About Us by Peter Blair | Mar 20, 2015

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About the WASH Impact Network at R4D

Worldwide 748 million people do not have access to clean, safe drinking water and 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. These basic services need to form the bedrock of all other forms of development. More than 500,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. Every year, children lose 443 million school days because of water related illnesses. These facts draw into stark relief the importance of supporting innovations in the WASH sector, making WASH an essential component of other development programming.

Since April 2015, R4D has been working to better understand the needs of WASH innovators in East Africa and India, and what factors accelerate or impede new idea uptake. We are bringing together a diverse group of these innovators and delivering resources and learning opportunities tailored to their unique needs. 

In-Country Focus

There is ample evidence that the best solutions to challenges in the developing world are being designed by innovators and entrepreneurs that live within those communities. The unprecedented (and under-reported) African response to the Ebola crisis is just one example of the importance of understanding local context when approaching development challenges. Our goal is to find and empower those voices, and help them access the resources that help magnify their impact.

We believe a connected community of innovators who can push in the same direction will be able to exercise a collective force on development challenges that individual entrepreneurs, bi-lateral or multi-lateral efforts cannot achieve on their own. We believe that listening to those local innovators should be the first step when working to identify solutions in any sector – and that will form the bedrock of our approach in WASH.

Our Approach

We believe that the best WASH innovations come from the communities affected by inadequate WASH provisions, but there are often barriers innovators face in implementing new ideas. Our goal is to understand these barriers, connect innovators to each other for peer learning, and connect them with other resources and learning opportunities to help them increase their reach. 

To do this, we first DEFINED BARRIERS to innovation through a needs assessment that identified organizational gaps preventing grassroots organizations in the WASH sector from implementing new ideas successfully. The top three needs identified were operational financing, networks, and technical expertise.

The next step is to GATHER INSIGHTS on the learning and innovation process for organizations in the Network, focusing on how they attempt to overcome the barriers that prevent them from implementing new ideas, and the ‘active ingredients’ that lead to their success.

Building on those insights, we will SHARE SOLUTIONS with the members of the Network and the broader international development sector. We will connect programs to resources and learning opportunities according to the needs they identified during the needs assessment, testing methods based on our insights into how organizations learn. We will feed those lessons back to international development stakeholders interested in effectively sharing knowledge in the WASH sector and beyond.

Finally, we will TRACK PROGRESS within the Network to evaluate the extent to which the content and delivery method of learning opportunities led to greater uptake of innovative ideas among organizations in the Network.

The WASH Impact Network is made up of 120 WASH not-for-profit, hybrid and for-profit organizations in India and East Africa, that are implementing programs in a wide range of subsectors. Learn more about each of the programs by browsing their profiles here.

To accomplish our end goal of supporting innovation in the WASH network, we are working closely with regional partners, Dasra in India, and Millennium Water Alliance in East Africa. You can read more about our network of regional partners here

Connecting Smart Research to Practitioners

A great deal of research already exists on what works in the WASH sector, but the fragmented nature of how that information is collected and shared means that often it does not get turned into practice. At R4D, we are engaging leading thinkers in the WASH community, academia, and research to connect their work to the entrepreneurs working to make a difference in their communities. Through partnerships with other thought leaders like International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) and others we hope to increase access to the latest approaches for measuring impact and learning for WASH programs in our Network.

The Future of WASH Innovation

We are extremely excited to be working with such a talented group of individuals who are coming together to form a global community focused on addressing the tough development challenges in the WASH sector. The Network we forge will have tangible impacts on the lives of those who lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. It is our privilege to help tell the stories of the innovators working tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of the poor and connect them with the people and resources that will help them have the largest impact they can.

Six Things Organizations Need to Know about WASH Funders

Emily Endres

WASH funders and on-the-ground program implementers—like many of you at not-for-profit, for-profit, and hybrid organizations—depend on one another. On-the-ground implementers depend on funding from foundations, bilaterals, or investors to finance the work that they do. While donors depend on on-the-ground implementers of programs to make sure their money is used to create social impact.

However, while donors seek the most effective organizations to implement programs in their focus areas, and organizations seek funding to make their programs effective and impactful, they often have difficulty connecting. Before an organization successfully wins funding or makes it to a certain stage of the application process, their interaction with funders may be limited, creating uncertainty around what a potential donor is looking for in a grantee.

Results for Development (R4D) and its regional partners Dasra in India and the Millennium Water Alliance in East Africa, saw an opportunity to open a dialogue between donors and program implementers in the WASH sector by holding funder panels during capacity building workshops for qualifying organizations in the WASH Impact Network. These panels brought together funders of WASH programs in each of the geographic regions, and asked them to answer some questions that could provide insight into the strategic priorities of donors, and what they look for in programs or organizations that they fund.

Through conversations held in India and East Africa, the following six attributes were identified as valuable by donors and investors when considering potential programs for funding:

1. Strong partnerships, networks, and connections with other organizations

In East Africa, funders such as Avina Foundation, Segal Family Foundation and the Water Project recognize the importance of working together and seeing the bigger picture when it comes to helping each other achieve the most impact by sharing knowledge and working together. Avina Foundation is especially interested in seeing this trait in organizations as part of their interest in promoting the spread of South-South collaboration and working with programs that are interested in sharing lessons across geographies. Segal Family Foundation even prioritizes giving funding to programs that are working with or have been recommended by one of their current grantees. In India, funders participating in the roundtable discussion highlighted the importance of both programs and donors to be active participants on existing platforms and networks such as the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA), the India Water Portal, and the India Sanitation Coalition.

2. Holistic solutions

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation participated in the funder roundtable discussion in India, and used their illustration of the sanitation value chain to highlight the importance of funding programs that understand how their program fits into the bigger picture, and ensures that their intervention is designed to strengthen or work in harmony with the rest of the stakeholders in the value chain. In addition, funders in India expressed particular interest in funding programs that take gender inclusivity into account, in both their program design and in their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) processes. Tata Trusts uses incentives to encourage organizations to be more gender inclusive. For example, for every woman that the partner employs, Tata Trusts sponsors one additional staff member. Segal Family Foundation and the Water Project also expressed that their foundations have a preference for funding programs that are holistic. Segal Family Foundation primarily focuses on reproductive health and youth empowerment, and therefore values WASH programs that recognize the role they play in supporting health systems and youth development. For example, a menstrual hygiene management program that contributes to the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls and women, or a WASH in schools program that recognizes how their program helps children stay in school and advance in their lives and careers.

3. Participatory programs designed by listening to the voices of the communities in which they work

Many funders also value programs that incorporate the communities in which they implement programs into the program design and activities. They want to see that programs are listening to the voices of the communities. Social businesses may be positioned to naturally respond to the demands of the community, because if their product or service does not meet the needs or aspirations of consumers, their business will not be successful. For this reason, donors like Aqua for All require “proof of concept”—research or projections based on prior sales—that show that the product or service is valued and needed by the community.

4. Collaborating with the government

In East Africa, several of the funders we heard from required that organizations or social businesses be legally registered with the government, or demonstrate strong government ties - including the Water Project and GrowthAfrica. (Although it’s important to note that other funders at this panel recognize that taking risks on grassroots organizations or small social businesses is part of their mission, and they actively fund and build capacity of non-registered programs. Some of these funders include NetFund, Water Project, GrowthAfrica and Avina Foundation.) Funders participating in the roundtable in India expressed the need for programs to work with the government at both the local level—such as with urban bodies to scale decentralized, non-networked sanitation systems—and the national level to integrate their programs into existing government schemes, and to advocate effectively for important policy changes using existing tools like the shit flow diagram.

5. Open communication and collaboration between funders and grantees

Funders on the panels in both India and East Africa expressed a desire to co-create programs with implementers, and value grantees that will engage in a conversation with grantors about their vision and strategy for the program. In India, funders said that this was especially important when it comes to designing M&E indicators that help program implementers to course correct and adapt when needed, while also helping donors measure the impact of their investment. Donors expressed a desire to work together with implementers to simplify M&E requirements and design common frameworks to use across programs in order to lighten the burden of resource-intensive M&E requirements. A willingness to engage in a conversation in which both donors and program implementers can be honest and contribute their experience and knowledge was expressed by funders across both regions.

6. Ability to tell a compelling story

Funders at the panel discussion in East Africa expressed the importance of programs being able to effectively tell their stories. This not only helps funders understand the vision and strategy of potential grantees, but it also helps donors demonstrate their own value to their stakeholders. It can help show donors that an organization is forward-thinking, and that the program has incorporated planning and thoughtful design. Donors want to see that programs understand their own theory of change and how their program delivers real impact in the lives of the communities in which they work. Being able to tell a story that is both compelling and strategic can help demonstrate to donors that your program or organization shares common values, including those in this list.

While the lessons above resulted from a discussion among a small selection of WASH funders, demonstrating these six qualities in a concept note, proposal, or conversation with potential funders can help highlight your ability as an organization to collaborate, communicate, and be strategic in your approach to addressing WASH challenges.

As a WASH program implementer, what do you think might be important to funders when considering a new program for funding or investment? Tell us what you think by emailing us at WASH@R4D.org. 

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What’s Missing from the Conversation on the Private Sector in WASH

Emily Endres

This year at Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW), the conversation on private sector engagement in WASH included a greater focus on impact, but lacked input from grassroots entrepreneurs.

Positive contributions from private sector actors like Unilever, Nestlé and Kohler were heard at many of the panels and presentations. These participants presented examples of public-private partnerships and corporate social responsibility strategies that are making real impact in the effort to make universal access to clean water and sanitation a reality. The active participation and leadership from larger players in the private sector, who are using their distribution networks, economies of scale, and brand name power to extend the reach of life-enhancing products and services is an exciting development as talk of “leveraging the power of the market” becomes a more common phrase in the WASH sector.

While the introduction of these large new WASH players no doubt makes for an interesting discussion around possibilities of scale and efficiency, there seemed to be a hole in the private sector discussion at SWWW—where were the representatives of grassroots-level social enterprises? The advantages these local social enterprises bring to the table are worth noting. They are uniquely positioned to understand the communities or regions in which they work, while also operating sustainably in an environment in which funding is scarce. The fact that they have identified a product or service that those in their communities desire, at an acceptable price, is innovative and likely holds lessons for other international social marketing organizations, donors of social business and social marketing initiatives, and private sector corporations participating in the sector.

For example, Svadha is a for-profit social business co-founded in 2014 in Odisha, India, by Mr. K.C. Mishra and Garima Sahai. Svadha acts as an ‘ecosystem integrator’ for the rural WASH market in India, supporting a network of sanitation entrepreneurs or “Sanipreneurs.” In addition to training the Sanipreneurs and equipping them with ICT tools, Svadha promotes community awareness of the importance of sanitation and ensures a reliable and efficient value chain through coordination with corporations, NGOs, and government actors.

Results for Development Institute (R4D), through its WASH Impact Network, aims to identify, learn from, and build the capacity of social businesses like Svadha, as well as not-for-profit civil society organizations and hybrid organizations, in India and East Africa. One of the things we have learned from them so far is that there is a myriad of hurdles these innovators face in order to scale up and adapt—and many are not able to succeed in isolation. R4D seeks to learn about how the learning and innovating process occurs for local civil society organizations across two diverse regions of the world, while transforming that information into skill-building opportunities for the organizations in the cohort. For example, R4D, with its partner Dasra, conducted its first in a series of capacity building workshops for WASH innovators in India on September 21-24, 2015. To learn more about the activities we’re implementing—including the workshop we will be conducting with partner Millennium Water Alliance in Nairobi for East African organizations in the cohort—visit our website at washinnovations.r4d.org.

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Who are the MHM Innovators?

Morgan Benson

On May 28, 2014, the world celebrated its first Menstrual Hygiene Day. Organized by WASH United, the now-annual event is part of a burgeoning focus in international development on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and its impact on the lives of women and girls. Like Family Planning 2020 (for which the first convening was also held recently, in 2012), this focus on MHM is rooted in the growing movement towards gender equality worldwide.

AFRIpads' employee in Kitengesa

Within the WASH Impact Network, there are at least 29 innovators (almost one fourth of our total first cohort) working in MHM, each testing different methods of enabling women to manage their periods and have equal access to education, health, and other opportunities in life that might otherwise be at risk. Of these programs, 16 are operating in India, 12 in East Africa, and 1 program (WASH United) works in both. So what can we learn from a look at this cohort?

  1. They are young.  Over half (59%) of the innovative MHM programs in the Network have been founded in the last 5 years. This trend would suggest that innovators either are enabled or triggered to focus on a particular issue, given sufficient prioritization of attention and resources.
  2. They are producing environmentally sustainable pads. Of the 29 programs that focus on MHM, 18 are involved in the manufacturing of sanitary pads, many of which incorporate various methods of ensuring environmental sustainability. It is vitally important to consider the environmental impact of MHM interventions, especially in high population density settings, such as in many regions of India. Without reusable MHM products, roughly 305 million women and girls in India would be throwing away disposable pads into already overburdened solid waste dumps. As disposable sanitary products become increasingly popular over cloth rags or other informal methods, the amount of waste produced will also increasingly become a sustainability issue in itself, and innovators within the Network are experimenting with alternative methods.
    • Many are developing reusable, washable pads, such as Uger Menstrual Pads in India. Jatan Sanasthan partnered with Vikalp Design to offer a new (“uger” in Mewadi language) way to think about and manage menstruation, which takes into account the environmental impact of the harmful plastic options that had been and continue to be on the market. Similarly, some programs, such as Aakar Innovations also in India, produce a compostable option.
    • Some programs also use recycled materials to produce their pads, whether that is through leveraging leftover factory textiles, such as what Eva Wear is doing in Ethiopia, or local agricultural products such as banana tree fiber in the case of Saathi Pads in India.
    • Finally, programs are promoting sustainability by using local production methods. By producing pads in-country, programs not only create livelihood opportunities but also cut down on the environmental impact of transporting the pads internationally. Dignity Period partners with Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, which employs 42 local women to produce 600,000 low-cost, environmentally friendly, washable, and reusable pads per year for girls across Ethiopia.
  3. They are integrating with other sectors. In addition to prioritizing environmental sustainability, MHM innovators are integrating their programs with other sectors for increased impact.
    • The Kasiisi Project Girls’ Program not only addresses the WASH needs of girls in schools as an integral part of their ability to manage their periods, by supporting safe water sources and girl-friendly toilets, but also integrates sexual and reproductive health issues more broadly. Kasiisi employs a local female Community Health Worker to educate girls at participating schools on relevant topics, and to set up peer education workshops, giving peer educators in schools the tools and knowledge to be effective role models.
    •  Like Kasiisi, at least 18 of the 29 MHM programs in the Network integrate their activities into schools. Many stress the importance of girls learning early how to manage their periods, particularly so that they are able to continue to attend classes instead of dropping out due to a lack of the necessary education or products to manage it. Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization (JeCCDO) in Ethiopia supports school clubs to foster awareness and action on not only WASH and MHM issues, but also health, leadership, agriculture, and other issues relevant to their lives
  4. They are creating livelihood opportunities, especially for women. In addition to many programs creating jobs in the production of sanitary pads, many are supporting livelihood opportunities for community members in the sales of their products as well.
    • Vatsalya in India mobilizes existing female shopkeepers and other potential female entrepreneurs to sell sanitary pads in their communities. ZanaPads in Kenya partners with other NGOs to distribute their pads such as Marie Stopes and Living Goods, who operate networks of door-to-door saleswomen.
  5. They need government and financial support, as well as improved evidence generation. Compared to the Network as a whole, these innovators report the following trends in what their programs need to reach more people with greater impact.
    • Twenty-three of these 29 innovators spoke with the Network about the need for Operational Financing. Despite a trend toward this category amongst all 120+ programs, MHM innovators’ higher percentage suggests what Dignity Period reports from Ethiopia, that “donor funds are critical to reach hundreds of thousands more Ethiopian girls who are eager to stay in school free of fear and embarrassment.”
    • There was also a trend towards improved Monitoring and Evaluation. Nine programs (31%) reported M&E as a top need, including knowing what indicators to track, making sense of data already collected, and strategic planning for how to act based on that information.
    • Finally, 6 programs (21%) reported a need for increased Government Support for MHM, ranging from general advocacy among government officials to improved policy regarding how sanitary products are currently taxed.

The responsiveness of these innovators to the world’s burgeoning focus on MHM is encouraging; however, there is still much work to be done. The WASH Impact Network will be working to connect these innovators with each other and with other resources they have identified as key needs for their programs.

For more information, read the Network’s interview with Kathy Walkling, founder of EcoFemme in India; check out Spot On!, our Regional Partner Dasra’s in-depth look at MHM in India; or contact us at WASH@r4d.org.

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