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A shared vision alone is not enough: Agenda for Change at the WASH Symposium at University of Colorado

Published on: 28/03/2017

Working together towards our shared vision of achieving SDG 6 – universal access to sustained WASH services across districts and countries through systems change.

The 2017 Colorado WASH Symposium was held on March 7-8, 2017 at the University of Colorado, Boulder and attracted a diverse group of speakers covering various themes including Emerging Technologies & Approaches, Challenging Contexts, Social Dimensions of WASH and Public Health. I had the opportunity to join Elynn Walter and Jane Nabunnya of IRC to present on the latest with Agenda for Change.

Jane Nabunnya of IRC Uganda presenting on Agenda for Change

As we approach two years of working collaboratively with the Agenda for Change partners, it seemed appropriate to reflect on some of the challenges we have faced working together towards our shared vision of achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – universal access to sustained WASH services across districts and countries through systems change. Although a shared vision is the first step and fundamental to any successful collaboration, it alone is not enough. An effective collaboration demands a serious commitment of time, resources and energy from all partners.  

In Uganda, IRC has been leading the collaboration between IRC in Kabarole, Water for People in Kamwenge, and WaterAid in Napak, Pallisa and Kibuku under the name of WASH Agenda for Change (WA4C).  These partners, including the district governments, have agreed to the following roadmap for achieving WASH services for ‘everyone, everywhere forever’ in the five districts. 

Roadmap to implement WA4C in Uganda 

Although agreement to the primary components of the road map was a critical step, working collaboratively means more than agreeing in theory to a concept. It means agreeing to working modalities and developing shared plans, tools and guides, which requires each organisation to compromise and adjust. Group decision making and shared development of products has required regular meetings, trainings, documentation and continuous communication. Working in this collaborative manner has not been easy and has demanded the following in Uganda:

  • Investment in building and maintaining dynamic relations between the participating organisations
  • Appreciation for competing priorities in each organisation
  • Additional resources including funds, personnel, time, information
  • Clear leadership and delineation of roles, responsibilities and ownership
  • Coordination of different organisational policies regarding reporting, budgeting, procurement, etc.
  • Recognition of different partner strengths
  • Competent and interested staff to drive/lead the process
  • Trust and ability to put ego aside
  • Management of communication and information sharing channels – who is responsible for communicating the vision, how, when, and when do the others come in?

Are these additional demands worth it? It would probably be faster and easier to work as individual organisations and in one district, but the achievement of SDG 6 across an entire country is only possible if the sector starts working collaboratively, in the same direction supporting government leadership. Continuing down the same path of every organisation developing their own theory of change, their own tools, their own implementation plans with loose coordination with local government does not work. So yes, it is worth it.

These demands are not unique to Uganda. Partners in Rwanda and Honduras, where Agenda for Change collaborations are also active agree. By reflecting on these demands we can continually challenge ourselves to work more effectively as a collaboration and as a sector to achieve SDG 6 by 2030. 

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