Published on: 28/02/2023
Original article revised to adjust to the symposium's past occurrence.
Ahead of the All Systems Connect International Symposium (2-4 May 2023, The Hague, The Netherlands), Patrick Moriarty, CEO of IRC, explained why the event matters. He urges decision makers, experts and influencers from health, climate, economic development, social justice, and water, sanitation and hygiene, to join IRC, Water For People, Water for Good and their partners to be part of the action that leads to change.
Patrick Moriarty, IRC CEO speaking at All Systems Connect 2023
The world is off-track to achieve the sustainable development goal of safe water and safely managed sanitation for everyone, everywhere. The poor, in general, and as could be expected, suffer most. It’s a social justice issue, and one that connects health, climate, economic development, education, gender rights, and beyond. Because systems don’t work in isolation.
A safer, more resilient healthcare facility needs an interconnected health and water, sanitation and hygiene system. A district that’s strong in the face of climate risks needs a water and sanitation system that is resilient to drought, floods, landslides and water-borne diseases. A country that lifts its people out of poverty needs to connect the systems for financing health, climate and social justice, with water, sanitation and hygiene.
That’s why we took a decision a couple of years ago to invest in a second international Symposium: but this time, we want to bring together people from all of those sectors and disciplines. Because all systems connect, and we need to better understand how they do, and learn how solutions to the world’s most challenging problems can be connected and applied, across silos and sectors.
The event mattered for a number of reasons. Firstly, all of us working towards the SDGs know that we are off track and that if we’re to achieve change faster and with more impact, we need strong partnerships across sectors, with governments at the centre.
This means going beyond traditional partnership working. We need game-changing, systemic, thinking and action: experts, decision makers and activists from health, climate, economic development, education, water, sanitation and hygiene and beyond, working together. This is the only way that we’ll all address the deep-rooted problems we’re all facing.
Secondly, we know that the biggest issues facing our world today are complex. Yet the solutions are out there. They lie in strong, interconnected, national and local systems working in coordination together (watch my TEDx talk about systems strengthening) to deliver crucial public services.
Thirdly, the Symposium was a determined intervention to change the way we work. We brought together decision makers, experts and influencers from health, climate, economic development, social justice, and water, sanitation and hygiene, to exchange ideas and evidence-based lessons from success; shared stories of how people are achieving justice through systems strengthening; showcased how water and sanitation services provide a gateway to social, health, economic and climate justice; and shared learning about how to design, implement, monitor and fund for greater impact and scale.
Finally and most importantly to IRC and its All Systems Connect partners, we have less than a decade to ensure that every home has taps and toilets, and every community has safe, continuous and unending water, sanitation and hygiene services – and we are failing. Water and sanitation remain low on the political agenda, and people who can enact change aren’t listening. We know how to fix this, but we need more people, across a range of disciplines and at all levels, to take notice, and act.
We’ve worked hard with our partners to create and curate event formats and activities that encourage systems thinking and collaborative learning, and most importantly, lead to action.
It’s important to us that keynotes, plenaries and panel discussions featured speakers and participants from Africa, Asia and Latin America – not just the North; that women’s and young voices are central; and that we focus on systems strengthening, solutions and leadership – not piecemeal project solutions.
The breadth of speakers and participants is of course central – and importantly we met and heard from government ministers and representatives – not just INGOs. And grounded all of this in real-world cases, evidence and participant expertise in strengthening and connecting systems.
We had workshops, assemblies and networking that put participants in the driving seat, rather than just listening to lots of speakers. Design sprints where we co-designed solutions in climate, high level (heads of state) political influencing, and strengthening national systems. And also topic assemblies generated calls to action and commitments.
We also created plenty of opportunities and spaces for conversations that prompt action between government ministers and experts, practitioners and senior leaders; entrepreneurs and changemakers, influential thinkers and real achievers on the ground.
We discussed possible answers to questions like: How can we mobilise the power of water, sanitation and hygiene to achieve common economic, social and community goals? How can we work better with allies from other sectors? How can we design, implement, monitor, and fund for greater impact? Who do we need to engage, to get better value from government investment, and develop policies that connect systems? How can we build capacity to achieve systemic change?
We have less than a decade to achieve the sustainable development goals, and to do this we all need to think differently, work differently, and connect systems to drive change. If we succeed in doing this, everyone will benefit: and we believe that All Systems Connect was part of that momentum that drives enduring change, and changes lives.
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