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50 years of IRC: Interview with Stephan Simon

Published on: 22/01/2019

Sustainable water use and food security: sharing knowledge beyond the WASH sector

According to 2017 World Bank data, agriculture accounts for at least 70 percent of all water withdrawals globally, and an even higher share of water use for consumption. Therefore, agriculture is one of the main pillars to build partnerships on outside of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. In this next item of our IRC 50 interview series we are talking with Stephan Simon, Deputy Head of the Unit Sector Strategy, Knowledge & Learning at the German private aid organisation, Welthungerhilfe.

Stephan Simon from Welthungerhilfe at a learning workshop organised for Agenda For Change

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of IRC?

The first thing I think of is the newsletter that came out on a weekly basis, edited at the time by your colleague, Cor Dietvorst. When I screened my mails, looking for the newsletter, I was not looking for IRC but for the name Dietvorst. I learnt a lot about IRC from him. The information in these newsletters have helped us a lot in the beginning when we were building up a focus area on WASH in our organisation.

So you already had a person, a name to connect with IRC. How did your contact with IRC evolve over time?

In 2009, Welthungerhilfe decided to come up with a support unit providing technical assistance to our project teams in the countries. Since then I'm coordinating the WASH sector part. 

Because Welthungerhilfe is a food security organisation, we don't have research departments that focus on water. So we really benefit from what WASH think thanks are researching and how they drive the sector. Information and innovative ideas that come from IRC are very welcome.

In around 2012, we decided to come up with our own orientation framework on WASH. This is when I started to look at your website more thoroughly. We learned a lot from your Triple-S project and the service delivery approach. IRC was one of the first organisations to bring messages related to sustainability across using very innovative language in the sector. Through reading your news items and blogs, we felt like we were taking part in the meetings and the work of the organisation.

So when we were working on this orientation framework, we were thinking about asking IRC to contribute to it. I got in contact with Ton Schouten to discuss if we could use a quote from him in this framework. He agreed and sent a photo (see below). Also, a whole chapter is dedicated to the service delivery approach and how it brought change to our programme.

Screenshot from Welthungerhilfe`s Orientation Framework on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene with a quote by Ton Schouten.

How did the service delivery approach bring change to your organisation?

Focusing on water has always been important for Welthungerhilfe, but we were a very German thinking, infrastructure oriented organisation. Putting the user at the centre really made a change for us. Rather than talking about access to water, we talk about access to water services. So it really changed the mindset within our organisation.

Now you're working with IRC as part of Agenda For Change...

Yes, it all has to do with the history of Welthungerhilfe and IRC. Since we embarked on the sustainability discussion a while ago, it was a great match to continue this journey of learning and advocating for change together. Click here to find out more about Agenda For Change. 

Do you have any messages for IRC for the future?

Linking WASH with integrated water resources management is definitely a topic for the future. Bringing water closer to agriculture, concentrating on multiple use of water services is something IRC is involved in already. Staying focused on these themes within WASH is my advice for IRC in the future.

And for our 50th birthday..? :)

Watch a video of Stephan Simon from Welthungerhilfe wishing IRC a happy birthday.


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