Imagine delivering a child in a place where you’re required to bring your own water to the delivery room, in a healthcare facility in which there’s no viable way for the staff to wash their hands before bringing your baby into the world.
This scenario, says Dr. Greg Allgood, the vice president of water at World Vision, is more than simply a disturbing hypothetical. In fact, he explains, it’s the reality for more than a third of healthcare facilities in the developing world. A lack of latrines and education about proper sanitation leads to rampant disease (and often death) in these rural communities, particularly among young kids.
One of the largest relief and development organizations in the world, World Vision aims to combat water shortages and health-compromising sanitation practices such as open defecation. World Toilet Day, coming up on November 19, is a prime opportunity to examine these types of initiatives — and the partnerships that make them possible.
Collaborative, community-centric approach
Bringing World Vision’s ambitious goals to fruition requires a global, collaborative effort. To effectively enact change on a mass scale — the organization aims to improve the lives of 50 million people by 2030 — World Vision employs a number of partnerships. The organization works with major corporations like the Hilton Foundation, Procter & Gamble, and Kohler. Support from these partnerships helps meet objectives like bringing improved water and sanitation systems to 3,000 healthcare facilities in the next five years.
Not only does World Vision raise funds remotely from overseas, they also have boots on the ground in developing communities. As the world’s largest child sponsorship program, World Vision staff spend up to 15 years working and living in rural communities around the globe. When it comes to initiatives like introducing modern latrines, success largely depends upon the community relationships that have been established via on-the-ground efforts.
When implementing sanitation solutions, World Vision stresses sustainability and ownership. “We empower communities to take charge of their own sanitation needs,” explains Allgood. “Community-led total sanitation methodology is something we’ve really embraced. It works really well with our system because there’s so much trust between our staff and the volunteer network of people that they set up to inspire healthy behaviors.”
We empower communities to take charge of their own sanitation needs.
In Zambia, one of the 45 countries for which World Vision has a long-term business plan, nearly a third of the country’s 15 million people lack access to clean water and modern latrines. In the next five years, World Vision hopes to reach one in every six Zambians. The comprehensive plan for meeting this goal spans every corner of the community — from individual families to schools to religious leaders. The support of authority figures like village chiefs, says Allgood, has also been huge.
Private-sector partners are another critical piece of overarching strategy. “We work with a number of private-sector companies; the thing we offer them is access to new markets based on our strong community presence,” says Allgood.
In September 2015, when World Vision announced a game plan to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (which include specific goals for clean water and sanitation), the response from the organization’s partners was overwhelmingly supportive. Kohler, for example, made a commitment to help World Vision scale up its water/sanitation/hygiene work.
“Kohler’s aspirational goal is ‘Gracious Living.’ They recently changed that to ‘Gracious Living for All’ in recognition of the desire to help underserved communities, and it was great to see that commitment. To have them in this space has everyone in the development sector really excited,” says Allgood.
Next week, World Vision will host a team of Kohler researchers in Malawi and Lesotho in an effort to ideate how to bring new products to Africa. In addition, World Vision has helped introduce the Kohler Clarity filter into a number of communities.
“We’re seeing how people love having this well-designed filter in their homes,” says Allgood.
Empowering via education
Academic and educational partnerships also have a significant impact upon World Vision’s efforts — particularly on those that target kids and families.
A partnership with Sesame Street, for example, in which the beloved children’s program introduced a new character named Raya to focus on sanitation, hygiene, and water, is proving promising.
“Raya and Elmo go into schools with World Vision to help teach kids about healthy sanitation, water storage and conservation habits, and hand-washing,” says Allgood, who adds that World Vision is now in 11 countries with Sesame Street. “We started in Zambia, and the program was so successful that the Ministry of Education embraced it. Our goal was to reach 10,000 kids, but we quickly reached more than 50,000 because of that support.” Now, similar efforts are expanding to countries in the Middle East like Afghanistan and Lebanon, as well as to Asia, Honduras, and numerous other African nations.
“When you empower kids and teach them these habits in a fun, loving way, they take those habits home to their brothers and sisters — and even to their parents,” says Allgood. “It really affects the entire household.”
World Vision’s efforts are paying off. In the parts of the world in which the organization operates, an average of eight communities every day become certified as open-defecation free. On the water side of the equation, Allgood adds, World Vision provides clean water at an unprecedented rate of one new person every ten seconds.
Another one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? Revitalizing global partnerships. Here, too, World Vision and partners like Kohler are exemplifying how collaborative efforts can help turn these lofty visions into concrete realities.
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