Stockholm Water Week 2018

Sustainable Service Initiative

A Morning of Systems – Part II   

Translating WASH Systems into Practice: What can we contribute? What are the learnings? How can we better work together?


Despite decades of efforts, water and sanitation are still inadequate in many developing countries. On average 30% of all hand pumps in Africa are broken, another 40% are limited in their functionality. Whether a pump functions permanently or not depends on the interaction of many elements in a complex system: authorities, financiers, technicians, users and technology must work together in such a way that the pump, thanks to regular maintenance, does not break down in the first place, but if it does, is repaired immediately once it is broken.

While holistic, systemic thinking has long been used in the health, education and environmental sectors, the approach is still relatively new to water and sanitation. A comprehensive analysis of strengths and weaknesses in different functional areas, close cooperation with the respective authorities and all other parties involved in the system (research, regulation, the public and private sectors, civil society) are essential prerequisites for district-wide supply planning. Futhermore, it is important to clarify the respective roles and responsibilities. In practice, this mainly means shifting the focus of projects from infrastructure development (pumps and latrines) to support for local authorities and other service providers who have local responsibility for providing water and sanitation.

The Sustainable Service Initiative (SSI) is a sustainability initiative of the Welthungerhilfe, spupported by Viva con Agua, in partnership with Aguaconsult and the German Toilet Organization with the aim of implementing the system approach in the WASH sector.

Within the framework of the Stockholm World Water Week, SSI will run a workshop on the issue on 27th August10:30 – 12:00 PM in the Citykonferensen Ingenjörshuset Malmskillnadsgatan 46, Stockholm, Sweden.




Sustainable Service Initiative (SSI)

Agua Consult

German Toilet Organization

Viva con Agua


In Collaboration with



The seminar showed a strong representation of NGOs, many already engaged in sustainability initiatives, where most have some or extended experience in a systems-based approach. Five initiatives, namely the Sustainable Services Initiative (SSI), USAID SWS, A4C, SuSWASH and A4C introduced their focus and specialization when taking a systems-based approach. New developments regarding the integration of sanitation and hygiene into the Sustainability Building Blocks promoted by the A4C were presented by the SSI. The Oxford University, a USAID SWS learning partner, runs the REACH programme and gave insights from achievements in Kenya and beyond.

In table discussions, participants found that a main challenge for organisations to take the systems approach are funding structures of donors due to relatively long implementation time. For starting systems strengthening with government support (where formal governments are in place), it is necessary to show success and have a common monitoring system in place in which all engaged partners feed into. For strengthening the sanitation and hygiene components in a systems-based approach, the household level needs to be more strongly considered. Tools, similar to the Excreta Flow Diagrams (SFDs) would be useful, if adaptable to rural contexts and considering not only the sanitation chain, but all WASH components and considering the building blocks. In fragile contexts, challenges are different. A balance between saving lives and long-term development could be achieved by investing in resilience. Moreover, getting out of the comfort zones of WASH and dealing more with media, parliament and finance institutions is crucial, so is the promotion of systems leadership that recognises partnerships that understand collective action which overcome organisational issues. Systems are dynamic and adaptive, this needs to be considered in all actions and funding for continuous adaptation and improvement.

Survey outcomes among the participants reveal that (1) a lack of sufficient funding to implement a systems-based approach remains the key challenge for anchoring systems thinking in organisations, (2) donors not being ready to support systems strengthening may be the major hindrance for NGOs to implement a systems-based approach and (3) advocacy for systems strengthening should focus on in-country advocacy. Lastly, the survey showed a great interest among participants to engage in a community of practice (CoP). Formats and ideas for CoP reach from online exchange, ideally embedded in an existing platform or as mailing list, to regular meetings and workshops to enable learning not only about success stories, but also about failures, incentives and improving modes of funding.