look forward to the day when the only birthdays we celebrate are the ones of the world’s children that never experience the diseases caused by water and sanitation poverty.
What do you think?