We live in a world of quick fixes and temporary solutions, always ready to get in and get out, and move to the next task at hand. But at Water For People, we’re in it for the long haul, and we’re taking big steps to solve one of the world’s largest crises — permanently.
Our goal is simple: water for Everyone, Forever.
The road to permanent water coverage for Everyone Forever is challenging, but the outcomes are easy to root for — more children are in school, more individuals are employed, more families are healthy and thriving, and more communities are collaborating and growing. From there, the impact continues to ripple out on a national and global scale. If we invest more and work more now to create sustainable and replicable water and sanitation infrastructure, we can focus more on our futures…our forever.
Here’s how we’re doing it:
Water For People collaborates with IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to target districts in defined geographic regions for an Everyone, Forever program.
Success is defined as every household, every school, and every public health facility/clinic in those regions having access to improved water and sanitation services.
Financial, physical, and operational investments are made by local and national governments, community residents, and other organizations to address current and future challenges of water systems and services. Eventually, target communities won’t need support from an international water agency ever again.
Development agencies monitor field results for at least 10 years, but the monitoring capacity and responsibility are firmly embedded within communities and government. Data and results are publicly available to everyone.
Everyone Forever programming grows from full coverage at district levels to national level and beyond, freeing countries from water and sanitation aid dependency.
Read a case study with Everyone, Forever in action in Honduras and Malawi.
Water For People brings together local entrepreneurs, civil society, governments, and communities to establish creative, collaborative solutions that allow people to build and maintain their own reliable safe water systems. Empowering everyone transforms people’s lives by improving health and economic productivity to end the cycle of poverty.
FLOW stands for Field Level Operations Watch. It’s a system to collect, manage, analyze, and display geographically-referenced monitoring and evaluation data. It has been under development for several years with significant field implementations already undertaken. To date, FLOW has been used mainly to track the condition of water points such as wells and pumps. But it could be used to monitor any kind of local infrastructure.
Akvo FLOW brings together three elements:
Handheld data collection: The FLOW Field Survey application runs on Android phones and devices with integrated GPS, camera, and custom adaptive surveys.
A web-based dashboard where users manage and analyze FLOW surveys and data.
Visual map-based reporting tools displayed in Google Maps and Google Earth.
Water For People and Akvo have partnered to address the monitoring gap in the development sector utilizing a system now called Akvo FLOW, which has the potential to transform water and sanitation development work worldwide by offering organizations an integrated way to collect, analyze and report monitoring data regarding the condition of water and sanitation projects. As phone networks and internet connections now penetrate affordably into most of the poorest regions of the world, even $80 phone handsets can capture geographically tagged information including photos and video.
Why was FLOW built?
The research and development of FLOW began in 2010 by Water For People, addressing the need to replace cumbersome paper-based monitoring surveys and the delay in manually compiling the information. The system was designed to provide accountability and transparency to donors and the public through fast data collection, survey flexibility, analytical tools for data-driven decision making, and map-based reporting of results.
Last year, Water For People issued a Request for Information (RFI) to identify a partner to continue enhancement of FLOW. The partner required a keen understanding of development work throughout the world, have the capabilities to continue developing FLOW, and have the ability to build out and support a large network of partners to use FLOW as an open source platform. Akvo had planned to expand their work beyond its core product, Akvo Really Simple Reporting, and develop a mobile phone-based monitoring and evaluation tool for its growing network of partners.
Where has FLOW been used?
Since first deploying in 2010, FLOW has been used around the world in 17 countries for monitoring. Water For People has utilized FLOW for ongoing monitoring across its country programs. Another prominent activity has been the mapping of 10,000 water points in Liberia in 2011 by WSP, the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank. The primary applications of FLOW so far have been in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, but other projects outside the sector have demonstrated its flexibility and potential for diverse applications.
Perhaps one of the more ignored or misunderstood elements of water poverty by the general population and even the charitable sector is sanitation services. When you think about providing clean water, you conjure images of clear drinking water pouring out of a tap or buckets of well water used to water crops and serve livestock.
But then there’s the other stuff—the stuff that is not as pretty to think about or even to deal with, but is just as important—like emptying septic tanks, building toilets, and providing sanitary napkin containers and services for female students.
That’s all sanitation.
Why We’re Stuck
So when you have an industry that people struggle to understand, struggle to integrate into their communities and culture, and struggle to monetize, it’s not surprising that we have significant work to do to change the way it’s perceived and change the way it’s executed.
More importantly, we have an opportunity to change the game. That’s where the first Unclogging the Blockages conference came into play, in Kampala, Uganda, earlier this year—a joint effort between IRC, PSI, Sustainable Sanitation Alliance, Water For People, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council, and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, and several other major players in the water and sanitation space. More than 170 people from in and out of the sector and around the world came together to explore the various challenges for sanitation as a business (SAAB) and begin working on short and long-term solutions. Here’s what we covered:
What can authorities and regulators do to enable sanitation as a service and as a business?
What business models are working, where, and why?
What financing solutions and mechanisms are missing from the equation?
What technical solutions are unclogging blockages? What have we learned about what works, what does not work, and why?
How can we strengthen links with other sectors for better services and business development?
Demand creation and behavior change
What demand creations strategies and initiatives best link up with sanitation business supply chains?
What are the best monitoring systems and indicators for sanitation as a business and a service?
Although we’ve seen much progress in countries like Uganda where open defecation rates have dropped significantly since 1990, and innovative sanitation programming is being piloted to scale, there is a long way to go. We heard from NGOs, financial institutions, technology providers, and more, and outlined several “blockages” to providing better sanitation services in key regions around the world. A sampling:
Access to the poorest and hardest to reach (most rural) populations
Inadequate human, financial, and city planning resources
Expensive technology and equipment
Availability of funds to put into financing options, especially for the poorest populations
Marketability of sanitation services and impact
Sustainable management and enforcement by communities and households
One common theme within all the case studies, data, and anecdotes was that for SAAB to become a sustainable, effective component to eliminating water poverty, customer service must be comprehensively integrated into all steps in the process, from ideation and design, to financial models and maintenance, and marketing and promotion. Each community is unique, and within that, each household, so it’s important to factor in the customer’s needs, expectations, circumstances, and culture.
We heard from Water.org about how “local” means everything in this business—from selecting the right partners, to using the appropriate technology for the land and context, and encouraging community participation at all levels. Water For People has seen similar results in our own SAAB programming. Ultimately, investing in the personal side of SAAB and focusing on the individual customers will help the sector because we’ll understand the behaviors and context that have led to the current challenges.
How Do We Unclog?
Outlining the many challenges to a smoother SAAB sector was daunting, but we’re even more excited about the opportunities and solutions. After all, the name of the conference was Unclogging the Blockages, and that’s what we’re all striving for together.
We revisited each of the seven key components to SAAB, determined measures of success, and plotted out potential outcomes and ways forward based on our ideas and a 30-day challenge. Below are a few highlights:
Lack of models that are pro-poor inclusive; lack of understanding of technology
Consumer understanding/happiness: families say, “The toilet is my favorite part of the house.”
Know your customers deeply for better service and success—advocacy through creative formats, get to the point and make it attractive, prove we have results
No dedicated funding streams for SAAB; lack of interest and experience from microfinance institutions in sanitation
Formation of Global Sanitation Financing Alliance (GSFA); established sanitation funding plans for donors
Raise capital and solidify membership for a GSFA from banks, donors, individuals
Lack of standard design; affordability
Standard technology accepted and accessible by all customers, government, etc.
Trainings across sector, SMART sanitation technology database, humans at center of design
Demand creation and behavior change
High cost of behavior change; people are set in their ways
World Declared Open Defecation Free (ODF)
Support behavior change information exchange and make a priority for local, regional, and national levels
Between trainings, case study and data collection, concept and program ideation and execution, there is much to work on in the coming months, and every organization has an important role to play if we want to make substantial progress within the next year.
Keeping the Momentum
As we recognize World Water Week in September 2014 and finalize 2015 planning and goals, it’s important to maintain a sense of action and movement. It’s easy to let the list of to-dos related to research, meetings, and discussions bog down tangible progress on the ground for sanitation as a business. This is where collaboration is paramount, extending beyond rhetoric and discussion to physical work on the ground.
We must emphasize the importance of entrepreneurs, sanitation authorities, regulators, implementers, and supporters working together to enable sanitation services to become viable, vibrant, and socially responsible businesses that meet both public sector targets and household expectations.
We must focus on “catalytic philanthropy” that could channel donor investments into programs that support the market economy, and move away from shortsighted “beneficiary numbers.”
We must keep the customer in mind when it comes to design, culture, service, infrastructure, finances, and overall impact.
The output from the Unclogging the Blockages conference was encouraging and inspiring – the future looks bright for sanitation as a business, as its own entity and as a critical piece to eliminating water poverty. It’s time to get things flowing.