The problem we saw
The WASH sector is a highly fragmented field, but one that has great potential for innovation to improve people’s health and lives. 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. But these local organizations face numerous barriers. At Results for Development Institute (R4D), we wanted to better understand the shared barriers across the WASH sector, and how to support organizations in overcoming them.
To do this, R4D formed the WASH Impact Network. We worked closely with our partners, Dasra in India and Millennium Water Alliance in East Africa, to form a cohort of over 120 organizations operating across 17 countries to share good ideas and lessons across continents.
Through the Network, we aim to learn about how the learning and innovation process occurs for organizations across two diverse implementing environments, while transforming that information into beneficial skill-building opportunities for the organizations in the cohort. We are seeking answers to how innovation spreads and what are the factors that accelerate or impede uptake using the following approach:
Listening as the first step towards solutions
We asked local organizations in India and East Africa - “what are your greatest organizational needs in order to increase your impact?” – to understand barriers to innovation and how external actors can best support innovation in WASH. The top needs of organizations found across India and East Africa were:
1. Operational financing - Programs need access to funds to support their core activities and/or expansion.
- “We need funding for research and development. Money given by donors goes into implementation but often doesn’t go into research and development, making it difficult to develop new innovations. Donors like when money goes into printing posters and booklets but not the brainwork.” - Sanitation organization in India using educational behavior change
- "We need [money] to invest in equipment used in order to improve the product and production process.” - A menstrual hygiene management organization in Kenya
2. Technical Expertise - Programs need increased technical knowledge or research-based evidence to improve their interventions.
- “We want to learn about new technologies that would reduce construction costs and increase durability, which can be linked to waste management.” - A school sanitation and hygiene organization in India
- "[We would like] assistance and advice on managing a rotating fund [microfinance] for small-scale innovations.” - Sanitation organization in Uganda
3. Networking - Programs need connections and peer network opportunities for knowledge sharing with other WASH organizations.
- “In sanitation, organizations seem to work in silos and do not share information… we wish there was somewhere we could go to get inspiration and ideas.” - Commercial public toilet organization in India
- “We want to be connected with other NGOs who are working in water and sanitation, including working with them to sell the filters to consumers. We would like to team up with these other organizations and teach people how to use the filters.” - Ceramic water filter organization in Ethiopia
The methodology at a glance
The R4D WASH team conducted the needs assessment by collecting qualitative information from organizations during phone interviews with the director or relevant program manager from each organization, learning more about the innovative aspects of the program, and also focusing on “what are the top three organizational barriers to increasing your impact?”.
Responses were recorded and coded to create 12 categories of needs that emerged and are intended to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive across the responses we heard from all organizations. The top three needs were operational financing, networks, and technical expertise, but also important to our cohort were monitoring and evaluation, strategic planning and organizational development, among others.
These needs come from a cohort that is made up of organizations that range in size from one-person organizations to larger and more established entities that have multiple programs serving several communities or entire regions. The geographic coverage of East Africa and India, combined with the differing organizational profiles, provides a cross section of many types of innovators at different stages of maturity.
Top needs of WASH Innovators by WASH sub-sector and funding model
Operational financing was most demanded by hybrid organizations. Perhaps this indicates that there is a gap in financing for the “social enterprise”
Among the 3 types of organizations, non-profits have the highest need for monitoring and evaluation. Perhaps this indicates a need to dig deeper into what are the incentives – do organizations see value in M&E to improve decisions or only for reporting, and why is it lower among hybrid and for-profit organizations?
Fundraising is not voiced as a top need, despite operational financing being the highest identified need. Do organizations have dedicated fundraising staff already? Is there a gap in the donor market? We explore these questions at regional workshops and through baseline surveys
Using the needs assessment to examine how innovators learn and share solutions
We believe systematically identifying needs in the WASH Impact Network is the preliminary step in an exciting learning agenda. By listening and co-learning with this cohort, we hope to provide a platform for innovators to promote their work more widely, creating a two-way channel for innovation that connects programs to sustainable funding and donors to innovative programs.
Lessons and innovations that emerge from the WASH Impact Network will be used to inform the larger international development community on what factors accelerate or impede idea uptake in the WASH sector, which also apply to innovators in the health and education sectors as well.
We are conducting follow up interviews with a sub-section of our cohort at regional workshops and through focus groups to better understand the barriers to implementing new ideas. This will include the operational environment, and how implementing approaches can be learned and improved on across organizations. Our participatory and iterative learning and capacity building approach is described in Figure 1:
Please continue to follow the WASH Impact Network newsletters for more grassroots driven insights on the barriers to the uptake of new ideas and learn about the best approaches to supporting local organizations designing local innovations.