The overlooked population dynamics of rural Africa

by Matthias Saladin, Skat

Rural population in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to continue growing for decades to come. In spite of urbanization, rural populations are not going to disappear. Both as individuals and as organizations, we need to spend more efforts in reaching out to the people in rural areas, and we need to come up with more diversified strategies to facilitate the delivery of services to these people.

Continue reading “The overlooked population dynamics of rural Africa”

Self-supply highlights from 2016

This is a review of the 2016 highlights from a Self-supply point of view: Events, papers, presentations, policy breakthroughs, etc.

We are well into 2017 already, but it is still a good moment to look back to some highlights of 2016 from the point of view of Self-supply:

  • In the first half of 2016, the UNICEF-funded studies of Self-supply in Zambia and Zimbabwe were completed. The studies showcase these two experiences at scale, and they are the fundament for making an economic case for Self-Supply , demonstrating that using Self-supply as part of the strategies to reacp1430235h full coverage can be very cost-effective.
  • In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a 2nd national meeting on Self-supply was organized bringing together dozens of national stakeholders involved in the scaling up of Self-supply at country level through the national ONE WASH Programme.
  • The 2016 edition of the WEDC conference also saw its share of Self-supply: A paper presented by Annemarieke Maltha (on experiences of the SMART Centre approach in Tanzania) and one by Sally Sutton on the experiences in Zambia, among others.
  • The RWSN mini-series of webinars in the autumn 2016 included an event on Self-supply, focusing on the economic analysis of country strategies in Zambia and Zimbabwe (see recordings of the webinar here).
  • Self-supply also made a splash at the 7th RWSN Forum in Abidjan (29.11 – 03.12.2016), with 7 sessions related to Self-supply (see a list of Self-supply papers here). Apart from the frequent appearance of the Self-supply Theme in the sessions it also was notable to see how often the term came up in discussions and in plenary speeches, including within the panel of the closing ceremony.
  • At the same event, a bottom-up, spontaneous initiative of a small group of people helped to engage in conversations with many of the participants of the Forum and resulted in 150 signing a paper confirming their personal approval and support of the Self-supply approach.
  • As one possible way of implementing Self-Supply, the initiative of SMART Centre Group emerged and gained traction throughout the year. SMART Centres are business incubators which foster the local private sector in the WASH sector. Currently, there are SMART Centres in 5 countries formally recognized as such (see, but many other organizations are implementing similar concepts around the world, and it will be interesting to see how these different initiatives can support each other and create synergies – or even merge – in the future.

Overall, it has been a fantastic year for Self-supply. Especially if we consider that the term “Self-supply” did not even exist before 2004 (when it was created by RWSN), it is remarkable that after a relatively slow process of foundation building we are now witnessing the moment when Self-supply is getting into mainstream – and hopefully we will see a wider use and further development of the concept in the near future. On behalf of RWSN, and particularly Skat as the lead agency for the Self-supply theme, we are encouraged by the results achieved so far and look forward to the next phase of development – and to another year of progress, exchange and learning with our RWSN partners.

If you are interested in Self-supply, you may want to subscribe to the Self-supply Dgroup (, or check out the respective part of the RWSN website:


Matthias Saladin is the Theme leader of Accerating Self-supply at the Rural Water Supply Network. You can leave comments or questions here or write to him:


From Small to All: Designing Scalable Pilots

Re-posted from CAWST (original blog post:


Ampthill, UK and Calgary, Canada – Although many pilots and trials seem to succeed at first, they often fail to go to scale, remaining as islands of success in a sea of mediocrity. Dissecting our WASH sector’s track record of delivering solutions at scale is a valuable opportunity to learn and improve. This blog explores the issue of scale, stimulated by a recent discussion triggered by our respected colleague, Jan Willem Rosenboom of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We conclude by proposing three ways to build hardy pilots that transcend common pitfalls on their way to scalability.

From innovation to scale
When a new WASH approach or technology[1] is devised (usually a variation on an existing theme, for there is little that is truly new under the sun), those who have devised it and those who make decisions about implementing new things want to try it out at limited scale before scaling up. This is sensible, especially as rolling out at scale prematurely could put people and resources at risk. “Let’s try it out first, to see if it really works” is a highly rational strategy prior to scaling up. The questions are, how should that trial, demonstration or pilot be designed, funded, implemented and monitored to provide a solid basis for scaling up? And how should the trial or pilot be extended into the application at scale?

The answers to these questions depend on where the new approach or technology is positioned in the economy. Broadly speaking there are three possible business models.

Market-based solutions
In this instance, the innovation sits within the market, so scaling up is mostly a matter of consumer uptake. Successful examples of this are irrigation treadle pumps, the now-ubiquitous yellow plastic jerry can, and household water treatment technologies, all of which are marketed directly to households.

In this private sector / market model, new technologies (for it is mainly technologies rather than approaches which fit here) go through an arduous process of conceptual design, prototyping, proof-of-concept, iterative testing and re-design, final production and launching to market. Many fail. The fact that many fall by the wayside is normal. The few that succeed are robust and fit for survival, at least while the environment in which they evolved or were developed persists. The path to scale is strewn with failures, and the high number of failures is a reflection in part of the inadequacies of communication between designers and potential users. This communication gap is increasingly being addressed through user-centred design[2] processes.

Solutions requiring significant policy change
The second possibility is that the approach or technology requires significant public policy change. An excellent example is the adoption of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) into national policy.

A new approach or technology which can only go to scale with public policy backing or approval faces a different set of challenges. It still needs to start small, but its path to scale will require convincing not only the user market, but also key decision-makers in Government. The clearest example of such an approach is CLTS. It started in the work of one nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Bangladesh, but through a combination of factors it rapidly and organically grew. We suggest that the reasons that it went to scale included (a) the desperate need for a sanitation approach which worked (nothing else was working at the time), (b) the visible but informal evidence that this approach did indeed work, and (c) the push provided by a charismatic promoter of the approach and his professional colleagues[3]. Incidentally, it is noteworthy that the approach was taken up into national policies over a period when the formal, rigorous evidence that CLTS worked did not yet exist. Policy is not made entirely on the basis of complete, rigorous, research-derived evidence.

Subsidised roll-out
In the third possibility, public or nongovernmental organisations (with their donor partners) might adopt a new technology or approach and convey it to beneficiaries in a highly subsidised or free manner. The rolling out of immunisations by Governments, or distribution of mosquito nets by Government and NGO programmes are examples. In the WASH sector, most capital investment in water supply is highly or wholly subsidized; in contrast, in sanitation and hygiene the current wisdom is that subsidies should generally be avoided.

This third way of progressing to scale – through highly subsidised roll-out – is only possible through very large Government / donor programmes. Free bed nets and immunisations, for example, are delivered at scale through national programmes funded by Governments and international donors. Part of the reason we have not yet reached scale with water supply improvements in many low-income countries is precisely because of (a) the need for a high level of subsidy of capital costs (a need which will only increase as we pursue the more demanding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and (b) the gross insufficiency of national budgets (even with donor support) to provide these subsidised investments.

Optimal scale
It is common to think of scale as a single programme or intervention that reaches an entire country or region, but scale may mean different things in different contexts. In many cases, there is an optimal scale for working within existing systems. Scaling up may then mean replicating at that natural scale, resulting in multiple projects or programmes adapted to each context, as opposed to expanding into one huge programme that needs to work for everyone.

In market-based solutions, getting to scale means progressively saturating the potential market. Once every household has purchased a latrine slab or biosand filter, there is no further market save for replacements, upgrades and the needs of new households. With interventions delivered by multiple actors to a common standard approved by public policy, scale implies that all actors are using a common approach and focusing their investments on it. In interventions delivered by Governments, we look for the replication of an approach at the natural unit of public administration, typically (but not always) the district local Government.

In conclusion, we posit three practical and tangible suggestions about how to design pilots so they are valuable towards achieving optimal scalability.

  1. Think of the pilot as merely phase one of the at-scale programme. There is a good reason why most innovations start out small. Implementers need to build the capacity of their team, figure out how to engage the community to create and sustain demand, test what financing model is realistic, create practical systems to monitor for improvement, and begin to understand how the approach will need to be adapted for different contexts. From the pilot and beyond, focusing on the outcomes and impacts we seek is critical – inclusion of the most vulnerable, sustainability of results, lives changed for the better. If our eyes are not constantly on these end-goals, we are likely to miss them.
  2. Plan for scale from the outset. There is widespread agreement that reaching scale requires thinking about scale from the outset. We would suggest that planning for scale means (a) identifying which of the three models above (or what combination of more than one of them, for the categories are not mutually exclusive) will take the innovation to scale, (b) working out the financial and affordability constraints of getting to scale (maximum price points for market-based technologies, affordability of technologies to be rolled out through public funding), (c) figuring out what capacities (human resources, skills, institutional arrangements) will be needed for delivery and sustainability at scale, and (d) in all cases identifying the aspects of the operating environment which may need to change in order to reach scale.
  3. Remember that there is no scale without user acceptance. Above all, whatever new approaches and technologies are proposed, user acceptance is a make-or-break condition. You can lead a horse to water, but if it isn’t thirsty, you can’t make it drink. Designing for scale involves designing with the potential users.

Successful, scaled-up programmes and interventions exist, and they usually started out small. If we are to achieve large scale impact, we must learn from what worked and what didn’t, and design better pilots.

Richard C. Carter, PhD, FGS, CGeol, FCIWEM
Millie Adam, BSc

Richard Carter, Advisor at CAWST, has worked in the natural and social science and engineering of water resources, water supply and sanitation in low-income countries for the last 40 years.  After periods in consultancy, academia and the INGO world he now directs his own consultancy firm (

Millie Adam, Strategic Initiatives at CAWST, is an engineer who has worked in water treatment, corporate social responsibility and international development for the last 15 years. She works directly with our CEO to build CAWST’s international profile and collaborations.

[1] In this blog, ‘approach’ is taken to mean a way of going about promoting, managing or financing some aspect of WASH. Examples include CLTS, sanitation marketing and health clubs. ‘Technologies’ refers to components of the physical hardware needed for water supply, sanitation or hygiene.


[3] Kamal Kar and Robert Chambers leading many others.


More information on scaling up:


The Business Case for Capacity Building

By Millie Adam Posted March 21, 2016 on CAWST’s blog

A growing list of reports argue for increased emphasis and investment in capacity building for international development. That’s a good thing. Why then has that increased attention largely failed to catalyze funders and implementers to make greater investments in capacity building?

Capacity building is too often treated like a minor add-on to an infrastructure project, thought of as an added cost, or not budgeted or planned for until partway through a project when the gap in capacity becomes glaringly apparent.

Changing this mindset requires a paradigm-shift. Capacity building is a fundamental part of development that doesn’t simply take funds away from “real”/tangible results, but rather helps achieve targets and maintain outcomes.

To deliver sustained water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services to all by 2030, significant and meaningful investments in capacity building are needed from funders and implementers, in  parallel with hardware investments.

The need for capacity building is clear and well-documented. Less so a clear case that lays out the benefits of investing in capacity building. There are five key benefits to investing in capacity building that should motivate donors and investors to ensure capacity building is a significant part of any initiative they are supporting.

1. Universal WASH coverage by 2030 is not achievable with current human resources

The scale of the need alone makes the case for capacity building. As outlined by the IWA’s report An Avoidable Crisis: WASH Human Resource Capacity Gaps in 15 Developing Economies, “There are not enough appropriately skilled water professionals to support the attainment of universal access to safe water and sanitation”. Furthermore, the current formal systems for training will not produce enough people by 2030, so the human capacity gap threatens the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As the UN-Water Means of Implementation states, “Investment in capacity-building has been a major challenge facing many countries and has to be addressed if the Goals are to be met.”

The UN-Water GLAAS 2012 report (chapter four) reported that less than 20 per cent of respondent countries consider the supply of skilled labour and technicians adequately developed to meet the needs in rural sanitation.

2. Capacity building increases the quality of implementation

WASH practitioners often run into problems they are unable to solve on their own, thus hindering or halting a program; or they unknowingly implement incorrectly. Building the capacity of field workers increases their ability to:

  • Evaluate options and select appropriate technologies
  • Properly construct and install technologies
  • Work with the community to create demand and change behaviour
  • Be active, informed participants in the WASH sector who strengthen and scale-up programs or approaches.

If field workers are doing the above things well, then people will have access to high quality, locally appropriate WASH technologies that they want and use. Further, decision-making around WASH becomes a discussion with local stakeholders as opposed to a decision handed down from above, ensuring that WASH programs continue to serve the needs of end users.

A 2010 Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) technical paper, “Case Study on Sustainability of Rural Sanitation Marketing in Vietnam”, points to the importance of capacity building of practitioners. The case study looked at rural sanitation marketing in Vietnam and found that initial success of trained promoters and providers led others to build toilets for sale; the quality of construction and user satisfaction both declined.

3. Capacity building makes interventions more sustainable

Programs need to be driven at the outset by local organizations on the ground: those who have the mandate to provide WASH services to their communities, who understand the local context and challenges, who take ownership of the services and who will still be there long after the rest of us have moved on. In many cases, those with the mandate don’t have the skills and knowledge they need to do the best job that they can and want to do. Building the capacity of those organizations translates to:

  • Better decisions
  • Higher adoption and sustained use
  • Ability to overcome challenges and adapt to changing circumstances
  • Ongoing delivery and maintenance of services for the long term
  • Disaster resilience
  • A slow but pragmatic exit strategy for those of us who aren’t local organizations.

The WSP technical paper on rural sanitation marketing referred to above concluded that the approach may not be sustained and expanded in the long term without institutionalized capacity building for promoters and providers (among other things).  Similarly, building capacity at the community level increases correct, consistent and continued use of WASH technologies. A key conclusion from the recent Cochrane review on water quality interventions was that interventions that achieved a higher compliance led to greater health impacts. In contrast, some technologies that performed well in controlled test settings achieved lower health impacts. From this, we can infer the importance of not only choosing appropriate technologies, but also building the capacity of local actors to effectively operate and maintain these technologies over time.

4. Capacity building can reach the hardest to reach

The SDGs compel us to reach the poorest and those in vulnerable situations, which the MDGs did not reach in equal numbers. There is growing evidence supporting a renewed focus on those who are hardest to reach, such as UN-Water arguing that targeting the poorest 40 per cent of the population yields the biggest gains.

The 2014 GLAAS report argued that current funding isn’t going to those most in need. “If plans exist for reducing inequalities in access by targeting disadvantaged groups, the outcomes are commonly left unmonitored,” the report says. “Less than half of countries track progress in extending sanitation and drinking-water services to the poor.” The report went on to add that “the vast majority of those without improved sanitation are poorer people living in rural areas. Progress on rural sanitation — where it has occurred — has primarily benefitted the non-poor, resulting in inequalities.”

In many cases, unserved people are dispersed, living in challenging conditions or have no legal tenure. In these situations, large scale infrastructure solutions either aren’t appropriate or aren’t affordable. To reach these people with WASH services, we need a variety of technologies and approaches and we need to work with different types of organizations; both require increased capacity across a range of players.

  • Capacity building enables many small projects using a variety of technologies and approaches that can be adapted to those challenging situations
  • Capacity building enables the organizations with the best likelihood of success to participate in WASH services (including small, local organizations, and those who might not focus on WASH, but who have strong relationships with vulnerable groups and who best understand their complex context)
  • Capacity building enables the vulnerable or disadvantaged to actively participate in WASH programs and services

5. Capacity building addresses the gender gap

One of the guiding principles of the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development is that “Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water” and that to implement this principle, we must “equip and empower women to participate at all levels”. A reality check from the GLAAS 2012 report: “Half of the GLAAS respondent countries reported that women make up less than 10% of the professional/managerial staff”.  We all know the critical role of women in water. Building their capacity to fully participate not only works toward closing gender gaps, but also leads to better results for WASH programs.

According to an ADB gender equality results case study, significant participation of women (>40%) in preconstruction and postconstruction training on how “to plan, construct, manage, operate, and maintain water supply schemes and sanitation facilities […] equipped women with necessary skills and knowledge. This enabled them to engage more effectively in committees taking decisions related to the operation and management of water supply systems, undertaking maintenance with support from trained VMWs, and raising monthly tariffs.”

The 2012 GLAAS report profiles Ethiopia’s health extension programme. It was launched in 2003 in response to a lack of trained health workers; by 2009, there were 30 000 health workers. Women who have more than 10 years of formal education and who want to work in their communities are trained on family health, hygiene and environmental sanitation, and health education. “The success of this programme is a result of investment in training by donors, widespread acceptance within communities and investment in information systems on family health, demographic data and use of services.”

In short, capacity building is a good investment

Failure is costly, and without capacity building projects are more likely to fail. The Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) found in 2007 that an average of 36 per cent of hand-pumps across 21 countries in Africa were non-functioning. That represents a total investment of between $US1.2 and $US1.5 billion over 20 years. The topic is covered in this Triple-S Briefing.

Capacity building lays the groundwork for well-implemented WASH services which should increase adoption, extend the life of interventions and improve quality of implementation resulting in larger health impacts.

We all seem to recognize that capacity building needs to happen, and yet we consistently fail to put enough resources toward it. Our hope is that laying out the case for capacity building will help those who know it needs to happen argue for its inclusion and resourcing, but also that it will refine the way we do capacity building to ensure that we are in fact realizing the above benefits.

In CAWST’s experience of supporting 970 implementing organizations in 78 countries, the benefits don’t end there; we have seen how capacity building catalyzes action and then empowers people to take further actions, as well as how it provides opportunities for those with new skills, knowledge and confidence.