While drilling a well can be easy, delivering water and sanitation solutions that are sustainable in the long haul is not and involves a number of important components. Read below to learn about our program philosophy, which has been refined based on field experience gained over the past twenty years.
- Local Partners
- Community Ownership
- Appropriate Technology
- Addressing Sanitation and Hygiene
- Measuring and Monitoring Success
- The WaterCredit Initiative
We believe people in developing countries know best how to solve their own problems. That's why we forge partnerships with carefully-screened, indigenous partner organizations that understand, and are part of, the local culture. The result: a solution tailored to the needs of each community, instead of a technological fix the community has no way of maintaining. More benefits:
- Locally-based partners are better positioned to understand and navigate social, political, and economic issues impacting projects.
- Locally-based partners have more savvy at leveraging local financial resources for cost-sharing in projects.
- Local expertise exists to implement projects.
- Working through local partners is more cost effective than maintaining expatriate staff.
- Because Water.org is not tied to any single partner organization, we constantly search for and fund the organizations producing the highest quality projects.
Quotes from partners
"We find that Water.org is open to new ideas and experimentation. They are quick to respond and very quick to answer. All of the staff members are committed to the water development and sanitation process. [Water.org] believes that this work is important and good for the people. They have commitment as well as empathy. This attitude is quite reassuring to us. We are not left wondering whether they see an idea the same way . . . We know we are sailing together." - Nanda Vardhan, Society for Integrated Development in Urban and Rural Areas (SIDUR)
"[Water.org] is a model for the water and sanitation sector." - Mrs. J. Geetha, Gramalaya
"[We] appreciate Water.org's approach to water and sanitation projects due to their target-oriented approach, measurable indicators, capacity-building of partner organizations, flexibility and concern." - Mr. Anselm Rosario, Mythri Sarva Seva Samithi (MSSS)
Selecting partner organizations
Water.org's rigorous process for screening and certifying top quality partner organizations has been developed and refined over the past two decades. Primary elements include: (1) a preliminary screening; (2) field visits and evaluations of completed and in-progress projects; (3) interviews with the field staff of potential partner organizations, community leaders, and beneficiary households of water and sanitation projects; and (4) surveys including questionnaires completed by staff at the potential partner organization as well as by community members served through past and present projects. Water.org requires that the beneficiary communities are at the center of the project planning process and invested as stakeholders. Women in the community must play a significant role in the projects. Lastly, all projects undertaken with the community must be structured to complement existing programs and integrated into and coordinated with all political and social structures.
Community ownership is at the heart of Water.org’s philosophy. Regardless of whether the project is funded entirely by a grant or involves WaterCredit (small loans for water and sanitation), community ownership is at the center. For a project to be truly successful, communities must be viewed and must view themselves as the owners of the project. That’s why Water.org engages communities at every stage and at every level – from project planning, building and financing, to ongoing project maintenance.
People often ask how we select the communities we work with. Since our approach is demand-driven, the communities actually select us. Communities with a water or sanitation need contact our in-country partner organization. Our partner organization evaluates the communities and makes recommendations on water and sanitation projects. Often, our next project comes from the neighboring community of a community recently served by a Water.org project – word spreads quickly!
One of the first project activities is for the community to elect a local water committee. Because women disproportionately bear the burden of collecting water, it’s essential that the committee include female members. The water committees play a critical role in the project’s success. They serve as the liaison between the community and our partner organization, facilitate the hygiene education program, and determine the community work schedule for project construction. Members of the water committee are also trained on how to operate and maintain the water and sanitation systems, and how to manage the finances.
Contributing to the cost of the project is another way that communities and individuals become invested owners. With grant programs, communities contribute at least 10% of the total project cost. This may take the form of contributing financially, securing local materials, or putting in “sweat equity” with physical labor. With WaterCredit, people take out loans to construct safe water and sanitation facilities. Water.org implements WaterCredit through its network of local partner organizations. Organizations provide loans to people through a variety of channels, including join-lending groups, women’s self-help groups, and community-based organizations. Typically, loans range in size from $50 - $200 USD.
By engaging the community, Water.org ensures that the technology selected for the project is appropriate to the local community and their particular situation. The community selects, with technical input from Water.org’s local partner organization, the type of project, what local materials to use, where it will be located, and how much it will cost.
Communities must be able to build and maintain the water system on their own. Thus, Water.org projects involve locally-available, relatively simple technology. Because local technology is used, materials are readily available, which allows projects to be quickly and easily repaired.
Communities also participate in the construction of their water project. This helps to alleviate capital costs of the projects, and increases community investment. In addition, it allows the community to better understand how the technology works.
All water systems need regular maintenance and at some point, repair. Water.org equips community members with the skills and strategies to handle system maintenance and repair. If communities encounter a problem they are unable to solve on their own, our local partner organization provides assistance. The regular maintenance fees collected by the communities’ water committees pay for these costs. Helping communities to address such needs is integral to providing lasting solutions.
Addressing Sanitation and Hygiene
Good hygiene practices and access to sanitation facilities are critical to achieving sustainable improvements in community health. Clean water may be available in a household, but if hand-washing and other practices are not routinely followed, the promised health benefits will not materialize. Similarly, access to a latrine does not ensure that the latrine will be used or properly maintained.
Without a good understanding of the link between hygiene and disease, the health benefits of safe water and sanitation can be easily lost. Water.org holds intensive training and motivation seminars throughout the project on the link between good health and good hygiene. These seminars link common illnesses (such as diarrhea) with proper hygiene (such as hand-washing before eating or preparing food). Linking sanitation with common health concerns increases community commitment and involvement.
Measuring and Monitoring our Success
Water.org has an unbeatable track record of project success. But don’t take our word for it. Read third-party evaluations of Water.org’s programs.
Bangladesh University of Technology and Engineering study (2008): Impact evaluation of urban and rural water and sanitation projects, Bangladesh. (Read the Executive Summary.) Conclusion: The water and sanitation facilities implemented by Water.org’s local partners are functioning effectively, users have significantly greater access to safe water and latrines, and users are highly satisfied with their new services.
Emory University study (2006): Water.org Community Water Systems Evaluation, Lempira, Honduras. (Read the Executive Summary and news release.) Conclusion: Of the Honduras Water.org project sites surveyed in July 2006, 100 percent were still operational, even though some had been in existence up to ten years, and all for at least four years. Satisfaction with the system was also extremely high, with 98% of respondents more than satisfied.
Stanford University study (2007-2009): Improving access to water supply and sanitation in urban India. (Read the Water Science & Technology article) Conclusion: The market demand survey of over 800 households found that a substantial proportion of households would invest in water and sewer connections even at market (i.e. non-subsidized) rates of financing.
Backing up our commitment to sustainability
Water.org backs its commitment to sustainability with rigorous monitoring and evaluation, and original research programs. Historically, few non-governmental organizations have conducted systematic studies of the sustainability of their water supply projects. The above studies represent a significant step towards quantifying success and identifying opportunities for improvement.Under Water.org’s rigorous monitoring and evaluation process, local partner organizations are required to submit program and financial progress reports on a quarterly basis, and to evaluate their projects after the first year of completion to measure what outcomes have emerged from the project and what lessons they have learned to guide future efforts. We constantly refine our overall monitoring and evaluation processes to ensure accountability on the part of our partners.
The WaterCredit Initiative represents the creation of a new space at the intersection of water and sanitation and microfinance. By catalyzing small loans to individuals and communities in developing countries who do not have access to traditional credit markets, WaterCredit empowers people to immediately address their own water needs. As loans are repaid, they can be redeployed to additional people in need of safe water. Learn more about WaterCredit.