Catalyzing country collaboration for WASH systems strengthening

Catalyzing country collaboration for WASH systems strengthening

Catalyzing country collaboration for WASH systems strengthening 653 490 Agenda for Change

Our vision is that by 2030, collective action for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems strengthening becomes the norm.


Provincial leaders are trained by national officials to lead commune-level Civic Champions in Battambang Province, Cambodia (WaterSHED)

By Susan Davis, Global Coordinator of Agenda for Change

Agenda for Change was founded in 2015 based on the understanding that country collaborations are vital to driving a common agenda of support for national water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems strengthening. Our Joint Principles combined elements from Water For People’s Everyone Forever model, IRC’s Service Delivery Approach, WaterAid’s District-wide Approach, and Sanitation and Water for All’s Collaborative Behaviors.

The founding members formed the Agenda for Change collaboration to build on the proof that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could in fact work together effectively towards a common goal: for example, the Para Todos Por Siempre (“Everyone Forever” in Spanish) movement in Honduras and the District-Wide Approach in Rwanda.

Collaborations in Honduras and Uganda initially received some funds for collaboration through the Agenda for Change Global Hub. In general, most of our activities were at the global level, like building trust, developing shared principles, and cultivating an understanding of systems strengthening among our member organizations and beyond. These formed a critical foundation to further collaboration because our members are relatively diverse – some work in one country, others work in 50 or more; some focus on WASH, others are multi-sectoral.

Returning our focus to national collaboration

In a Steering Committee meeting in August 2019, members considered whether and how the global collaboration could support ongoing collaboration in the various countries where our members work. We started with an exercise to describe the “desired state” of country collaborations. Some of the key themes identified during this session aligned with collective impact conditions: having a shared agenda, organizational commitment, joint monitoring of changes to the system, regular cross-organizational communications, and learning from each other. Others were harder to describe or achieve, such as leadership/champions within members’ national staff or funding for collaborative activities. We came out of that meeting realizing we needed to ask the people who were actually doing the challenging work of systems strengthening and collaboration in various countries.

A bunch of colorful papers scattered over a grey carpet. Each paper has writing in English on it.

From an Agenda for Change Steering Committee exercise in Stockholm, August 2019: colorful pieces of paper with written ideas in English about what an ideal country collaboration would look like (Susan Davis/Agenda for Change)

Following this exercise, the Steering Committee set aside some of the collaboration’s 2020 funds for helping our members work towards this desired state of collaboration. We anticipated that there would be a willingness in about three countries. It was a pleasant surprise to find that members offered to lead collaboration with others in 10 countries.

Let the collaboration begin!

The beginning of 2020 was exciting! I had calls with the lead organizations in each of the 10 countries in which I learned that many of them had been collaborating with each other and national governments for a while. When it felt like the world was shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought all of this would go on pause. But in several countries, our members started new conversations and even pulled off significant new collaborative activities (see table below for some examples).

In parallel to this, Agenda for Change went through a vision refresh exercise. This evidence of willingness to collaborate enforced the feasibility of our revised ambitious vision that by 2030, collective action for systems strengthening becomes the norm. To accomplish this, Agenda for Change members will commit to supporting each other in collaboration (and encourage other NGOs and funders) to the point where, in each country, collaborative systems strengthening becomes a fully government-led process by 2030. (I’ll share more about this in a future blog.)

A picture of the all the world's continents, with over 40 countries highlighted in green. Text at the bottom says "The Global Hub is helping Members to build stronger country collaborations."

Agenda for Change members are working to strengthen WASH systems in more than 40 countries (green). In 2020, the Global Hub offered to support country collaborations in 10 countries (teal). (Agenda for Change 5 Years in Review video)

Let the collaboration continue!

In 2021, we have allocated a larger proportion of our global collaboration’s budget (about 150,000 USD) for catalyzing collaboration among two or more Agenda for Change members in any country, not just the 10 we identified originally. We hope these relatively small funds (up to 20,000 USD per country) will attract in-kind time contributions, funds, and even encourage collaboration across member organizations and their funders. The specific activities will be jointly determined by the members and build on their existing work. Meanwhile, the Agenda for Change Global Hub will continue to connect members with each other, Sanitation and Water for All national multi-stakeholder platforms, technical assistance, and learning opportunities.

A screenshot of a poster announcing a webinar on "Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Systems Strengthening," hosted by various actors in Nepal in January 2021.

A nice example of a collaborative system strengthening activity: This 2021 webinar “Water Sanitation and Hygiene Strengthening: Sharing of Experiences of Municipality WASH Plans and Exploring More Effective Measures ahead“ was co-hosted by the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management, and the Municipal Association of Nepal, and four Agenda for Change members (Nepal Country Collaboration Team).

At the same time, we will continue to share our progress (and challenges) in catalyzing, strengthening, and/or assessing collaborative systems strengthening efforts as we work towards our collective vision for 2030.

Here’s what collaboration can look like

(Below are just a few examples. Note that I am not claiming these as Agenda for Change accomplishments; rather, I am highlighting how the collaboration is learning from and building on efforts in which our members have been involved).

Country/collaboration name Agenda for Change members involved[1] Example systems strengthening activities/ accomplishments[2]
Ethiopia – National Area-Wide WASH Systems Strengthening CARE, Catholic Relief Services, IRC, Splash, and WaterAid Series of meetings to promote and enable coordination, influence, learning, and sharing on area-wide approach
Guatemala – Red de Agua Potable y Saneamiento de Guatemala (RASGUA) CARE, Helvetas, and Water For People Scaling the OMAS (municipal WASH office) model to the national level, working with the National Commission of Municipal Concerns (COPRESAM)
Honduras – Para Todos Por Siempre CARE, Catholic Relief Services, IRC, and Water For People (some funding provided by Osprey Foundation) Joint system review with national and municipal level perspectives that helped to identify and prioritize system strengthening actions.

The national government is committed and open to the systems approach.

Establishment of the WASH authorities coordination committee to improve the system functioning and results.

Malawi – District-Wide Approach CARE, CRS, WaterAid, Water For People, and Welthungerhilfe 2020 National WASH sector strength assessment workshop to build consensus among the civil society on how to coherently support the government to provide leadership.
Nepal CARE, Helvetas, WaterAid, Welthungerhilfe 2021 Webinar co-hosted with Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management and Municipal Association of Nepal: “Sharing of Experiences of Municipality WASH Plans and Exploring more Effective Measures Ahead.”
Rwanda – District-Wide Approach Aguaconsult, IRC, WaterAid, and Water for People The Rulindo district completed the “Rulindo Challenge,” achieving full water infrastructure coverage in the district.

The Government of Rwanda adopted the “District Wide Approach” in 2016.

Members worked together to replicate the district-wide approach from Rulindo district in five additional districts between 2017 and 2019, and planning is underway to scale the approach nationally.

Uganda – WASH Agenda for Change forum IRC, WaterAid, and Water For People (some funding provided by Osprey Foundation) There is a collaborative mechanism for promoting a harmonized district-wide approach.

Over 100 District Local Governments have benefitted from the technical assistance activities aimed at improving planning through the development of District Investment Plans.

UNICEF has supported six District Local Governments to undertake the Asset Analysis working through the trained Technical Support Units.

[1] Many more stakeholders are involved, see the relevant country page for more information.
[2] See relevant country pages for a summary of members’ WASH systems strengthening activities and links to resources.

Susan Davis

Susan Davis, Global Coordinator of Agenda for Change, has 30 years of leadership experience in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds. Susan has evaluated or supported international development activities in 24 low and middle-income countries and advised donors, impact investors, nonprofits, social enterprises, civic groups, and college students on how to support strong water and sanitation systems. She is an accredited Partnership Broker and participated in Forum for the Future’s 2020 School of System Change. She founded Improve International and has also worked with CARE USA, Water For People, and WaterPartners International (now

Back to top