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50 years of IRC: Interview with Water For People

Published on: 28/06/2018

Reflecting on a decade of collaboration in the WASH sector

IRC 50 Interview with Water For People

50 years of transforming lives in the WASH sector, does not happen in isolation. Our goals are shared by many passionate individuals and organisations, dedicated to the same vision of bringing water, sanitation and hygiene services to all.

From our Agenda For Change partnership to the Para Todos Por Siempre movement, Water For People has been a valuable collaborator for about a decade. Through our IRC 50 interview series we turned to this key thought partner to share a few words on our fruitful partnership.

Watch these videos for the highlights of our interviews with Eleanor Allen, CEO and Nick Burn, Chief of Scale and Strategy of Water For People:

Read our interviews and discover more about their views on IRC's work, favourite anecdotes and their predictions for the future development of the sector:

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

Eleanor Allen (E.A.): Systems change! IRC has certainly been a leader in helping the water, sanitation and hygiene sector evolve, to help us think about systems change. Not just focusing on projects, but instead on programmes that can really change the way in which WASH services are delivered globally.

Nick Burn (N.B.): A repository of knowledge, networks and engagement with the WASH sector across many years and many facets of it. IRC is a group that is committed to maintaining dialogue and pushing the sector.

What have you found most valuable about IRC?

E.A.: We don't have to go around creating documents with evidence-based findings because they've already been created by IRC. So that's been great for us. We use these findings to help further our own work. Where we can be of service to IRC is sharing our experience, which IRC can use and make widely accessible through publishing and sharing. IRC can help get the word out to others about successes and failures in the field.

N.B: The resources that are available [through IRC] are hugely important. I came in contact with IRC through the WASHCost and then through Triple-S work which provided a way for the sector of looking more critically at the whole service environment—the whole system–which hasn't been done before.
Nobody would think about building a school or a hospital without thinking about how it is going to be maintained, continue operating and continue providing a service. With WASH this has happened. So the fact that we have moved to actually understand the system, start to have a way of describing and strengthening it, is what IRC has played a core role in, in the last 10 years.

What is your favourite anecdote connected to IRC?

E.A. The two things that come to my mind are connected to our work in Honduras and Uganda. Working with IRC on the Para Todos Por Siempre (PTPS) movement in Honduras, and then taking the learnings, and creating a collective impact model in Uganda. To me IRC is also synonymous with the Agenda For Change partnership, which formally started in 2015.

N.B.: I've always enjoyed IRC's convening power and the ability of the organisation to bring people together. In April 2013, there was an event in Addis Ababa, which was looking at stages of monitoring. This was one of the first bits of the system people realised that needed to be strengthened. The leadership that was represented there by IRC was extremely important for me. I can still remember our friend, Ton Schouten standing up during the conference and being able to motivate the whole group of people into committing to the time and effort needed to strengthen the sector in different ways.

What do you think has to happen in the sector in the future?

E.A: Hopefully more focus on systems for service delivery will be present. Not just creating projects one after the other, but helping develop service authorities and service providers to continue keeping those services running.

N.B: I think the whole question of how we drive change towards achieving the sustainable development goals is obviously the critical piece. I know that at Water For People and IRC people are committed and view the government's role as absolutely central and core in that. Our role is to find ways in which we can most effectively support national, regional and district governments in fulfilling their obligations and in delivering services for people. That process will involve ways in which at a country and local level you galvanize members of civil society, you galvanize the private sector, the service providers and you galvanize the service authority and the district political authorities that have responsibility for delivering services. I think this is the future and finding the best way to support this process is our challenge for the future.

Do you have any advice for IRC about what to change or focus on in this future?

E.A: First of all, IRC is doing a great job. So continuing to do that and expand that sphere of influence is crucial. We're quite far behind from what we should be doing to meet SDG 6. So being able to figure out other ways to influence others, to get more finance in the sector or to further build on progress being made in clinics, in schools, and with local and national government partners is critical. It's really all what IRC is already doing, but if there's a way to accelerate and go faster—that should be the focus.

N.B.: I think that the emphasis on political processes is really important. As we move forward globally, we need to ensure that the work we're doing continues to remain relevant and answers some of the bigger challenges that people see coming, such as climate change. We need to keep our eyes on having an overview of where a WASH system fits in the wider system. It is always a challenge with relatively small organisations to see how big of a piece of a pie you can actually take and eat. I think what IRC is actually good at is not trying to bite off too much of it but that doesn't mean that there isn't a constant ask to be able to place our work within a wider context.

Is there anything else you would like to share about the partnership between IRC and Water For People?

E.A.: IRC's combination of research/think-and-do-tank way of working has been very valuable to the sector. Especially when it comes to elevating change up to the regional and national levels, helping change policies, regulatory frameworks, and government delivery systems by bringing these two bottom level evidence-based experiences into play. Our partnership with IRC has been hugely valuable to Water For People. IRC is a thought partner, a visionary for the sector—helping influence others to make their work more sustainable.

N.B. IRC and Water For People, we have such a clear complementarity and such a clear common goal in terms of what we see is needed in the sector. I wish that there were more people globally, a few more fellow travelers who could see and enable what we know has to happen.

This blog is based on interviews conducted by Dechan Dalrymple with Eleanor Allen and Sára Hélene Bori with Nick Burn in May, 2018.


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