Background: Water For People staff visited Zambia in October 2019 as part of a program funded by the Vitol Foundation. This program provides funding for Agenda for Change members to provide technical assistance to organizations as they build their water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems strengthening work. Water For People is assisting Village Water Zambia to introduce a water investment planning process in Nalolo district. This is a summary of their first workshop (read the full interview here).
Alec Shannon (AS), Content Strategist, Agenda for Change: Tell me a bit about the workshop in October and what your goals were going in.
Laura Burns (LB), Senior Manager -WASH Financing and Sustainability, Water For People: The goals of the workshop were to introduce a WASH systems approach, develop buy-in from key district government officials, and review monitoring and costing tools available to develop a water investment plan for Nalolo district.
AS: What were the initial reactions of the workshop attendees?
LB: Everyone was apprehensive at first because it was their first experience with an investment plan, both at the district level and for Village Water. Attendees seemed excited about the systems strengthening approach, and one district official said, “you’ve opened our minds to a completely new way of thinking.” They talked about how strengthening the whole system makes sense – the lack of coordination on WASH work had been ineffective, and they saw a need to better coordinate for improved WASH services.
AS: I would assume you would want the national government involved as well, since they would ultimately work with the district to take this project forward, right?
LB: Following the workshop, we had a few meetings with national level government officials. The official we spoke to at the Ministry of Water and Sanitation was eager to know about our plans in Nalolo and was hoping we could present on the project in the future.
AS: So you’ve had the workshop, introduced the tools, and worked on getting buy-in from both district and national level stakeholders. What’s next?
LB: Our first step was to contextualize the survey tools for monitoring. Next, we need to collect baseline data (from households, institutions, service providers, water points, etc.) to understand what work is required, and how much it will cost to achieve universal water services in Nalolo district.
AS: What experiences and learning are you duplicating from scaling similar WASH investment planning in other contexts, and how does that apply in Nalolo?
LB: I co-led this workshop with my colleague Joseph Magoya, from Water For People Malawi, who implements systems strengthening in a context similar to Nalolo. Water For People works together with district governments to implement a WASH systems approach in all countries where we work, so it was exciting to apply this experience outside of our target countries.
AS: Did anything come out of those workshop discussions that surprised you?
LB: Given the human and financial resources required to develop and implement a water investment plan, our assumption was that district officials would be resistant; however, many of them were the first champions of the plan, with several highlighting the need not just to develop it, but to fully ensure that it would be used to guide decision making and investments.
AS: Did you find any tools were useful for introducing certain concepts?
LB: We shared presentations and tools from various Agenda for Change members. For instance, we pulled from a training that IRC did in Malawi, a guide to district investment planning that Aquaconsult worked on with Water For People in Rwanda, and many tools developed and used by Water For People for monitoring and costing.
Laura Burns is Senior Manager of WASH Financing and Sustainability at Water For People and supports Water For People’s sustainability initiatives with a focus on tariffs and financing. In addition, she also supports Water For People’s new initiative, Strategic Advisory Services, which provides technical assistance to other nonprofits and governments seeking to implement a systems wide approach for WASH services.