This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.
RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.
This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Dr. Kerstin Danert, based in Switzerland.
It was in Entebbe, Uganda, in late 2004, at my first meeting with the late Piers Cross, who was then managing the World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) in Africa, that I was pulled into the orbit of RWSN. In fact, in 2004, RWSN was just being reshaped – out of the Handpump Technology Network (HTN). Piers had been put up to it by Erich Baumann, who, at the time, was running the RWSN secretariat, hosted in Skat in St. Gallen, Switzerland. We had interacted during my PhD research in Uganda a couple of years previous, with Erich even working hard on a treadle pump to help the drill team that I was working with to maintain circulation in a manually drilled well. We lost the borehole, but I made a friend and future mentor.
I had moved to Uganda in 1998, and by 2004, I was working as a freelance consultant; travelling all over the country in my short chassis Land Rover (yes – cliché I know) and spending time on various fascinating rural water supply and sanitation projects.
Aged 32, and, then working mainly with local NGOs, I have to say that the World Bank sounded rather grand. Piers offered me the role of Flagship Coordinator – Low Cost Drilling for RWSN, and WSP funded 60 days per year of my time for about 3 years.
I thus added RWSN to my portfolio of jobs at the time, and tried to figure out how to contribute to this reforming network – and to the “flagship”. Over the subsequent decade and a half, that flagship grew into the professional drilling work of today, and I somehow grew into the role of leading it.
I will spare you the details, but rather summarise it all as an ongoing steep learning curve! Together with Sally Sutton, who had the same role for Self-Supply, and Joe Narkevic leading a Supply Chains flagship, we tried to develop our topics and the network as a whole.
It is now 18 years since that first meeting with Piers in Entebbe, which I guess makes me an RWSN teenager. I have never looked back from saying yes. Not even once – not even when I was exhausted at times after having perhaps put in too much effort and energy.
For me, there is so much that I enjoy about working with, and for RWSN. The first point is the RURAL part. The needs of rural dwellers in relation to accessing water remain enormous, and – relatively speaking – are still unseen and massively underfunded. Secondly, I have appreciated the way that RWSN works. RWSN can be nimble, is open, and it is possible to ask difficult questions.
Having also taken on the role of leading the RWSN Secretariat from Erich Baumann in 2009, which I did up to 2017, I contributed to the way that RWSN operates. There has always been something very special to me about working with, and bringing together different people and different organisations, whether small or large, whether global or local, whether operating on shoestring budgets or with millions.
And so, as RWSN turns 30, let me thank it, and those who are part of this tremendous network, for almost two decades of opportunity to engage with different people and hear differing perspectives, and most importantly join hands with others are also trying to solve a very difficult problem – ensuring that all rural dwellers have satisfactory water supply services.
If you want to work more with RWSN, let the Secretariat, the theme leaders, and the Executive Steering Committee know about your ideas. The work of the network is nowhere near complete!
About the author: Kerstin Danert has led the RWSN theme of Professional Drilling since 2005. She was the director of the RWSN Secretariat from 2009 to 2017. Kerstin worked as a freelance consultant in Uganda from 2003 to 2008, and then joined Skat Consulting, in Switzerland, where she remained up to 2020. In 2020 she established Ask for Water GmbH, also based in Switzerland.
Photo: Kerstin observing manual drilling on her first field assignment with RWSN – in Niger in 2005 – documenting the history of hand drilled wells in Niger.