Do global partnerships work?

Five years on from the launch of ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ – which is a global partnership to increase the political and financial priority on water, sanitation and hygiene –  and I’ve just been with 100+ other participants from around the world to take a bit of a stock check on progress.

With World Toilet Day today, it acts as a global reminder of the need to focus on the critical but highly neglected issue of water and sanitation and it’s both timely and important to consider whether Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is the right mechanism to help deliver what its name declares.

Tearfund helped campaign for the creation of SWA as we recognise these issues are low down the political and financial priorities of both donor and national budgets, despite the numerous commitments and platitudes of how essential water and sanitation are for any pathway out of poverty.

The achievements from the second High Level Meeting are impressive and you can find out more from my previous blog and the SWA website.

So how is the partnership doing over all? Below are a few of my reflections

1.    Political aspirations should reign over technocratic objectives – don’t lose sight of the original vision

When we assess progress on anything it’s easy to get a bit over zealous and want to change direction, bring in new objectives etc. While new approaches may be needed, we need to hold true to the original and bold vision and not shrink back to aims that can be easily measured, but lack political aspiration. Measuring the success of the long term change we wish to see can be difficult and slow going, but we must resist the temptation to move away from the vision towards short term, more easily controlled objectives.

2.    Patience

Political change, and the increased investment that needs to follow, takes time but we won’t see large scale investment and a world where everyone has the basic right to clean water and somewhere safe to go to the toilet, without it. Progress can be frustrating, but SWA is doing the right thing in not setting up a global fund and instead trying to get finance ministers in developing countries to recognise the need for increased investment in water and sanitation. Furthermore, any support to help strengthen national plans and policies (to aid confidence for increased investment), will be country-, rather than donor-, driven.

3.    A partnership is the sum of its partners

A partnership will only be as strong and active as its partners are. As civil society we identified clear actions in support of SWA that we committed to but this needs to be reflected across all the partner constituencies. Donor membership, whilst reflective of a large proportion of the main donors on water and sanitation, is still limited and there seems to be hesitancy in committing actions and resources to the partnership. But what donor engagement there is, including by the UK, is encouraging and can be cultivated.

4.    Communication, communication, communication

There is often high turnover of personnel involved – be it from developing country governments, donors, development banks or NGOs, so it’s great that SWA is beginning to increase its own investment in communication. It takes a long time to build understanding, buy-in and to become known outside of the circles of those working on water and sanitation – so investment in this area is crucial.

So, in my view, yes global partnerships do work – but they need commitment and action from its partners and at Tearfund we’ll continue to support SWA to ensure it delivers on its vision.

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