The WASH Sustainability Charter: Collaborating for Best Practices

On Thursday, April 26th, GlobalGiving hosted Brian Banks, the Director of Sustainability for Global Water Challenge (GWC) for a discussion about the WASH Sustainability Charter. The Charter is a document that has been endorsed by nearly 100 organizations in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector as a set of guiding principles for sustainable programs. Brian discussed the steps the GWC took to create the Sustainability Charter and win signatures, the successes of the charter, and what lessons the development community can learn from this experience.

View the presentation slides here. Listen to the training recording here.

Training Summary

Globally, nearly 1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and more than 2.5 billion do not have access to a toilet. While much progress had been made meeting these critical global needs, ensuring that projects last long-term has been challenging:

  • Approximately 30% of all hand-pumps installed in Sub-Saharan Africa have failed prematurely.
  • Over the last 20 years, over 180,000 hand pumps installed in Sub-Saharan Africa have failed  pre­maturely, representing a total failed investment of between $1.2 and $1.5 billion
  • If every hand pump installed in Africa in the past 20 years still worked, nearly 70 million more people would have access to water.
  • Less than 5% of projects are visited after project completion, and far less than 1% have any longer-term monitoring.

WASH Sector

The WASH sector is made up of a broad range of organizations including donors such as the Hilton Foundation, implementers like CARE and WATERAid, and local NGOs like CREPA, Nepal Water for Health, and Kenya’s Water Services Trust Fund, among other stakeholders.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are critical to achieve success in international development. Sustainable WASH projects lay the groundwork for improvements in economic development, education, environmental conservation, human health, nutrition, international security and women’s empowerment.

What is the GWC?

Coalition of corporations, NGOs and other stakeholders committed to achieving universal access to WASH.

What is sustainability?

Lasting service provision; ensuring the long-term return on investment for a WASH project.

Developing the Charter

The development of this Charter was initiated at a series of WASH Sustainability Forums hosted in Washington, DC. The first event was hosted in January 2011 and consisted of 50 different WASH stakeholders and 90 individual participants. The purpose was to bring donors and implementers into the sustainability conversation, identify best practices of sustainability, and build consensus around key elements of sustainability and establish charter of principles.

From the collaborative work at these events, a draft Charter was created. Following several rounds of wide public feedback, the final document has now been launched. To date, close to 100 organizations have endorsed the Charter.

The final document is:

  • Open source. It is developed by the sector, for the sector. Rather than one organization, over 100 organizations have contributed to the document.
  • Brought to life by endorsers. It is endorsers that put the Charter into practice that transform this charter from a document into a powerful force for changing the way we, as a sector, do business. The Charter is an aspirational document, not a governing one.  It will not be directly monitored or enforced. However, it is intended that WASH stakeholders will encourage and assist each other in applying the Charter’s principles, and ultimately, in improving the sustainability of WASH services around the world.
  • A value-add for all. The Charter was developed to be applicable wherever you are on the sustainability spectrum. Also, it has been developed to apply whether you focus on water, sanitation, or hygiene education.
  • Agreed upon best practices. The principles in the Charter carry authority, as they represent the combined learnings and experience of the sector as a whole.
  • Strengthened by broad endorsement. The universality of the document advances its role as a common platform for progress. The fact that it has over 150 endorsements cements its value as a valuable common language and universal framework.

The Charter is made up of 16 principles among 5 areas:

  1. Strategy and Planning
  2. Governance and Accountability
  3. Service Delivery Support
  4. Financial Management
  5. Reporting and Knowledge Sharing

Read the complete Charter here.

From a Document to a Movement

As a result of the Charter, the sector has come together to support other sustainability initiatives including the WASH Sustainability Webinar Series, a sector-wide survey, and more. Learn more here.

Lessons for Other Sectors

In creating the Charter, the WASH community looked to other sectors for ideas and resources. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use these tips to develop your own sector-wide best practices:

  • Start talking with your peers to “build buzz”
  • Don’t worry about the details
  • Start small, both in size and scope
  • Find the specific need to address
  • Engage peers throughout the process

Have additional questions? Feel free to contact Brian Banks at the Global Water Challenge at

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