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WASH Impact Network Launches in India

Peter Blair

WASH Impact Network Launches in India

Bringing together 16 WASH innovators from across India, R4D launched the WASH Impact Network, in partnership with Dasra and Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), in Mumbai, India on September 24, 2015.

Participants came from all across India including Uttar Pradesh, Bangalore, and Maharashtra. The workshop focused on training participants to better understand how to measure their impact - through theory of change, and monitoring and evaluation - and also how to create a sustainable fundraising strategy. The training was delivered by Dasra, R4D and 3ie. Across the four days of the workshop, the participants had opportunities to receive insights from funders, and practice using planning and strategizing tools, discuss common challenges in monitoring and evaluation and fundraising, and to gain practical knowledge on how to overcome those challenges.

"There are so many things I picked up yesterday. Clients often ask me what we should do next, once we have provided clean safe drinking water. The WASH Impact Network will place me in a better position to recommend things to them, such as recommending programs in menstrual hygiene to villages," said Lekshmi Krishnan from Waterlife India.

Following four days of working together, and learning new approaches to increase their impact, the organizations joined together with a range of international funders and organizations to officially launch the Network. Organizations had a chance to meet funders, and hear feedback on what funding organizations look for when choosing to invest in innovative WASH programs.

During the workshop, the R4D team interviewed all 16 participants to better understand how the WASH Impact Network can support WASH organizations. We asked questions to understand what the barriers are to implementing new ideas, and also what sort of relationships they would like to build with other WASH organizations to increase their impact.

The workshop has brought together a group of strong social organizations working in the WASH space to not just celebrate their successes but also discuss the challenges that they face while serving their community. The interaction amongst the organizations in the last 2 days gives confidence that R4D and Dasra‘s aim to facilitate a sustainable community of these organizations by the end of the workshop will be achieved,” said workshop facilitator Megha Jain of Dasra.

Over the next year, the WASH Impact Network will work with organizations in both India and East Africa (partnering with MWA) to better understand the challenges facing WASH organizations, understand how organizations implement new ideas, and create a network of innovators that can support each other to provide improved WASH services and products to those in need.

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A Snapshot of WASH Innovators in India

Erin Swearing

India faces several unique challenges to achieving its WASH goals. Currently, India houses the most open defecators in the world,  60% percent of the population lacks access to improved sanitation, and 76 million people are without a safe water source. Stakeholders in India have responded to these large-scale challenges with strong policies and innovative solutions from civil society organizations and the private sector. In October 2014, the government of India instituted the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission in English), under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Swachh Bharat is a national mission aimed at “cleaning-up” India by encouraging citizens to engage in tasks like maintaining clean streets and homes. As a part of The Swachh Bharat Mission, India also seeks to become Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019.

In addition to efforts in the public sector, India is also home to millions of civil society organizations that have achieved a number of social changes in the country in the last twenty years, including progress in the WASH sector. Taking a look at some of the organizations in the India cohort of our WASH Impact Network can lend insight to how civil society organizations are working to transform the WASH climate in India.

R4D works closely with our partner, Dasra--an India-based philanthropy foundation and impact accelerator focused on social change—to support WASH Impact Network members in India with valuable tools, resources, and learning opportunities.

Attributes of WASH Impact Network Members in India

Extensive Geographic Coverage

Fifty-seven WASH organizations in the WASH Impact Network operate in India. Organizations work all over the country, in 19 different states, including Delhi, Utter Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, with thirteen organizations operating country-wide.


                                       Locations of WASH programs in the WASH Impact Network in India


Conventional Funding Models

Programs identify as not-for-profit, for profit, and hybrid organizations. Organizations classified as hybrid generate revenue through the sale of a product or service but are supported by donor funding. The vast majority of the organizations in India are not-for-profit. Only 10%  are for profit, and 5% are hybrid organizations.


Quick Look

Waterlife is a for-profit organization in India working country-wide. Waterlife is a provider of Community Drinking Water Plants that can process water that meet and exceed WHO and India government standards. Waterlife operates the plants for ten years after installation, and utilizes the help of government, NGOs and self help-groups to address issues of access to safe water.

A Mix of Ages and Sizes

The cohort also also varies in size and age. Organizations were established as early as 1968 and as recently as 2015, with 42 of the programs established within the last 10 years. From 2 to 700 plus staff members and budgets ranging from US $2,500 to US $1.2 million, programs in the India cohort also vary in budget and staff size.

Broad in Scope

When it comes to focus area, the WASH programs are even more diverse. Programs in India broadly focus on water, sanitation, and hygiene, but also have more specific focus areas. Some  programs address safe drinking water, menstrual hygiene management, water storage, waste management and disposal, policy and governance, water purification, and groundwater extraction.  


Although there is a lot of overlap, two of the most common focus areas among the India programs include menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and drinking water.

Quick Look

Reap Benefit is a hybrid organization working in Karnataka state focusing on sanitation solutions. They work with schools and government to encourage schoolchildren to problem-solve real-life sanitation issues in their communities. Reap Benefit has also developed sanitation products like a waterless urinal designed with recycled PET bottles and a grey water harvesting system. Their interventions reuse about 40% of water consumed on average.

India currently has the greatest number of people that lack access to clean water in the world. Although access to safe water sources has greatly improved in India, millions are still without the precious resource. Sixteen programs in our network address safe drinking water.

In India, MHM has received a great deal of attention from the national government. Guidelines to address stigma and promote health education for MHM are outlined in the Swachh Bharat Mission. Nineteen India WASH Impact Network members working to address MHM. Expertise ranges from reusable pad production and distribution to advocacy and education.

Quick Look

Aaina is a non-profit organization working in Southern India seeking to improve the health and well-being of adolescent girls through MHM. Aaina works with communities to encourage conversation around menstruation. They empower girls to become invested in their well-being and raise concerns about their reproductive and sexual health. Through meetings with schools, family members, and other school stakeholders, social taboos and stigmas are addressed, and adolescent girls are educated on proper menstrual hygiene practices.


India is in good hands

The organizations in the India cohort of the WASH Impact Network are only a small subset of the millions of civil society organizations working to address the needs of the 800 million people living in poverty in India. India has achieved a great deal of success in furthering progress toward WASH goals in recent years, but it will take time and investment and partnerships across sectors to continue this progress.  

Interested in learning more about programs in the WASH Impact Network? Check out the programs section of our website to see profiles of programs.

The WASH Impact Network also has a cohort in East Africa. Check out this blog post for a snapshot of WASH innovators in East Africa.

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Women in Sanitation at Dasra Philanthropy Week

Sophie Edwards

Women’s Sanitation at Dasra Philanthropy Week

Day one of Dasra Philanthropy Week (DPW), held in Mumbai from March 19 to 21, 2015 saw representatives from civil society, the private sector, and social business come together to talk about the important challenge of improving access to toilets for India’s women and girls.

The DPW panel, entitled ‘Sanitation – Her Squatting Rights’, got to the heart of the issue, discussing the role of government in providing sanitation services, and the importance of triggering behaviour change, not only building hardware.  The panellists also emphasised the fact that sanitation is an issue which predominantly affects women and girls due to menstruation, and so sanitation interventions should pay special attention to their needs.

The DPW was launched by Dasra in 2010 to promote discussion and collaboration among multiple stakeholders to address urgent social challenges.  Since its inception, more than 500 groups have attended DPW and Dasra estimates the event has catalysed over $40 million worth of funding to the social sector. Notable past speakers include Dr. Raj Shah, former Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization.

Deval Sanghavi, founder and President of Dasra, said after this year's DPW: "It is about time we work in unison along with government to solve the country's most boggling issues and thereby move 800 million people out of poverty."

Sanitation is an extremely pressing issue in India and is especially important for girls who are disproportionately affected by poor sanitation.  For many girls the onset of puberty marks a sharp decline in school attendance, mobility and safety. The lack of access to sanitary protection and toilets leads to adolescent girls dropping out of school.

To illustrate the scale of the problem - 63 million adolescent girls still live in homes without toilets, and 25% of schools in India have no toilets, meaning almost 30 million school children do not have access to sanitation facilities. 

While the new Indian government has made sanitation a top priority – Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign to promote cleanliness and vowed to eliminate open defecation by 2019 – much more needs to be done.

The panel was made up of Pratima Joshi, Co-Founder of Shelter Associates which works in slums across India to improve access to sanitation, and Kathy Walkling, Co-Founder of Eco Femme, a social business providing education and access to reusable cloth sanitary pads for poor rural women.  Ravi Bhatnagar, Manager of External Affairs of Reckitt Benckiser, a multinational company which produces health, hygiene and home products, provided a perspective from the private sector.  The panel was moderated by Surita Sandosham, Vice President of Programs at Synergos, a global non-profit which promotes partnerships among business, government, civil society, and marginalized communities to solve development challenges.

This year’s DPW was divided into two parts.  Day one focused on the role of the private sector in improving the lives of adolescent girls.  The program featured speakers and panel discussions on topics such as investing in adolescent girls, the role of women leaders in empowering adolescent girls, keeping girls in secondary school, and closing the technology gap.  The day’s events were inspired by the new Indian guidelines requiring companies to spend 2% of their net profit on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.  The keynote address was given by P. Balaji, Director Regulatory and External Affairs, Vodafone India.

Days two and three of DPW focused on the topic of governance and accountability including citizen journalism, how mobile technologies can be used as a tool for good governance and delivery of public services, and judicial reform.  Day three also offered the chance for Dasra and Vodafone to launch their new M-Governance report looking at the role of mobile phones in enabling responsive government and more connected societies.  Speakers included C.V. Madhukar, Director of Investments at the Omidyar Network, and Indian philanthropist Rohini Nilekani. 

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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

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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.

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

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What are the biggest barriers for WASH innovators?

Thu Do

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.

The cohort

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:

Staying engaged

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.

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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 

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Telling Stories and Making Models: What the Network has been up to this Summer

Erin Swearing

This summer, the WASH Team at R4D conducted a series of workshops and focus group discussions with members of the WASH Impact Network in Addis Ababa, Kampala, Nairobi, and Mumbai. Workshop content was designed to address gaps in operational financing and that were identified in a needs assessment conducted previously by the WASH Team.

Workshops in East Africa, co-facilitated with partner, Millennium Water Alliance, focused on the development and refinement of the elevator pitch. Afternoon sessions included a funder/investor panel where members of the WASH Impact Network had the opportunity to hear from panelists about the partnerships they seek to build, and Network members had a chance to ask specific questions about topics they were particularly interested in.

In Uganda and Kenya, elevator pitch sessions were facilitated by Nyambura Waruingi, co-founder and chief creative innovator of the Hingston Group who possesses over 13 years of experience writing, curating, and producing in the creative industry sector. Waruingi gave workshop participants the space to think about their stories and provided thorough feedback, challenging them to find ways to communicate about their organizations in a compelling way. 

Real Questions and Their Paraphrased Answers

  • How should I tell my story?
    • Be personal. There is value in inserting yourself into the narrative. Before you sell, you must connect.
  • How do you sell impact and your vision?
    • Remember your audience. Be specific about what you have done and articulate what you need. Show where in your story there is a place for your audience to play a role.
  • What characteristics or criteria do you look for in an organization you might invest in?
    • Impress the investor with your personality. That’s most important. Because it’s about relationships. The business model can change, but entrepreneurs cannot.

In India, workshop participants had the opportunity to craft a business model canvas, a one-page visual tool that demonstrates how resources flow through an organization by examining nine key elements, and develop an action plan to leverage their strengths or identify opportunities for growth. These sessions were co-facilitated by Dasra, an advisory research organization that works with philanthropists, multilateral agencies, corporate foundations, social enterprises, and non-profits in India. Participants also had the opportunity to learn strategies and tools for optimizing their social media presence to share their work and form connections with consumers, donors and organizations engaging in similar work.

Real Questions and Their Paraphrased Answers

  • What do you do with a business model canvas?
    • Constructing a business model canvas provides an honest look at the organization and makes it easier to identify gaps.
  • How do I actually use the business model canvas back at my organization?
    • Share it with your whole team, ask for input, and then revisit it every quarter.

Next Steps with India Workshop Participants

We plan to follow up with workshop participants in the next few months. We would like to know more about their progress on their action plans and any challenges they have had along the way.


During our time in each city, we held focus group discussions with Network members to learn more about their successes and challenges with learning and adaptation.

Quick Takeaways

  • Organizational structures that have the ability to hear and implement ideas from employees working directly with communities or individuals are particularly valued, and many organizations have mechanisms in place to share new findings and ideas internally.
  • Workshops and conferences hold value, but often outside of the meeting rooms. Networking at these events is most valuable.
  • Organizations value donor visits. Visits provide a space for collaborative program input and better conceptualization of program activities, both of which are useful in building strong donor relationships.
  • There is a need for small-scale funding for training and development, but these opportunities are limited.
  • Program timelines are often too short to demonstrate real change.
  • Webinars are not particularly useful, as post-presentation discussions are rare and the times are often outside normal working hours.
  • And SURPRISE! Lack of funds is a huge barrier when trying to implement new ideas.


Want to know more about the results from our focus group discussions? Click here to see the preliminary results. Look out for the final report, which we will be publishing at the end of the year. 

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Featured Report: The Primary Care Innovator’s Handbook

Henna Mahmood

Lessons for Innovators in Primary Health Care Delivery

The Primary Care Innovator’s Handbook: Voices from Leaders in the Field is a compilation of tools and conversations on primary health care delivery by innovative programs as part of the Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI) Primary Care Learning Collaborative.

The Handbook covers a range of topics that are central to the successful operation of a primary care chain or franchise – including but not limited to:

1. How do you choose your clinic sites?

2. How do you best staff your clinics?

3. How do you continuously improve your model?

While the focus of the handbook is on primary health care delivery, several key points provide a source of idea generation for WASH innovators facing similar problems or questions.

Relevant Key Points

1. Before opening a new clinic or program, understand the ‘status quo’

2. Choosing site locations is often a subjective, but informed process

3. Many true wants and desires exist below the surface, where we may not be able to truly verbalize them

4. There are many ways to assess financial sustainability of adding on services. Penda Health in Kenya, for example, takes two steps to assess the financial impact of growing their services. First, they conduct a landscape analysis, which includes a competitive analysis of who else is offering this service and at what price. Second, they explore the price-sensitivity of the service or test, referring to the degree to which a consumer’s behavior is affected by price or not. Then, they explore the interplay of different services and how they can help off-set each other’s costs.

  About The CHMI Primary Care Learning Collaborative

The CHMI Primary Care Learning Collaborative is a peer-learning network that enables knowledge sharing among participating organizations on challenges related to quality, sustainability, efficiency, and scale. Convened in 2013, Collaborative members share successes, jointly solve problems related to common challenges, and highlight promising practices for organizations providing primary care in low- and middle-income countries.

The Collaborative consists of five organizations employing chain and franchise models to deliver primary health care in Kenya, Burundi, and India: Access AfyaLifeNet International, Penda Health, Ross Clinics, and Swasth India. Other contributing organizations for the Primary Care Innovator’s Handbook include: Care 2 CommunitiesCare Rural Health Mission, Rural Health Care FoundationSughaVazhvuTiba Health LimitedUnjani Clinics, Viva Afya, and World Health Partners.

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Organizations in the WASH Impact Network Gather for First Workshop in Mumbai

Emily Endres

On September 21-24, 2015, Results for Development (R4D) and its partner Dasra brought together sixteen organizations in the WASH Impact Network to Mumbai, India to connect and learn.

The workshop content was tailored to respond to results from a needs assessment conducted this year. Over 100 organizations participated in the needs assessment, which aimed to identify barriers to innovation within the WASH sector in India and East Africa. Some of the top needs expressed by organizations in India informed the content of the first workshop, including theory of change, monitoring and evaluation, and fundraising.

Here are five highlights from the workshop:

1. Building relationships and setting the stage

The workshop began with a round of ice breakers that helped participants get to know each other, and also understand the way communication works—and often doesn’t work. For example, one game called “Finding Funding” required blindfolded volunteers to find an object by getting directions from two different groups—one that was unable to speak and the other that was unable to see.

Mr. Gautam Prakash from Reap Benefit explained what he learned from the activity: “We need to change our method of communication—that was my main takeaway from the finding funding game. There are gaps between what we hear and what we say and what we assume. Sometimes you have to work with very unreceptive listeners, and then you need to find out a better way to communicate.”

The game and Gautam’s reflection on it set the stage for the rest of the workshop that focused on how to use evidence and frameworks to measure impact, and then communicate that in a concise, clear way that responds to the expectations of funders.

2. Theory of Change

The first step in being able to communicate the impact of a program is to be able to understand the theory of change behind it. Led by Hugh Waddington from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluations (3ie), participants practiced creating a Theory of Change based on real-world examples of WASH programs. Participants were able to work together in small groups to identify the end impact they are trying to achieve, and the building blocks it would take to get there. They looked at the differences between inputs, outputs, and outcomes, and the assumptions they made along the way.

When participants were asked to identify one thing they learned from the workshop that they will implement within their own organizations, fifteen out of sixteen reported that they will create a formal theory of change for their programs.

3. Monitoring and Evaluation

Activities on days two and three built on the Theory of Change framework by designing Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (SMART) indicators to measure the outcomes they chose. Groups presented the resulting M&E frameworks to the room and received valuable feedback from their peers. In addition, Mr. Waddington from 3ie also demonstrated the value of impact evaluations and online resources that can help program managers determine what kind of data is available to help inform their programs.

4. Building Partnerships

One of the aims of the WASH Impact Network is to connect organizations to each other and foster peer learning. Megha Jain from Dasra facilitated two sessions called “Know Your Peers,” which are rounds of quickfire presentations from participants in which they give an overview of the work that they do, and their biggest challenges. Their peers were then able to offer advice or services to the presenters, starting a larger conversation among the cohort on mutual support and peer learning.

5. Getting Funder Ready

One of the top needs expressed by WASH innovators in the needs assessment was operational financing. In order to help program managers address this need, participants created a three-page funder document that expressed their vision and described their program and theory of change. Experts at Dasra coached participants in the creation of these documents, and participants also received feedback from their peers. These documents can be adapted and expanded for a variety of funding applications and proposals.

In order to understand what donors are looking for, representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Arghyam, and HSBC were invited to participate in a funder roundtable where they discussed what they look for in a grantee, what programs they fund in the WASH sector and why, and their visions for the future—insights rarely accessible to on-the-ground program managers in the WASH sector.

Workshop participants will attend a second capacity building workshop in spring of 2016 that builds on the theory of change, M&E and fundraising skills learned in this workshop. A workshop held in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2015 will host 15-20 WASH innovators from East Africa, hosted by R4D and its regional partner, Millennium Water Alliance

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Innovation Spotlight: Eco Femme

Rajesh Reddy

R4D’s Innovations in WASH talk to Kathy Walkling, co-founder of Eco Femme

Menstrual health is a crucial yet inadequately addressed issue for poor women in developing countries.  Religious and socio-cultural factors typically perpetuate a culture of denial and shame associated with the menstrual experience.  This causes detrimental effects as unsafe menstrual practices (i.e., using unclean cloth or other makeshift alternatives like sand and paper) can compromise women’s health and diminish participation in school and community.

Eco Femme’s Innovative Start

Kathy Walking started Eco Femme in 2009 in Auroville, South India, to try and address these issues. 

The social enterprise works to educate disadvantaged and marginalized women and girls living in rural areas about the benefits of using safe, eco-friendly cloth pads instead of unhygienic cloth pads or heavily polluting disposable pads.  Eco Femme has produced its own range of cotton washable pads designed to be comfortable, secure, absorbent and attractive, while being reusable for at least 2 years.

Kathy came up with the idea for Eco Femme after experiencing the disposal difficulties associated with menstrual products first-hand.

She said: “I became an avid cloth pad user when I moved to India, but after trying to dig holes in baked earth to bury menstrual products each month, I figured there must be an easier way."

After learning of cloth menstrual pads, Kathy began experimenting with designs and started producing them for women in Auroville and visiting friends. “Without really trying, I found myself having a small business.”

Photo Caption: Eco Femme's Pad Travel Pouches

Taking an Innovative Approach to Marketing

Eco Femme’s approach is about more than just delivering a better product.  Her work with a local NGO (AVAG) serving rural women made her aware of the local realities and challenges of menstruation faced by girls and women, an experience that informed the development of a more integrated approach to menstrual hygiene management.  “We want to address the myths, taboos, fears, and the belief systems that lead to lifestyle restrictions among women, so that they experience it [menstruation] not as something to be ashamed of or feel is dirty or impure, but something that they can embrace as part of their healthy self-identity."

To do this, Eco Femme uses a three-pronged approach combining an eco-friendly and culturally-adapted product, a hybrid business model, and an educational program to provide adolescent girls the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their period in a healthy and dignified manner.

The centerpiece of Eco Femme’s program is their cloth pad, described above. These pads are sold to middle and upper-class women in India and also on the international market, mostly in the UK, US and the Netherlands.  But to ensure these pads are also available to poor, rural women and girls, Eco Femme came up with the “Pad for Pad” scheme which builds a donation into each internationally sold pad (about 80 INR per pad) that allows for cross-subsidization of Eco Femme’s menstruation education program and also funds menstrual product kits with four free pads and a travel pouch for Indian girls in rural schools. 

Through this hybrid business model, Eco Femme’s staff of 9 people has sold or freely distributed 31,021 pads and has provided menstrual hygiene education to 2,561 adolescent girls.  They do this in partnership with community-based organizations and NGOs.

Rounding out their innovative approach, Eco Femme designs and manufactures the pads with rural women’s self-help groups (SHG), providing livelihood opportunities for community women.  Ten SHG members from partner NGO Auroville Village Action Group have been trained in advanced tailoring and now use their skills to stitch washable cloth pads of export quality.  Eco Femme is currently developing a scalable business model for women’s village-based enterprises, where women are trained in stitching and business management skills. 

Photo Caption: Eco Femme's Menstrual Education Classes

Overcoming Challenges

But there have been challenges along the way and there will be more to come, especially if the social enterprise is to reach its goal of reaching 10,000 girls across India. One of the major challenges is around changing attitudes, not among the girls and women Eco Femme works with, but with opinion leaders such as doctors and politicians.  The team discovered this when they presented their work to officials and doctors from the Government.

She said: “We recently undertook an evaluation and what we found was that girls are open to changing their behavior.  They are early on in their menstrual lives and haven’t formed habits yet.” 

“Surprisingly it was the doctors we met who needed convincing. They were all female doctors but they had all these assumptions about cloth pads being unhygienic and that girls can’t be expected to wash cloth pads, and would need to get their mothers to do it.” 

Discouraged, Kathy and the team have decided to focus their energies on working at the grassroots level.  She said:  “It could be extremely high impact to get the government on board but finding that opening requires incredible patience."  She instead now prefers to work with early adopters rather than spending a lot of effort to convince people about Eco Femme’s approach.  

Working with R4D’s Regional Partner

Going forward, Eco Femme is working hard to build up its business skills and grow its international sales, including setting up an online store, growing its rural distribution network, developing partnerships with grassroots organizations, and exploring production models to get the price down.  The team is also thinking about recruitment to help with this work.  Dasra will be key to helping them build this capacity through its training workshops.  Kathy said: “Dasra is a smart, competent Indian organization which is giving us great help as an organization.”

When asked what she needed as a WASH entrepreneur, Kathy pointed to the lack of women leaders from which she could draw inspiration.

She said:  “Through Dasra we’ve looked at business case studies on the CEOs of Starbucks, Disney, Microsoft etc.  But these are all white males.  We need profiles of women!”

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What’s trending in the WASH sector—and are they the right trends to support real progress?

Emily Endres

Imagine if there were a Twitter specifically for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). What would be trending today? And would those trends align with what’s really needed to see progress in the sector?


@ Millennium Water Alliance


At Results for Development (R4D), we started thinking about this as we conducted research on opportunities and challenges within the WASH sector in India, Bangladesh and Vietnam. We conducted a literature review that uncovered past and present policies and interventions, and then spoke with experts to validate what we learned.


Through this research process, we noticed a few trends and buzzwords — and not just in these three countries, but in the whole WASH sector. While critically analyzing these trends, a few questions came up that should be considered.


We won’t try and answer these big questions here, but we do hope to offer some healthy food for thought.



By now, we’ve all heard this word so much it has almost lost its meaning.  But when we talk about sustainability, are we talking about the financial sustainability of individual programs (perhaps this explains that other trend #socialenterprise)? Or are we talking about long-term solutions and the prevention of future problems?


Let’s put this into context. Countries like Bangladesh and India face threats to their water sources as a rapidly growing population competes with agricultural, industrial and hydropower demands for water. While demand for scarce water resources are increasing, water contamination is also increasing. Arsenic contamination is widespread in South and Southeast Asia, in addition to untreated residential, agricultural and industrial runoff.


Now, imagine that your organization has begun implementing a project to market water filters in communities without piped water access. At the end of the project cycle, what determines success? If the business is strong enough to support itself on sales revenue alone? Or is it financial health, plus consumer awareness of good water conservation and watershed stewardship practices? Is it sustainable only if the accounts balance, or that plus local communities learn how to advocate to their local governments about piped water access so that water filters won’t always be necessary?



WASH experts (and #globaldev experts more generally) are all about data and monitoring these days, which is good because it’s a huge need.  And most would agree that strong M&E systems are vital to a program’s success, and that it’s smart to design interventions based on existing evidence.


But one question we need to ask ourselves is whether funds for research are always spent efficiently. In the age of information, we’re generally able to access data and evidence about what the needs and challenges are in a particular context, and what has worked in the past (or hasn’t). So if program implementers, donors and governments are accepting their responsibility to seek out and understand this history, our supposedly intelligent program designs should reflect that.


Instead, what tends to happen is that we spend a lot of time and money on formative research upfront and evaluations at the end. We’re starting from scratch every time and waiting until the end of the two-year project timeline to see if it worked. As an alternative to costly and time-consuming formative research, would a better approach be to make educated guesses based off of an existing body of research and past experience, and conduct low-cost, rapid experimentation at the early stages of a program? Are the bulk of our resources being spent on monitoring so that we can course correct as we go? Should we be spending more money building bodies of knowledge for areas that we don’t know enough about?


Fortunately, the experts we interviewed during our research see a positive trend developing in the WASH sector around designing M&E systems that are more cost-effective and more focused on local communities, while also providing more opportunities for course correction throughout the life of the project.


Experts at Dasra and Mahila Housing Trust have noticed more funders discussing sharing “big data” with communities so that their participation in the design and implementation of solutions creates more impact. r.i.c.e. looks at cultural norms that keep people from using latrines. They see an opportunity for experimenting with behavior change communication strategies geared towards promoting latrine use.


An additional area of opportunity, according to the experts we spoke to, is generating more data in typically overlooked subsectors of WASH. There is little data, for example, on WASH in non-household environments like workplaces, and water quality at a community level. Could collecting more information about issues that we don’t have enough evidence on turn into an act of advocacy for more funding and resources?



Ok, so this one’s not really trending … at least not explicitly. But from where we stand, not enough people are talking about the “H” in WASH. For example, despite hand washing with soap being hailed as one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, hygiene promotion wasn’t given specific targets in the SDGs. According the the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing, the simple behavior decreasing diarrhea by one-half and acute respiratory infections by one-third. Other elements of good hygiene like menstrual hygiene management, personal hygiene and food preparation positively impact not only health, but also nutrition, education, economic wellbeing and equity.


Despite its importance for a life of health, wellbeing and dignity, hygiene promotion lacks official policies in many countries. And even those countries that do have official policies on promotion are often underfunded (perhaps reflecting the historic trend focusing on #hardware over #software solutions like behavior change). Average expenditure on hygiene promotion interventions by national governments is less than 1% of total WASH funding.


To top it off, hygiene promotion interventions are often narrow in terms of target audience and the aspects of hygiene that they address. Experts at the Mahila Housing Trust suggest that WASH programs in schools often only target children with hygiene promotion programs, but fail to promote good hygiene practices in the home where good habits can be further encouraged. The 2015 GLAAS report also highlights the lack of hygiene promotion in health care facilities, stating that only 19% of countries have plans that are fully funded and implemented.


Hygiene promotion is an inexpensive intervention that should be incorporated into all programs aimed at reducing diarrheal and other diseases, increasing economic wellbeing and education outcomes, and addressing inequalities. So again, why isn’t #Hygiene trending?



Don’t get us wrong — we understand why we’re all talking about WASH in urban areas. Urban areas, especially informal settlements, present complicated WASH challenges related to population density, politics and housing laws. And these areas will become increasingly complicated as urbanization continues to rise. The unique challenges presented by rapidly growing cities and informal settlements have produced some really cool solutions like social franchise models designed around portable household toilets, pit emptying machinery that can navigate small alleys, and water kiosk vending machines.


But is this potentially diverting resources from areas of need that might require longer-term investment in tried and true methods? For example, many donors in India are turning their focus from rural areas to urban areas, despite the fact that only 10% of open defecation occurs in urban areas in India, according to the 2015 Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report and MDG Assessment. John Oldfield, founder of Friends of Clean India and former CEO of WASH Advocates, suggests that the draw of innovating to develop new technology and new business models in urban spaces is more attractive than the draw of innovating to change behaviors and attitudes in rural spaces. But perhaps the thing that’s most exciting is not always the thing that’s most needed: “Most Indians aren’t focusing on how to manage waste or how to turn it into biogas — they’re not even disposing of it in a toilet.”


While India is unique in the WASH space in many ways, this example caused us to stop and think … are there other ways that the chase for that brand new, never-before-seen toilet is steering us away from investing in those less sexy long-term interventions that have been proven to work?


Through our research in Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam, we learned that looking at trends can help us identify some really important issues. But looking at them critically can also help us understand the appropriate way to engage.


What other WASH trends did we miss? Let us know what you think @Results4Dev.

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Learning about Learning in the WASH Sector

Emily Endres

Stockholm World Water Week brings together practitioners from across the WASH sector to discuss topics of mutual interest and concern. Attendees at the conference included development professionals working in rural sanitation, water ministry officials from Nairobi, water resource management researchers, and representatives from private sector companies providing WASH goods and services. While these individuals’ daily work looks extremely different, one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that there is a lack of cross-sectoral learning in WASH, and a desire to learn how to learn better.

At Results for Development Institute’s (R4D) WASH Impact Network, we are bringing together civil society organizations in India and East Africa that are implementing innovative approaches in the WASH sector, and trying to understand how they learn. Here are a few notable conversations that stood out to us at Water Week on the subject:  

Beyond the Basics—Next Generation Solutions for Rural Sanitation

The Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and the World Bank Group presented best practices for getting buy-in from national and state governments to fast track improvements in rural sanitation. What they found was that the most effective means of doing this was by facilitating peer-to-peer learning through creating knowledge hubs, using peer networks and platforms, and sharing success stories through learning tours and site visits. Download the presentations through the SWWW website.

Addressing the Lack of Trained Professionals to Reach the Post-2015 Agenda








R4D's Peter Blair presents on the Network's capacity building activities.


Dorothee Spuhler, lead for the Capacity Development Working Group of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA), facilitated a session that presented a variety of both in-person and online learning methods aimed at building the capacity of WASH professionals worldwide. These methods included field visits, learning tours, on-site trainings, and site supervision services—methods which have shown particular success in conflict areas such as Kabul, where BORDA is training local craftsmen and small and medium enterprises in the construction and maintenance of decentralized wastewater treatment systems and biogas digesters. Presenters at the session also highlighted online learning tools such as the Cap-Net Virtual Campus, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), and the Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management Toolbox. There was also a focus on the need for more trained WASH professionals to increase in-country capacity - such as Lund University's Sustainable Sanitation in Theory and Action program to provide support to Master's and PhD students in Tanzania.

Transforming Knowledge Production and Innovation for Sustainable Water Development

At this session, Louise Karlberg, research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), called for a new way of conducting research that recognizes participants as local experts, in which they are encouraged to critique the data, tools, and assumptions used in research, and actually help write the final scientific report at the end of the study. In an atypical panel discussion afterward, panellists were asked a series of “tricky questions,” for example, “How can we know that new knowledge makes a difference?” James Clarke, Director of Communications at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), gave an honest answer to this one—we can’t. But he encouraged WASH professionals to think about how knowledge is delivered by asking “Whom do you trust? Whose information do you consider valid? From whom do you get information from and then want to go back home and do something with it?” 

At R4D, we’re taking these insights and exploring them in the context of local WASH innovators that are faced with a number of barriers to scaling up interventions that work, and implementing new ideas. We’re doing this by first bringing together over 120 organizations working at the grassroots level in India and East Africa into a learning and collaborating network, and continuously learning from these organizations about what their organizational needs are, the challenges they face in scaling up and innovating, and how they learn most effectively.

Taking what we learn, we are delivering tailored training and capacity building resources through our regional partners, Dasra and Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) and other service providers, and feeding those lessons back to other development actors for those focused on transferring knowledge better. Browse our website to stay up-to-date on what we’re learning and sharing at R4D. 

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Designing better workshops: WASH innovators on how they learn and adapt

Erin Swearing

WASH Impact Network members brainstorm components of the business model canvas with assistance from the Dasra team in Mumbai, India on June 27, 2016. ©Results for Development

In 2014, Results for Development (R4D) started the WASH Impact Network to help local innovators in East Africa and India address some of the challenges they face in doing the important work of improving access to clean water and sanitation, and promoting good hygiene practices. We decided that to really understand how to support these organizations, we needed to ask them what they needed and what’s most helpful. We needed to listen.  

So we conducted a needs assessment with over 120 local WASH organizations in the WASH Impact Network, and we learned (unsurprisingly) that operational financing—funds to support core activities and/or scaling up—was the greatest need. In 2015 and 2016, R4D and our regional partners, Dasra and the Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), organized a series of workshops and focus group discussions for WASH Impact Network members in in Addis Ababa, Kampala, Nairobi, and Mumbai to start addressing this need and to hear more from WASH innovators about their challenges and what helps to overcome them.  

Talking about what’s helpful and what isn’t with local WASH innovators 


Since implementing the WASH Impact Network, R4D has conducted interviews and focus group discussions with network members to learn more about what’s helpful and what isn’t when trying to learn and implement new ideas. Some key takeaways from these conversations are summarized below.


What's helpful:
  • Learning events that allow participants to learn by doing.
  • Surveying participants before the workshop to understand problems they are currently facing, and design content to address challenges and current interests.
  • Distributing “soft” versions of tools that can be used immediately or customized.
  • Setting up reach-back mechanisms for participants to consult with experts and stay in touch with peers at the end of learning events. 
What isn’t:
  • Learning events that are mostly lecture-based and offer no time for collaboration and participant input.
  • Webinars without built-in discussion time. Without a space to chat about research results, webinars do not offer the space to get to dig deep and brainstorm solutions to complex problems.
  • PowerPoints and long written reports. These tools are rarely revisited and require big time commitments to digest and adapt to the specific needs of programs.

After listening to workshop participants, we designed workshops that were participatory, action-oriented, and relevant to the contexts in which they work to address innovators’ need for operational financing. Through the development of an elevator pitch, population of a business model canvas, and the creation of action plans, innovators had the space to create useful tools that they could easily share with their organizations.


Crafting a solid elevator pitch in East Africa


Workshops in East Africa were hosted by MWA. The workshop focused on the development and refinement of an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is an important networking tool intended to grasp the attention of a potential collaborator or funder within a matter of seconds. Because resources are often limited for local program implementers, an elevator pitch can be a game changer in developing a relationship that may generate funding in the future.   


Tailored elevator pitch sessions in Kampala and Nairobi were facilitated by Nyambura Waruingi, a Kenyan creative innovator who possesses over 13 years of experience writing, curating, and producing in the creative industry sector. Participants created their own pitches and received targeted feedback from Waruingi and other workshop participants. They challenged one another to find compelling ways to communicate their organization’s work.  


Participants were advised to:
  • Be personal when telling their stories. There is value in inserting yourself into the narrative. Before you sell, you must connect.
  • Customize your pitch for your audience when selling your impact and vision. Research and understand the audience’s interests and objectives, be specific about your accomplishments, and show where and how the audience can play a role in your organization’s story.
  • Investors value personality. That’s most important. Because it’s about relationships. The business model can change, but the entrepreneurs you interact with cannot.

The workshops also included a funder/investor panel including with foundations and knowledge centers designed to support business sustainability and inclusiveness.  Members of the WASH Impact Network had the opportunity to hear from panelists about the partnerships they seek to build with organizations and ask candid questions about their funding and support needs.


Examining the business model, action planning and using social media in India


The workshop in Mumbai was co-facilitated by Dasra, and focused on identifying their own strengths and areas for improvement, and creating action plans for goals that were developed during the workshop. The main activities included:

  1. Developing the business model canvas: The business model canvas is a one-page visual tool that summarizes the organization’s sources of revenue, how they intend to interact with partners and consumers to achieve their goals,  and what resources are available or needed to achieve their goals. Innovators were able to populate the canvas after hearing examples relevant to each section of the business model. Innovators were encouraged to share the canvas they created with their teams, ask for input and revisit it every quarter.
  2. Developing action plans: Organizations were encouraged to create simple action plans that would lay out a path to better leverage their strengths or address any opportunities for growth. This exercise allowed participants leave with a targeted action plan they could present to their organizations on “Monday morning.”
  3. Optimizing one’s social media presence: Social media is an important communications channel for sharing an organization’s work and forming connections with consumers, donors and organizations engaging in similar work. Organizations were introduced to social media analytics, innovative website designs and visual messaging examples to increase their presence on various platforms.

After workshops in Mumbai and Nairobi, participants designed their own “reach-back mechanisms” to stay connected with one another after the workshop, recognizing their peers in the room as key resources for the future. Moving forward, participants will keep in touch using social media tools, such as WhatsApp groups, to chat informally and share information on upcoming events, success stories and funding opportunities. Want to know more about what we’ve learned through our conversations with WASH innovators? Click here to see the preliminary results. Look out for the final report, which we will be publishing at the end of the year.

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Ask an Innovator: Shelter Associates

Eva Adler

"Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

William Pollard

Though change is inevitable, building upon lessons learned is a critical step to shape more effective solutions moving forward. Not only do these conversations about past challenges cultivate better dialogues about innovation, most importantly, they catalyze new approaches to best tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.

Shelter Associates exemplifies this kind of innovation in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. Shelter is a non-profit organization that works alongside the urban poor, particularly women, in Maharashtra, India to provide technical support to community-managed slum rehabilitation housing (including security of tenure), and essential services projects. One of the most innovative aspects of Shelter’s work is how geospatial data is integrated into the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) process and verifies sanitation improvements across project sites.

Pratima Joshi, founder of Shelter, spoke to Results for Development (R4D) about a story of a success and of a challenge the organization has experienced since its founding in 1994, and most importantly, how they drew lessons from those experiences to develop their model for greater impact.

Story of a Success

One of the largest challenges facing Shelter, like many water-focused organizations, is the lack of in-country infrastructure and resources to effectively deliver WASH services to everyone. The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum in Sinhagad, Pune, which is home to 87 households and some 329 people, offers a good example of a place where providing WASH services is challenging, due to its location and very poor population. Open defecation rates were particularly high in this slum due to technical challenges to build a sewer system on the rugged steep sloped terrain.

However, Shelter’s staff were undeterred to tackle the problem.  When they started their work in the city of Pune, and the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum, two key challenges were immediately obvious:

1) The lack of real time data to assess on-site realities and general knowledge of already existing infrastructures;

2) The city’s lack of proper consultation and collaboration with stakeholders during the process of installing community toilets in urban slums.

In order to overcome these challenges, Shelter Associates identified two key methods to accelerate and uplift local sanitation conditions. Its approach, unlike others, moved beyond providing basic sanitation structures and services, to included inclusive and cross-sectoral strategies to cultivate more innovative solutions.

To better understand on-site realities, Shelter Associates incorporated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping software to accurately display spatial information across the slum (houses, sanitation facilities, and common defecation locations). Increased awareness of existing infrastructure in the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum was a direct outcome of this addition. The project also increased knowledge of ground realities and the impact Shelter’s water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and education programs had across households. Greater data availability for the slum also meant more opportunities for the urban poor to participate in larger city planning agendas and decision-making processes.

To strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration, Shelter unified policy makers, local leaders, and regional non-profits (NGO’s) to inform the planning and implementation stages of the city’s urban slum community toilet initiatives. They facilitated community focused gatherings and inclusive workshops, which were well attended by women and children. Although a time intensive process, this enabled Shelter to strengthen personal relationships and trust with community members. This approach was the most successful method to enable community participation and most importantly, inform the urban slum management process.

Since the start of the project in 2013, GIS maps have pointed to improvements in the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum - the prevalence of open defecation has fallen dramatically and now the slum is nearly 95% open defecation free. In a few years alone, Shelter has contributed to the 60% decrease in open defecation and given households the opportunity to live in improved sanitation conditions.

Pratima Joshi explains, “Now since Shelter’s intervention, the slum has been transformed from one of the worst living conditions in Pune, to a clean, more respectful place where people live safely and with dignity. People now feel less marginalized and more valued. They can see how Shelter and the government have undertaken a lot of trouble to help improve their lives.”

The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum highlights an excellent case study of a project ‘win’. Even with immense challenges from the beginning, Shelter Associates identified barriers and overcame challenges in the slum. With determination and persistence, Shelter created innovative strategies and will continue to use these approaches in its future work.

Story of a Challenge

As Pratima Joshi from Shelter reflects upon organizational experiences, she recalls a particular story of a challenge or something that did not go as planned. She described this as a “lesson learned”.

In 2000, Shelter Associates participated in the Pune toilet project led by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and local non-profit organizations (NGO’s). The objective of the PMC was to build sustainable community toilets in the urban slums of Pune, however, mistakes were made along the way which Shelter has since learned from and applied into its own work going forward.

Pratima explains, “Various organizations were roped into building toilets within a limited time frame and led to many maintenance challenges in the community.”

The narrow focus of only building toilets in the urban slum led to weak community involvement. The inability to mobilize local leaders and community members created a capacity gap in the toilet program and hindered the implementation and sustainability of the program as planned.

Pratima recalls, “At the time, there wasn’t the capacity or time for us to properly assess existing infrastructure. There was also a lack of consultation and communication between the local councillor, the communities, and other partnering organizations.” 

The lack of unification prevented the success of the city’s slum toilet initiative. Shelter took this lesson learned and made mobilization a non-negotiable step in its work. Since then, Shelter has integrated more urban slum community leaders and decision makers into the urban planning process and increased impact for on-site realities.

Though innovation and learning go hand in hand, Shelter Associates has learned that success and challenges never remain static. The ability to adapt and redirect after a challenge, or as Pratima puts it “lesson learned,” is a critical step to cultivate and implement innovative approaches in our ever changing world. Shelter Associates most of all, is an excellent example for other innovators to integrate lessons learned into organizational approaches to reach greater impact.

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