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Reflections from the 2020 Colorado WASH Symposium

Published on: 11/05/2020

Sharing, learning and collaborating at the University of Colorado annual WASH Symposium.

In March 2020, a large delegation from IRC WASH, including staff from the Netherlands, Ethiopia and Uganda, attended the annual Colorado WASH Symposium hosted by the University of Colorado in Boulder, USA. During the two-day event, staff from IRC attended a variety of presentations, workshops and panels focused on WASH topics such as climate, data, finance, public health, sanitation, sustainability, systems, wastewater, and water quality.

Poster presentation

Beyond participating, the staff also presented posters during the poster session, for example "Rethinking rural water supply maintenance in Ethiopia", and gave presentations throughout the conference. On the first day, Bret McSpadden from IRC in Ethiopia gave a presentation on “Monitoring as an Entry Point for Improving Water Supply Maintenance Services in Afar, Ethiopia”. Jane Mulumba, Country Director for IRC Uganda, presented “Lessons from the Uganda Sanitation Fund Programme” focused on delivering WASH through local government. About 30 people attended Bret’s session and over 60 attended Jane’s where the audiences appreciated her engaging and practical presentation.

Four people at a panel presentation

On day two, Martin Watsisi, from IRC Uganda, and Peter Magara, a Monitoring and Learning Consultant, led a workshop focusing on long term strategic planning for sustainable WASH services which drew from their experience supporting district WASH master planning in Kabarole District, Uganda. The workshop was well received and participants appreciated the interactive, community-led approach being implemented in Uganda.

workshop leader listening to round table discussion

To close the symposium, Patrick Moriarty, IRC’s CEO, gave an inspiring presentation reflecting on the conference and the WASH sector. Highlighting IRC’s systems-based approach, he emphasised the need for changes in the sector and how only through a comprehensive approach focusing on the full WASH system would the goals of the sector be met. In outlining IRC’s approach at the local, national, and global level, he stressed the need to focus on the various actors and their role in bringing change through collective action. With this focus, he closed the conference by talking about people and the fact that without people working together, nothing is going to change. In a room full of engineers, academics and other WASH professionals, it was clear that learning and technology need to be put in place by people to form strong systems, and without focusing on people, change and sustainability in the sector will not come.

Presenter with slide on a screen in the background

In reflecting on the conference, the staff all found the conference to be valuable and a rewarding experience. Some key ideas to come out of the conference were the importance of supporting our local partners, truly being partners and not being focused on their own agendas. The staff also found it helpful to see similar work and consider that  a jumping off point for further learning and reflection on our work. Finance was also a theme throughout sessions, even those not specifically focused on that topic, but still seems to be a big unknown in the sector. Continuing to work to improve  funding to the sector through better data, evidence or other sectors is key going forward and something IRC is focused on and working towards. Finally, in reflecting on the forum, how we pass our learning downstream is something we also need to work on.

Overall, it was a great week where the team got great feedback on different activities and projects and was able to learn and reflect on our work and the sector.

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