Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Creating the space for innovation - eThekwini Water and Sanitation Unit

by Tracey Keatman for BPD

Innovation comes out of sheer desperation – you just sit down and do it!” This sentence, on the origins of innovation, struck me while talking to one of the area engineers from the eThekwini Water & Sanitation Unit (EWS) in Durban. I was there in June on behalf of the IDB / MIF team and the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre of the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM) to prepare a case study on innovative business models for WASH. 

We had been discussing some of the technical, financial, social and business innovations developed and then delivered by EWS across the municipality to increase or enhance service delivery to the un-served. Necessity is clearly a major driver for innovation – but can innovation (of any nature) on its own have the impact we need to provide services to all? During my week with EWS I saw how the potential for developing innovative ideas and approaches can best be harnessed by an organisation that has an enabling and open culture; where an ethos of incremental learning and a willingness to learn by doing goes hand-in-hand with evidence-based strategic decision-making.

Community stand-post, Frasers informal settlement. Tongaat: Phindile Nyawose, EWS.

Since the extension of the municipal boundaries in 1996 to create a Metro and then again to become a ‘Unicity’ in 2001 (EWS, 2012), the current ‘customer’ base of EWS has significantly increased to over 3 million people – with many living in informal settlements and rural areas. Given current water and sanitation coverage and funding levels it would take 29-37 years to provide everyone with an in-house water supply and an estimated 23-28 years to deal with the sanitation backlog (EWS, June 2012). To meet this huge need and to address technological, financial, environmental and practical constraints (Sutherland, 2012) EWS had to act creatively to develop different types of service delivery for different customer segments and to get buy-in from communities, politicians, the media and others for this spatially differentiated approach.

By working through various multi-stakeholder partnerships with the private sector, civil society, academia and donors, EWS has sought to leverage the skills, capacity and knowledge required to rise to the challenge. This proactive multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach aims to unearth and meet the ‘right’ incentives for all partners. For the communities, this is primarily about job creation and livelihoods; for the private sector it’s about providing clear and rewarding contracts; for academic partners their research can be ‘tested’ at scale and grounded in reality; for the municipality, public health and environmental protection remain key.

The Head of EWS, Neil Macleod, described to me how progress can best be made through this multi-stakeholder approach as it links together EWS’s strategic operations with informed, evidence-based research, by innovating with new, environmentally sustainable technologies and most importantly, by getting feedback through proactive community engagement (i.e. the human element going hand-in-hand with the managerial and technical). From each operational area of EWS’s approach (the social, technical, environmental, financial) I was able to witness examples of innovation – not only that, I also found an organisation whose culture positively encouraged its staff to learn incrementally and provided the space to try new things. As my engineer contact went on to say, “You can get things wrong… but you only do it once and you learn from mistakes!” This solutions-based approach, articulated by the staff I met from across EWS and their partners, was heart-felt and inspiring.

As with BPD, EWS recognises the importance of “the human element “as this informs and ultimately determines what happens on the ground – both externally in terms of engaging with communities and also internally by fostering an open, learning organisational culture.

See images of EWS's work at:

In an effort to gain knowledge and disseminate successful innovative business models, the MIF, in collaboration with the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre of the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM),has commissioned a publication in which five innovative solutions involving partnerships at the local level are presented and analyzed. This is the second case study of the series and serving as a learning comparison with another region since it analyzes a water and sanitation service model from South Africa. To produce this case study, the MIF and itdUPM have collaborated with Building Partnerships for Development.

Monday, 9 December 2013

WASH in Schools Research Blog - Part 2

by Jacques-Edouard Tiberghien for BPD

BPD's WinS research projects launched... continued!

Last month we talked about our experiences with WinS projects but what have we learned along the way? 

As evaluators...

We have recently carried out a number of evaluations of WinS projects and programmes in Latin America and Africa including for the IDB, USAID and AusAid. A key finding is that sustainability of WinS programmes is not wishful thinking. That is a finding, yes! We cannot really take it for granted! The repeated view of latrines cemeteries is a good reminder of it. 

Indeed, in numerous schools, as evaluators find out, brand-new facilities are quickly degrading and about to experience the same fate as prior generations of toilets built under earlier interventions and which are already abandoned in the backyard. That clearly challenges us, our current approach, but does not alter the fact that sustainability is possible, and is indeed achieved by a minority of schools. Yet, our observations show that it often hinges on strong school leadership and proper follow up. Not surprisingly, such conditions occur in a few schools only. Our assumption at BPD is that until governments channel more resources to support WinS work and enforce monitoring, a catalyst is going to be needed comprising a clear combination of incentives and monitoring leading to greater stakeholder accountability.

Figure 3: Ex-post evaluation in Guatemala – A surprise visit to a school in one of the poorest area gives great satisfaction: clean latrines, soap and water at the tapstand, filtered water, toilet paper and detergent available in classrooms!

As trainers...

Abridged sessions of BPD’s WinS Partnership workshop, which we delivered at the UNC conference last year, for FHI360/CARE in Zambia in spring, and at the WEDC conference in Nakuru this summer, consistently highlighted the demand from practitioners for practical, analytical tools and guidance to run the multi-sector partnerships which form the institutional backbone of most WinS programmes.

As marriage counsellors...

We have also provided some ‘PPP guidance’ to the FHI360/CARE SPLASH programme in Zambia. That assignment confirmed that in a number of countries considerable resources are available locally, regionally and nationally to reinforce WinS work. Numerous non-traditional actors, including private sector actors, philanthropic foundations, and organisations such as the Rotary Club and the Lion’s Club, are willing to join forces. There is much benefit to derive from their mobilisation and engagement through well-structured multi-sector partnerships. From that perspective, we suggest that WinS advocacy efforts and partnerships at local, regional and national levels should become a standard component of any WinS programme. Back on the partnership front, optimising the contribution of non-traditional partners requires precisely meeting their respective interests (e.g. core business, CSR, philanthropic). This means that tailored packages must be prepared for each partner. Ideally, each package should comprise a bundle of activities contributing both to the scaling-up (hardware and software components) and sustainability (incentives and monitoring) challenges of WinS work.

Research to bridge the gap and to design solutions on strong foundations

We have gathered very interesting insights from these recent pieces of work. They have already triggered ideas on how to crack the WinS sustainability puzzle, and we are finalising a concept that we will trial as a pilot [please contact us if you have some interest in this]. 

At the same time, we have identified gaps in knowledge which the sector needs to bridge in order to address the institutional complexity of WinS work. We need solid foundations upon which solutions for WinS partnerships can be designed. By this, we mean that we require first and foremost a better understanding of the varied nature of those partnerships: their different shapes, their objectives, their evolution...That is the purpose of our first research project. Then, in order to engage non-traditional actors more strategically, we need to develop a deeper understanding of their input so far, and of the trends in their contribution. That is the focus of our second research project.

Both research teams will share the progress of their work on this blog, including the challenges that such a novel type of research entails, as well as an outline of the key findings as they emerge. Watch this space! And contact us if you have special interest in this research.