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Impressions of the ‘All Systems Go!’ symposium

Published on: 09/05/2019

Reflections from a non-WASH expert on day one of the IRC symposium.

This guest blog is written by Frans Beerling

A rainy and windy morning on the 12th of March 2019, 09:00 am, marked the start of the WASH systems symposium. Weather beaten, I arrived at the Fokker terminal for IRC’s 50th birthday symposium not really in a positive mood to write about it. Even regretting my promise to IRC. After a cup of coffee, listening to the opening speech by IRC’s CEO Patrick Moriarty and a very enthusiastic young facilitator, I started to enjoy myself.

IRC CEO Patrick Moriarty and facilitator Ikenna at the opening of the symposium

Importance of strong values and norms

A wakeup call from Barbara Schreiner, Executive Director of the Water Integrity Network opened a door in my brain. It made me reflect on the importance of strong values and norms in organisations and how this relates to activism and working in fragile societies. Next, was a series of questions by the excellent symposium facilitator Ikenna. He challenged and posed questions to experts in the audience that led to very interesting engagement. All topics together could easily fill a symposium for a whole week.

Selected from the programme

Stimulated, I looked at the programme of the day. I opted to participate in a number of sessions, one of them being about WASH in fragile states. Then there was the kick-off of a new project funded by DGIS, the presentation of regional water plans with a promise of translation of French into English, another one on complexity in your work (my personal interest), followed by drinks and an evening dinner. In short: a promising programme for the first day.

The discussion in groups on WASH in fragile states (such as South Sudan, Palestine, Honduras, Venezuela, and Afghanistan) and the difficulties while working in such situations was vivid. I realised that work in these environments tends to shrink to a level of direct actions. I learned that IRC’s work normally follows a specific pattern of diagnosis, serial and parallel processing that take three months to five years to finish. This is an impossible time horizon while working in fragile states, where life is threatened on a daily basis.

Lunch became irrelevant. I chose to attend the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and UNICEF event at which they launched a new and exciting programme called “Sustainable and Universal Access to Sanitation, Water and Hygiene”, ASWA II NL. The programme is to run from 2019 to 2023 and focuses on improving monitoring in 13 countries globally. This for me shows that solidarity is key in development work. Work that aims to deliver WASH systems that last.

After that, I joined the session on district water plans developed by (local) government, civil service, and different stakeholders under the guidance of IRC’s expertise. The ownership and commitment of stakeholders for the plans was obvious by their contributions in the session. Politicians, people from the civil services and representatives of civil society made interesting cases for planning for change in WASH systems. As the session was mainly on the development of plans, I became curious about the actual work needed to realise the goals set in the plans. A ‘to do’ in my work with IRC.

The author Frans Beerling attending a symposium session

Confusion and clarity

My round of workshops ended somewhat in confusion. The model on complexity developed by people at the University of Colorado Boulder linked chaos to complexity. In the scientific models I work with, chaos is a symptom of poorly designed and/or developed systems. Systems drive behaviour and poor systems drive behaviour poorly. This finding makes IRC’s mission of delivering WASH systems all the more relevant to me.

The evening programme, celebrating IRC’s 50th birthday with a dinner, brought clarity. The dinner was great with interesting people to talk with and discuss the topics of the day. And another two more days to look forward to.

The humorous and insightful contribution of the chair of IRC’s supervisory board, Mr Robert Bos showcased IRC’s 50 years of organisational development. Part of which I am witnessing as IRC evolves from a project driven to a vision and mission driven organisation: a think-and-do tank with global presence and local impact, delivering WASH systems that last. Congratulations!

Disclaimer

At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.