Skoll Foundation, Gram Vikas, IDEI, Water for People: World Water Week Highlights

September 5, 2012 by

It has been a pleasure to see so many Skoll Awardees play such important roles front and center at World Water Week. was highlighted numerous times by Pepsi, winner of the Industry Water Award. Pepsi improved its water use efficiency more than 20% per unit of production, leading to conservation of nearly 16 billion liters of water in 2011, and supported organizations that provided clean water to over a million people, mostly through their support of  CEO Gary White, Director of Advocacy Chevenee Reavis and I had a wonderful dinner in Stockholm’s old town and shared lots of great stories and discussions, mostly about innovation and organizational culture and direction. is making strong moves to mainstream innovation throughout their organization.

Gram Vikas presented its gravity-induced water supply innovation on one of the poster presentations in the main hall, and CERES presented their Aqua Gauge, a tool to enhance investor analysis of corporate water risk.  The theme of this year’s water week is water and food security—and IDEI was highlighted the first day as an example of an innovative long term solution for water scarcity and food security.  IDEI senior leadership, including Tapan who hosted us for our visit in January, presented stories of farmers’ lives transformed through micro-irrigation.  Although Ecopeace / FOEME was not present this year, they were mentioned quite a few times, and are clearly highly respected by top leaders in the water community.  The same was true for Kickstart and Proximity Designs.

Water for People was excellent in many sessions, sharing their groundbreaking work to drive transparency within their organization, as well as in the sector.  (That’s CEO Ned Breslin at far left, in photo above). The Everyone Forever concept, much trumpeted by Water for People, has clearly influenced thinking by many influential global actors. The concept of Everyone Forever is simple—water and sanitation programs that reach everyone in a given geographic area, and that the commitment is forever—referring to the responsibility to assure ongoing sustainability (   It seems simple enough, but the concept is shaking up the sector.  Some institutions are not happy with this–claiming that it cannot realistically be done. But Water for People isn’t the only one using this concept. At a packed reception at the Dutch embassy, the Dutch government announced that its next $100 million of water and sanitation grants will ALL require a 10 year sustainability clause for each grantee. The high level government officials ended their announcement by shouting Everyone!–Forever! to the crowd. This is truly amazing and ground breaking. It will shake up the WASH sector (imagine all implementing organizations having to change their methodologies in order to maintain all they implement for at least 10 years).

This is really complex, as it raises many questions, including about who is really responsible for provision of WASH services (governments, NGOs, private sector?)—and who should be held accountable.  Could a 10 year sustainability clause in a contract between a funder and an NGO end up undermining local governance?  Tough questions—but great to see the sector really try new innovative ideas and push the boundaries.

New Research and Publications

Another aspect of World Water Week I enjoy is learning the latest research advances.   There is an astounding amount of research and publications that come out each year.  It can be challenging to find (and pack) what seem to be the most relevant and groundbreaking studies.  This year the theme of World Water Week is Water and Food Security, and there are many studies that are relevant to our focus areas and the work our SASEs are doing.  One study I found particularly interesting has to do with rural sanitation, and progress on the implementation of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) at scale.  Today there are quite a few successful examples of CLTS being implemented at scale and the methodology has been adopted and implemented widely, although not always successfully.  The Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank, has been advising on CLTS implementation at scale, and compiling data and publishing on it.  Reflecting on many years and extensive experience, WSP just published what could be an influential study called, “What does it Take to Scale Up Rural Sanitation?”   What a title for a study! That is a (the?) big question.  One main point the study points out is that the most successful models of CLTS implementation have come when it is coupled with behavior change communication campaigns and sanitation marketing.   One of the weaknesses of CLTS, even more of a barrier among some cultures, is CLTS’s reliance on shaming as part of its strategy, and the lack of positive reinforcement of behavior change to encourage families to use improved sanitation facilities.  By using communications and marketing, positive aspects of sanitation use encourages adoption of CLTS.  Also important is greater supply of sanitation products and services in order to meet increased demand. This seems obvious, but in many cases has not been done and the window of opportunity for the behavior change to really take hold passes.

Another noteworthy development this week is progress on the post-2015 development goals.  The current Millennium Development Goals on clean water and sanitation are to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.   According to recent reports the world is on track to meet the drinking water target, although many questions remain.  But the real news is that half of the population in many developing countries still lack access to sanitation, and the 2015 target has become unreachable.  There has been considerable buzz this week about the next set of UN development targets, which should be released next year.  Although this work around the post-2015 indicators is still in the working group stage, some of the thinking around it is coming out.  For example, a session on post 2015 development goals suggested that one possible indicator / UN development goal would be to end open defecation by 2030.   Next year could be a significant year for the roll out of the UN post 2015 next generation development goals.

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