Strengthening WASH systems in Nepal

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The Fund Coordinator WASH Specialist, Matthew Bond provides a wrap up of our recent Knowledge & Learning event in Nepal. 

Well, that’s it for a very enjoyable systems strengthening learning event in Kathmandu—a four-day whirlwind of thinking, questioning, talking, working, sharing and building relationships. And lots of laughter in between.

For me, Day 4 really brought the event together, with a series of sessions that helped each of us use a systems lens to view our inclusive WASH experiences. The particular lens we used was the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) building blocks. Throughout the next three years, the SWA blocks will provide a common language for talking about systems strengthening. The blocks are featured above (and as we discussed during the session, the reason capacity development is sitting out there on its own is because within the Fund Theory of Change, capacity development is an intermediate outcome that contributes to success in each of the other blocks).

The Country teams returned to their poster presentations from Day 1 and were set a big challenge by Antoinette—create a diagram to illustrate their project from a systems perspective, using the SWA blocks, thinking about how government in all its forms—from national to local—influence what happens at the community and household level, and for good measure, how the private sector fits in. All in half an hour! 

Despite my fears, the Country teams were equal to the challenge, creating insightful, nuanced diagrams which they then shared with each other. This highlighted the different ways in which project teams think about the systems in which they work.

As an example, SNV Bhutan presented their work in the rural sanitation sector at central, dzongkhag (district), gewog (subdistrict) and community levels, mapping the government, private sector and local CSO operations and the interactions between them. The team described how they have identified a range of ‘last mile’ group (including female single headed households, households including those with a disability and/or the elderly and those in extreme poverty).

Each of the diagrams was similarly complex, but they enabled participants to talk about how the systems worked and where they saw opportunities to intervene. Capping off the work on SWA building blocks, we reassembled in our teams from Day 2 (Teams A, B, C and D-for-dancing—thanks Nutan and Shiv) and looked explicitly at gender and social inclusion.

Teams talked through each of the first four blocks, thinking about what’s been missing in our work from a GSI perspective. We then shared some of the best ideas from each group, which included:

  • GSI-responsive and inclusive budgeting
  • Engagement of rights holder groups in institutions and policy development
  • Funding for CSOs and others voices to engage in multi-stakeholder platforms
  • Cross-department coordination mechanisms, committees and plans
  • Disaggregated data and also qualitative appraisal

Aside from delivering better programming, an added reason for Fund partners to be thinking about systems is that Systems Strengthening has been selected as one of eight themes for the Fund’s Learning Agenda (a full draft of which is due to be completed in December).

A brief session on Day 4 was used to provide an overview of the Learning Agenda and an update on its development, and then to consider five potential sub-themes for systems strengthening. The results of this session will be fed back to the thematic group working on the Systems Strengthening theme as part of the Learning Agenda. Illustrating just how much we all packed into the four days, there was a very well attended session on menstrual hygiene management during the lunch break, showcasing work being done by a number of partners including Thrive, LSHTM, World Vision and SNV.

The event finished off with country teams and the Fund Coordinator team talking about what we will be taking away from the event and intending to incorporate into our work. Our ‘shopping bags’ were full of lots of interesting ideas, reflections and insights, and a substantial amount of follow-up work for most of us.

Before we got to the shopping bags, though, we enjoyed one more very effective session. Using a variant of World Café, Antoinette arranged us into ‘project owners’ and ‘consultants’. The ‘owners’ posed questions of genuine significance to their projects and the ‘consultants’ drew upon their own professional experience to contribute advice. This was a wonderful final opportunity to engage with each other and share purposeful, practical ideas of real value to our work.

On behalf of Water for Women, I’d like to take this chance to offer thanks to all my fellow participants for your warmth, enthusiasm and openness, and also to the SNV team for doing such a wonderful job of facilitating and hosting the event. It was a fantastic four days spent thinking about Systems Strengthening for Inclusive WASH.

Thanks also to the Australian Government for their support of this event.

All the best, Matt

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