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Coming from a major NGO, we are often tagged as "implementers," by which people often mean that we directly deliver services. However, we are making concerted moves away from doing so. The argument against external funding for school WASH services has been well made by Peter Burr. Put simply, and especially in the case of public institutions like schools, directly delivering services risks undermining the social compact, exchanging short-term small gains in capital costs for long-term political will, institutional architecture and funding to provide services every day.
How then, can external funding be productive? NGOs and learning institutions should embrace the fact that we are smaller than the major external donors such as the World Bank (I will leave it to others to debate the impact of large external funding from the Bank) and don't have to live with the political realities, constraints and snail's pace of government. Because smaller institutions with lower levels of funding can be fast and nimble and operate outside of the official institutions, we can have outsize influence.
This then is the challenge for many of the organizations now in the position of directly delivering WASH in schools services (and who shouldn't be): how can we position ourselves as learners, influencers and advocates? The transition involves some sobering realities: (1) Many donors are currently more interested in funding direct service delivery; we have to learn to say, “no,” or even better, “here’s how your funds could have more influence” (2) It is cheaper to do this kind of work—mainly staff and some research costs with limited to no hardware—so there will be less funding flowing through NGOs (3) The skill sets needed are different. We will need less project managers and field officers and more staff with research and analysis skills and the ability to network with and influence policymakers.
While these realities imply serious changes in the way we do business, the payoff is that progress in meeting school WASH goals will be more sustainable as the systems and funds for operations and maintenance are brought online. And when improvements happen, they will more likely be at large, sometimes national, scale rather than a few latrine blocks here and a rainwater system there.
Clearly the list of indicators is too long at the moment. The final indicators, like the 2015 MDG targets, will need to be simple and monitor-able. The problem with this, as the list of existing suggestions indicates, is that school WASH is more complex than most of us imagined (and than most people still imagine). Like all public services, to be sustainable, school WASH involves financing, governance (including institutional support to and accountability of service providers), technology choices and associated supply chains, and social/normative change. The list is daunting. And Matt has rightly pointed out that having no measure of hygiene in the last MDGs was a mistake. Hand washing is still a lagging practice wherever we look, despite its paramount importance.
As they can never hope to measure both the level of service and the systems necessary to sustain those services, these indicators will exist basically to create political will and spur increased investment. From my perspective, a reasonable proxy for this would be to include perhaps one simple metric for water, sanitation and hygiene services each plus one metric on investment levels (perhaps an amount/pupil/year?) that can spur funding allocation decisions.
I am probably a good person but I haven't taken the time to fill out my profile, so you'll never know!
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