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Harnessing the power of collective action: the journey so far

Published on: 20/01/2021

Helena Acquah, Head of the Physical Planning Department and Barima Dankwa Osiakwan, traditional council leader in Asutifi North

Stories and lessons learned from collective action by organisations supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and their partners.

Image caption: Helena Acquah, Head of the Physical Planning Department and Barima Dankwa Osiakwan, traditional council leader in Asutifi North

A synthesis document and a series of country briefs show how together, we are strengthening the systems needed to deliver safe water, sanitation and hygiene services to all households, health care facilities and schools within our 11 partner districts in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Uganda by 2030 and forever.

Changing the conversation

When the Sustainable Development Goals launched in 2015, the water, sanitation and hygiene sector faced a challenge. The sector was preoccupied with installing pumps, pipes and toilets. People seldom paused to ask if these were delivering the desired results: in fact, they weren't. At any given time, 30% of infrastructure for rural water supply in Africa wasn't working. What's more, much of the water being consumed wasn't safe to drink.

People started to realise that the conversation had to change, if we were to have any chance of meeting the ambitious sustainable development goal for water and sanitation (SDG 61). People had to believe that getting safe water to everyone means strengthening the systems that deliver those services: not just infrastructure, but also the people, partnerships, incentives, laws and policies that make it work.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation grasped this early on. Its Safe Water Strategy (2017-21) initiated a new, ambitious approach: government leadership at all levels, service delivery models that are innovative and can be scaled, adequate funding targeted to supporting district-level systems change through government leadership and coordination of multi-sector partnerships. These partnerships explore and demonstrate service delivery models that are innovative, can be sustained locally and scaled nationally and globally.

What are we achieving?

Since 2017, we - the Safe Water Strategy partnership - have accelerated access to safe water in our partner districts in six countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Uganda, a combined population of 2 million people.

By 2030, our goal is that at least 1.24 million people will have sustainable access to basic and 760,000 people to safely managed services. All schools and health care facilities in partner districts in these countries will have access to basic services. Lessons learned will be adopted nationally, and globally, through our knowledge sharing and advocacy.

In the last three years, as a result of our collective action:

  • 11 districts have created visionary master plans that set out how they will achieve their goals by 2030
  • Over US$ 18 million have been raised towards implementing the first phase of the master plans
  • At least 30,000 people now have a safely managed water supply – who didn't previously
  • At least 100,000 people now have a basic household supply – who didn't previously
  • Over 171 schools and 55 health facilities now have upgraded water, sanitation and hygiene services
  • In Wassa East, Ghana, 34,000 people have an at least basic water supply - who didn't previously.

People, systems and change: harnessing the power of collective action through the Safe Water Strategy

Country briefs

Burkina FasoEthiopiaGhanaMaliNigerUganda

 This is only the start

With growing proof of concept, we're moving beyond our original partner districts. National government planning agencies in Uganda and Ghana have expressed interest in adopting master plans as a way to bring people together around a shared vision and goals. In Burkina Faso, the national public water utility, ONEA, is developing master plans in at least five new districts.

Since 2017 we've shown what concerted action by a multi-skilled partnership can do, when allied with strong and committed local leadership. We're now committed to expanding that work, while continuing to support our partner districts to deliver on their vision of universal access.

While our collective action takes place at district level, our goal is to inspire replication and wider impact. These advocacy and outreach materials have been designed to ensure that what we learn is shared and adopted in more districts in the countries where we work, and in other countries.

View the full resource overview