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Early on in 2020, at the height of anxieties around lockdown and the pandemic, we got in touch with Ashoka Fellow Kevin Lee to understand what this historic moment would mean for social entrepreneurs. Written in May of 2020, many of Kevin Lee’s points still hold a sense of urgency that we cannot hope for the world to return to the way it was before. Social entrepreneurs are and will still lead the charge in shifting mindsets and approaches. As we near the one-year mark since the beginning of community quarantines, this piece captures a lot of what was to happen during that moment and time (and what still needs to happen today for us to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic!)
There is no post-COVID-19 world in the foreseeable future, but we do have to face a post-shutdown world. Social Entrepreneurs and the Non-Government Social Impact Sector as a whole are critical for an inclusive recovery by communities, the prevention of an overloaded health system, and support for the government at all levels in their functions as duty bearers.
Unlike disasters that the Philippines are familiar with, the damage is not a loss of assets, infrastructure, or crops, but the damage from the pandemic is economically and socially devastating nonetheless. To prevent large loss of life, we’ve had to economically shutdown the country which, compounded by the global shutdown, has resulted in massive economic disruption, job losses not seen since the great depression, and governments borrowing large percentages of their GDP to finance social safety nets and economic stimulus packages.
The pharma industry is fast-tracking vaccines. However, rollout is a long way off and we have to limit health impacts, while maintaining a functional economy. We know that quarantining and good hygiene behavior limit spread. These steps have slowed the progression of the disease to where it is somewhat manageable by the health system, but at a great economic cost.
Pandemics are scary, and with modern media, the proliferation of non-fact-driven information has made it more difficult for communities and individuals to understand real risk, how to properly mitigate that risk, and how to avail of social safety net programs. Food security, personal safety, access to general and reproductive health services, business continuity, access to water and sanitation, and continuation of education have all been compromised, losing many of the poverty alleviation gains of the last two decades.
We as social entrepreneurs are now in a new world. Community priorities have changed back to survival, and our normal ways of working are potentially harmful. Our funding from traditional sources is shrinking. Our timeframe for scalable success has been reduced from years to months. Our operating framework has been destroyed, so we are back to “startup mode.”
Social Enterprises are created to solve an issue from a certain period of time in a certain context. As a large percentage of the population moves into extreme poverty, the priority of these issues may change. Organizations will have to look at their relevance and reimagine themselves in the new future. Their experience and networking are necessary for the challenges facing the country but they may have a new focus.
Behavior change by communities and organizations will be the key for the country to thrive. Traditional awareness-raising needs to be replaced by behavior change programming. The behaviors we are changing will be difficult due to overcrowding and because these go against our basic human communal behavior of social interaction. Communities must understand how their new behaviors will reduce their risks. This is not a temporary change in behavior but will be new social norms.
As Social Entrepreneurs and NGO changemakers are reimagining their focus and implementation, there is also a new financial reality. More traditional fund sources such as United Nations, Overseas Development Agencies, International NGOs, foundations, corporations, etc., will shrink and become performance-based. We will have to articulate clear outcomes and outputs to set the tone on what high performance is and explain why we are investing in less tangible deliverables such as behavior change and capacity development for Barangay and City/Municipal LGUs to enable them to cope with the future in the COVID-19. We will also have to expand and diversify the humanitarian/development economy and challenge this economy on how the money is spent in recovery efforts and include strengthening our organizations.
So what could these products look like?
· Systems and capacity strengthening for LGU officials so that they can collect and analyze data. This information is used by the national government for informed decisions. It can also inform local officials of their current situation and gives them the ability to concretely inform their constituency on their situation.
· Behavior change programming so that LGUs and their constituents can modify behaviors within their local context while understanding why they are doing this and what the rewards will be. This includes clear messaging and transparency so as to mobilize communities as rights holders to work towards a collective goal.
· Building systems to analyze the impacts of the new behaviors on the abilities of communities to survive and thrive. This needs to consider vulnerabilities of marginalized sectors and understand the concept of equity vs equality for targeting of government and non-government social safety net programming.
· Development of a new local economy replacing disrupted sectors, leveraging the strengths of those sectors, and providing opportunities for marginalized and vulnerable groups so that they can move out of the lower decile economic groups.
· Expansion and improvement of basic service delivery for health, wellness, water, and sanitation services to lower decile groups.
· Education products and outreach to match the new normal and provide hope to children, youth, and parents for the future of their families.
We have to not just adapt, but we have to accept this challenge as a moral imperative. Without systemic type changes, we cannot prevent the loss of all the poverty reduction gains over the last two decades. Our poorest communities are no less valuable than those living in the towers of Makati and BGC. Increasing the number of people living on less than 2 meals a day should be unacceptable to all of us. We have the tools and resources to work with the government to make this happen. It will not be done with pilots and small steps, but will require our sector to take big swings at the problem, always look to scale, adapt, and change to meet the challenges. The world as we knew it will not return, the future is now!
About the Author
Kevin Lee was educated in New Zealand, where he earned a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical). After graduating, he worked as a consulting mechanical engineer, specializing in heavy industry in the north island of New Zealand. From 1995 to 2001, he worked in the steel industry in Georgia, U.S.A. After spending two years working as an industrial emission control equipment project manager, Kevin joined the Peace Corps as a water and sanitation volunteer in the Philippines. After his term was finished, he stayed in the Philippines and co-founded A Single Drop for Safe Water. ASDSW/SDCS is now 5 offices with close to 80 staff working throughout the Philippines. He was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
True localisation happens when local organisations develop their own theories of change, design their programmes, and mobilise resources to implement. It’s not when international NGOs subcontract local organisations to implement programmes.
As the pandemic and its economic impact started to bite, A Single Drop for Safe Water (ASDSW) in the Philippines reflected on how humanitarian assistance should change in the face of this extended crisis. Working with social enterprises like Ashoka, Xchange, Firetree Trust, and Limitless Lab, we developed a programme that looked at and improved the systems in place for emergency response, and worked to strengthen these systems to better serve impacted communities.
This programme recognises that barangays (local government units) are the sharp edge of the spear for government working with and to serve communities. It recognises that traditional responses are unsustainable in this environment; the largest resources are local communities and government.
BRITE, which stands for “Barangay Resilience and Innovation Through Empowerment”, harnesses the power of human-centered design and design thinking to engage with barangays and key community members to identify gaps and develop solutions, all within existing government frameworks to strengthen governance, community engagement and accountability.
As the theory of change was developed, we engaged with our current Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) funder, Arche Nova, to pilot the programme in Puerto Prinsesa in Palawan Province for 20 barangays classified as geographically isolated and disadvantaged. It was a key step toward working with the Puerto Prinsesa’s local government to ensure the sustainability of efforts beyond funding.
Working with Limitless Lab also enabled us to start developing a design thinking workshop for disaster risk reduction officers and emergency responders. We then approached Latter Day Saints Charities as long-term partners, and have now received approval to pilot the design thinking process and the entire programme in Maguindanao Province.
When we heard about Start Network’s Working Differently Challenge, we felt that what we were doing was the perfect fit, so we started approaching its members in the Philippines. After listening to our pitch, Islamic Relief was interested in the concept, so we submitted an application and were eventually selected to receive funding, as well as technical support from Thoughtworks.
This support will work to improve current programme areas, but could also contribute to a national programme and be institutionalised as the local BRITE network expands. Furthermore, Islamic Relief’s openness to good, locally developed ideas is evidence that they are committed to the Charter for Change. They truly consider local organisations to be equal partners, providing space for them to drive potential programmes. Even though we had not formally worked with Islamic Relief in the past, we feel that the respect shown by the organisation bodes well for a positive implementing relationship.
BRITE is a community empowerment approach developed through the collaboration of a Single Drop for Safe Water, Inc (ASDSW), Ashoka, Limitless Lab, Firetree Trust and Xchange – organizations geared on technology innovation for empowerment. This empowerment approach was born out of the desire to support local government units for resilience and preparedness in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.
The Barangays have the most direct impact on the implementation of government policy. Stopping the spread of COVID requires widespread behaviour change. Barangays are some of the strongest influencers of community behaviour and decisions made by barangay leadership has an immediate effect on the quality of life of their community. However, barangays have limited access to life-saving aid, correct information, and adequate resources to respond to needs of and build the resiliency of communities during this pandemic.
The BRITE approach envisions the barangay to have accessible healthcare, reduced Covid 19 transmission, secure livelihood, continuous education, secure food supply chain, peace and cooperation through improved governance, communication, behavior change, service delivery and impact mitigation. It employs human-centered design, non-linear and systemic view of the situation, and multi-sectoral collaboration as tools for its empowerment goals.
Often times, the barangays found themselves lacking access or proper explanation of national and local policies. Policies and guidelines are confusing and left to each person’s interpretation. There is also lack of funds for protective personal equipment, supplies such alcohol, learning materials, laptop and WIFI connection. Information system is not established and therefore inaccurate and coming from different sources. The situation is aggravated by the barangays having no plans for risk reduction and response for a pandemic.
Arche Nova funded the implementation of its pilot run in 20 barangays in Puerto Princesa City, implemented by its partner ASDSW . It ran from April-December 2020. The implementation started at the height of the Covid 19 pandemic and the barangays scrambling to cope up with protocol issued by the national and local IATF.
As a process, the BRITE approach involves community self-assessment, simulation of ideal scenario, action planning and designing solutions based on local context, validated and participated by multi sectoral segments of the community. The pilot barangays, after undergoing the workshops on updating their barangay disaster risk reduction plan and solutions design were able to identify their top 3 priority gaps and were able to design solutions for these priority gaps. The piloting of this innovative approach is considered a success by implementing partners in that the barangay officials have these to say at the end of the process:
“We saw the clearer direction of our barangay.”
“With clearer process on planning, unlike before we just gave the responsibility to our councilors and we consolidate them and that’s it, we have our barangay development plan.”
“We saw our priorities that should be addressed immediately.”
“We now have a preparedness (contingency) plan for the pandemic.”
“We are proud that we developed this kind of plan.”
Implementing the Phased Approach to Sustainable
Sanitation (PhATSS) in local governance and programming- Sultan Kudarat
ASDSW has been working in Central Mindanao since 2007 with various partners including UNICEF. Within this period, ASDSW has continuously worked with local government units and communities to institutionalize WaSH governance and build and strengthen technical capacity of partner implementers. This has expanded to WaSH in educational institutions as per the Dep-Ed’s 3 Star Approach and WaSH in Schools (WinS) and Early Childhood Care Development (ECCD) Program. The Phased Approach to Sustainable Sanitation (PhATSS) in Sultan Kudarat Province (SKP) as framework for WaSH development was also introduced on 2017. Parallel to WaSH intervention in SK Province, the ARMM region also institutionalized WaSH through the creation of the Regional Subcommittee on WatSan (RSCWS), under the supervision of the Regional Planning and Development Office. Additional capacity development activity was also conducted in the whole of ARMM region and Region 12 through the conduct of Managing WaSH in Emergency and Contingency Planning, attended by the PDRRMOs, DepEd Superintendents, PPDOs, PHOs or their representatives.
The program concentrated on leveraging LGU efforts at all levels for improving the WaSH situation in SK and ARMM provinces.
The SK Province has adopted the Phased Approach to Sustainable Sanitation (PhATSS) as the operational strategy of the national policy on achieving the Philippines target for Sustainable Sanitation. They utilized PhATSS strategy in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 6 on Water and Sanitation.
By the end of 2018, two (2) of the municipalities of Sultan Kudarat Province reached 100% Zero Open Defecation (ZOD) status namely Bagumbayan and Esperanza. Overall, a total of 336,892 people or 69,240 household in the province are living in a ZOD community. Four (4) of its barangays passed the G2 (Improved Sanitation) final verification. This achievement was made possible by the participation of all actors on its implementation, believing that informed people is key to development as informed communities can drive development and become effective vehicle for positive change.
The success of PhATSS in Sultan Kudarat is a testament that empowering the communities to take responsibilities in improving their quality of life and managing their resources and capacities initiates development, as communities are transformed from being misinformed skeptic and passive
observers to educated participants and advocates for WaSH. Putting in place the enabling environment, as what the LGUs and other participating agencies, ensures sustainability of the program. This is what A Single Drop for Safe Water envisions and advocates for with our communities and partners in the countryside.
WaSh in Schools (WINS) is a national policy of the Department of Education aimed at educating and instilling proper WaSH behaviors in students to create a far-reaching impact in children’s health and performance in school. This program have lots of success stories all over the country and have brought significant improvements in schools that are actively supporting and implementing it.
The success of WINS also depends largely from the collective support of the school management, the barangay officials and the parents. In the municipalities of Lebak and Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat, WINS is having a headway in the lives of children in inculcating positive WaSH behavior.
WINS in Lebak
Bgy. Salangsang in the municipality of Lebak is a far flung barangay populated by majority of Manobo and Tiruray people. These are indigenous people who are basically highland dwellers, relatively nomadic in culture and lives mostly on the bounty of the forest. There is high illiteracy rate among the group, very few are educated and largely subsistent farmers. The place is about 25 kilometers away from the town proper and local transportation is difficult. It’s usual to see people riding horses just to reach the town as road condition is hard and a times dangerous for motor vehicle. Livelihood is mainly agricultural; coffee, corn and wild honey. Manobo and Tiruray children attend the only elementary school in the barangay. Previously, interaction among children depends on whether one is “Christian” – mostly Ilonggo or Ilokano, and “Tribu” – Manobos or Tirurays. The tribu do not usually mingle with the other group, not so much on ethnic
discrimination, but more of their own choice. Based on the way of life that they’ve been used to, they very seldom take a bath, or wash their whole bodies, or brush their teeth, much less use soap and water to wash their hands. According to the teachers, the tribu children felt that there is something different with them.
With the introduction of the WaSH in Schools program, the students were introduced to the key messages and behaviors in WaSH: the use of toilets for defecation, hand washing with soap and water during critical times, tooth brushing using fluoride toothpaste, daily bathing, drinking water from safe sources, and general cleanliness of the surroundings. The school management instituted WaSH teams in schools in every grade. The WaSH teams lead and guide their “wards” in daily WaSH activities such as handwashing and tooth brushing. They serve as mentors and guides. The school also instituted signal/warning system so that the students are guided whenever they heard it. The president of the Supreme Pupil Government does this warning- three short blasts means students to get ready for handwashing, one long blast after 5 minutes means they go out and wash their hands in preparation for lunch. Every students is required to brush their teeth after lunch. At first, they were taught and guided how to do this, then eventually becomes the norm in school.
As narrated by a Manobo teacher, it is common behavior in their tribe to defecate just about anywhere, tooth brushing is done by using crushed guava twig till it softens, and this is done usually only when
something was stuck between teeth. Daily bathing or face washing is not a norm, therefore, Manobos or Tirurays smells. With the introduction of WINS, IP children were taught improved WaSH behaviors, provided with initial supplies and now happily mingles with other children. There is no more unseen divide among the children as the “difference” was now eradicated. As a result, all children are now happier, healthier, well-groomed and more social. These same children brings change at home as they become WaSH advocates in their own families. Tooth brushing, handwashing, daily bathing and general cleanliness of the surroundings became the new norm.
The School management, understanding that supplies need to be replenished, started resource mobilization for sustained WaSH supplies and facilities. They solicited support for OFW friends, demanded support from their own Barangay and municipal government and from local businesses. The Barangay LGU provided improved water source for the schools, the municipal LGU constructed additional toilets and repair of water facilities, and other donors provided WaSH supplies such as soap, toothbrushes and tooth paste. At some point, the UNICEF, through the A Single Drop for Safe Water, provided Php 30,000.00 for materials for the improvement of their WaSH facilities. The parents and community provided labor as their equity counterpart.
The whole community, thru the WINS, was transformed into an empowered, motivated WaSH advocates. The BLGU, recognizing that promotion of health should be primary service, education as the only way to help them improve their lives, and also the need to support the school so that they attain the G2 status, is more than motivated to provide assistance. Now, the school have functional WaSH
facilities, have water available and a cleaner and more organized surroundings. The children are excited to go to school and discrimination among “Christians” and “Tribu” is no longer an issue among students.
WINS in Kalamansig
Kalamansig is another coastal and mountainous municipality in Sultan Kudarat, adjacent to Lebak. It also has high population of the Manobo and Tiruray. It’s very similar to Lebak in terms of livelihood, terrain and people groups.
When WINS was introduced to the LGU, the Limulan Elementary School was among those who were empowered to improve WaSH in their school. The principal, heartened by the support received from UNICEF through ASDSW was inspired to implement the program. At first, the children were coached, discipline was instilled, and before long, improved WaSH behavior took root. This is reinforced by a consistent messaging and practice through their daily WaSH activities, guided by the 3-star approach.
By understanding the interaction that should be between schools and local government units and the parents, the principal linked up and demanded support from the barangay and the municipal LGU. The parents were also engaged and enjoined to support the program.
The principal knows that water supply is crucial to changing the WaSH behavior of students. Through
strengthened coordination and networking, the Barangay LGU provided water supply by providing distribution pipes connecting the school to the existing Barangay water system. They now have functional toilets. Some donors also come to support the program especially in providing replenishment of WaSH supplies. Global handwashing celebrations are now observed by other schools, not just in Limulan ES. As noted by the principals, proper WaSH behaviors such as handwashing and tooth brushing are now part of children’s behavior, a new norm, even the parents are also educated on WaSH because of the children.
Both these schools realize that collaboration is key to successful and impactful implementation of the WINS program- the government, the community and the school (students and teachers). They may face challenges along the way, but both commits to sustain the program. They have already something to show for success, children and parents are now informed WaSH advocates, so there’s no other way but forward… and ONWARD.
Sultan Kudarat is a 1 st class province in Mindanao. It has 249 barangays in 11 municipalities and 1 component city, and a population of 812,095 (PSA 2015 Census of population). The Department of Health 2016 FHSIS report showed Region XII, to which Sultan Kudarat belongs, having 90% access to Safe Water and only 34.31% households with complete basic Sanitation. On the same vein, the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey showed only 68.6% of respondents in Region XII have access to improved sanitation. That leaves a gap of 31.4% for unimproved sanitation which included shared, unimproved facility and open defecation.
Before the introduction of the Phased approach to Sustainable Sanitation, the LGUs of these coastal municipalities have no clear direction towards development relative to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Like most LGUs in the country, WaSH intervention is always construed as infrastructure-focused support, very little or none at all towards behavior change or targeted support to households.
When A Single Drop for Safe Water first introduced PhATSS to the local government officials of Lebak and Kalamansig, the officials accepted and supported the concept. Several capacity-building trainings were given to LGU health implementers particularly in WaSH strategic planning, verification process in ZOD certification and, sanitation marketing. The barangay officials and communities were brought on board and so started the PhATSS fever in these municipalities.
The Municipal Mayor advocates for strict implementation of the PhATSS, supported by an SB resolution ensuring its implementation in the barangays. The Sangguniang Bayan allocated a small amount to support the vulnerable households in their material needs for toilet construction. This fund support is through soft loans to targeted households as identified by the rural sanitary inspectors and barangay officials. The RSIs implemented a stricter household monitoring coupled with stronger and more visible hygiene promotion through the 4Ps program and Rural Health Unit services. The LGU of Kalamansig also allocated a small amount as reward for barangays that attained the ZOD status. This reward can be utilized to further improve the WaSH need of the community.
The municipalities of Lebak and Kalamansig is host to indigenous peoples group Manobo, Tiruray, and B’laans. As customary with the indigenous peoples, most have nomadic culture. As such, it is challenging for PhATSS implementers to motivate them to build toilets because of this culture. Hygiene education also served as another challenging issue.
The lowland communities comprising mostly of Maguindanaons, Visayans and Ilokanos, though not nomadic in nature, also faced the same challenge. At first, some people are simply indifferent to cleanliness, especially in disposal of trash and used diapers. Trash is everywhere and people just don’t care. Nevertheless, the barangay officials never lose hope. The Barangay Chairmen, case in point, of Barangay Salangsang of Lebak and Barangay Datu Wasay of Kalamansig, saw to it that the barangay officials personally visit the households so that they see the real situation and know the needs of the people. The households were spared the burden of going to the barangay hall to ask for support but was visited by barangay officials instead. This way, the people were motivated to participate, appreciated the process by which their need has been addressed.
Furthermore, the RSIs, having embraced the vision of PhATSS have fires in their hearts. They started with renewed advocacy for cleanliness, integrating WaSH messages in the family development sessions of the 4Ps, in prenatal consultations, in immunization drives, and continuous monitoring, emphasizing on the negative impact of unimproved WaSH practices.
Soon, the effort of RSIs and the support of the local government paid off. Slowly, the concept of PhATSS started to take root in the communities. Households started to build toilets, some do it on their own,
some others with material support from LGU. Then one by one, barangays were declared ZOD, then the innate competitiveness of the communities set in. Some barangays moved up to G2 status, and this status was displayed in strategic points in the community. Even the far flung communities of the
Manobos and Tirurays were verified and declared ZOD. This is even more meaningful. This achievement became a monument of success of enabling environment put in place. The IP communities now don’t want to leave their place because they wouldn’t want to leave or relocate their toilets. The toilet became a reason to stop their nomadic way of life. They started to appreciate and trust the government and became confident to mingle with their Christian neighbors. They learned to improve their WaSH behaviors and therefore no longer feel discriminated.
Coupled with water facilities support, the nomadic culture was greatly reduced- the constructed toilet
became a way that gave them permanence. The general surroundings were maintained free of scattered trashes and cleanliness became the norm. The lowland communities also could not be left out, the reason being if this can be attained by the IP communities up in the mountains, hardly accessible with lesser access to necessary hardware, how much more they who have relatively easy access to needed support.
The success of PhATSS in Sultan Kudarat is a testament that empowering the communities to take responsibilities in improving their quality of life and managing their resources and capacities drives development, as communities are transformed from being misinformed skeptic and passive observers to educated participants and advocates for WaSH. Putting in place the enabling environment as what the LGUs of these 2 coastal municipalities ensures sustainability of the program. This is what A Single Drop for Safe Water envisions and advocates for with our communities and partners in the countryside.
On 24th December 2017, Typhoon Vinta devastated the municipality of Palawan. It was also after this event that diarrhea cases started to rise in Balabac. On January 3, 2018, the A Single Drop for Safe Water (ASDSW) received a formal request for assistance for Balabac. The HRC, led by ASDSW, then sent a Rapid Assessment team to the area to provide initial targeted response and conduct damaged assessment.
After the rapid assessment activity, ASDSW lobbied for support from long time donors for a full scale emergency response back to the municipality. Several donors heeded the call, among them are UNICEF who provided hygiene and water kits and other cash support for mobilization and other activities, and Seaoil Foundation Inc. and Latter-day Saints Charities for other water and hygiene materials. Four Barangays will directly benefit from the response, namely Barangays Melville, Agutayan, Salang and Ramos.
On the provincial level, HRC works in coordination with the Provincial Health Office, the Provincial DOH Office, the Provincial DILG office and the PDRRMO. The team travels back to Balabac on March 14 and is expected to stay in the area till the middle of April 2018. HRC is grateful also to the support of Bishop Edward and President Larry Caduada and the energetic volunteers for the storage of the WaSH materials in the temple building of the Church of Christ of the Latter-day Saints in Malvar Street, Puerto Princesa City.
The project covers 10 pilot barangays namely; Bgys. Maunlad, Bancao-bancao, San Pedro, San Manuel and San Miguel, Macarascas, Buenavista, Bahile, Tagabinet and Cabayugan. The rural sanitary inspectors from the CLGU, along with barangay health workers and community volunteer sanitary inspectors were capacitated by ASDSW in the Phased Approach to Total Sanitation (PhATS) and are now raring to attain ZOD in their respective barangays. The CLGU created a verification team to support the validation and verification process and is actively involved in the process.
For an enabling environment, the CLGU Technical Working group is set to conduct WaSH planning on February 16-17 to further institutionalize and strengthen WaSH development in Puerto Princesa.
The Philippines, through its Philippine Water Supply Sector Roadmap created by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), has aimed to hit the universal water-access target by 2025. Yet, as hopeful as it seems, this goal requires bigger responsibilities.
In order to reach this goal, the World Bank Group reports in its 2015 Service Delivery Assessment of the Water Supply and Sanitation in the Philippines: Turning Finance into Services for the Future that the Philippines would need an average of $803 million per year to be spent on water supply to reach the universal water-access target in 2025 and $619 million per year to meet goals on sanitation by 2028. An additional $210 million per year for maintenance and operation for water-access infrastructure and $132 million per year for sanitation.
The monetary figures are overwhelming, as the country also addresses problems in many sectors. As per the World Bank Group, the international body says these national goals can only be met if there is a strong political will to mobilize these investments. But beyond these monetary figures, a strong grassroots approach, specifically the movement of people and the demand for clean water, is needed to further push these goals to reality.
There are a number of organizations that strive to push clean water, sanitation and hygiene to local communities, but unlike any other group, A Single Drop for Safe Water (ASDSW) steps up the game by utilizing the government as the main focal point driving the demand force, hence creating supply of clean water.
The need for safe and clean water is a basic right, yet, many are deprived in undeserved rural areas all over the country. Only 5 percent of the current population in the Philippines has proper connections to sewerage systems; over 8 million Filipinos have no access to clean water; and more than 30 million of the population have no access to sanitary toilets.
This inspired Kevin Lee, an American brought up and educated in New Zealand and arrived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to water and sanitation projects in 2004, to establish the ASDSW in 2006, an organization that aims to strengthen water sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) governance, and collaborate technical capacities with various partners.
Lee had a good life in New Zealand. He was born in South Africa by American parents and moved to New Zealand, where he was raised and educated the Kiwi way. Lee then got his mechanical engineering degree and worked in the steel industry before working in the pollution-control industry.
“I joined Peace Corps just for a change and came here in February of 2004, and was in Baguio and Nueva Vizcaya for their water and santitation programs,” Lee said in an exclusive interview with the BusinessMirror. The work Lee had in the Philippines, for him, an eye opener. Coming from a heavy-industry background, there was a complete change of career when he arrived in the country, and Lee had the opportunity to serve in a very different field. “When I was working here [in the Philippines], I was starting to understand some of the issues that were impacting water and, santiation development and, then, I was trying to figure out what to do,” he explained.
From there, he met Gemma Bulos, a Filipino-American musician and teacher who also aimed for a clean water and proper sanitation. The two worked together to create ASDSW, with Lee giving talks and doing some trainings for the biosand filters.
“It wasn’t a real conscious decision to say I’m in the Philippines for a certain reason, but opportunity was there and there was no reason to leave. The investment in the Philippines came after we started a single drop there was work, and there was more opportunity,” Lee explained. “Most of all, there’s a challenge in what we started. We started something really cool, and I like the people that I work with, and I like the progress that we made and see it happening.”
And it was evident enough that progress happened just a year after ASDSW was established. In 2007 one of the major programs Lee did with the ASDSW was their project in the Administrative Region in Muslim Mindanao, where they worked with 31 municipalities with seven non-governmental organizations. The project has benefited over 35,000 people in the area. It’s about the people…and the demand
“It’s never the technology, it’s about the poeple,” Lee said during the interview with the BusinessMirror, citing the importance of understanding the current situation and problem of the community.
In one of their projects in Nueva Vizcaya, the community already has springwater developments and distribution systems, but locals were still tapping water from undeveloped springs. “We have to build the capacity to design things correctly, implement things correctly; but we also have to take responsibility for maintaining it and operating it,” Lee said. And overtime, the organization discovered that, while it is important to create solutions, it also has to create the demand for water and sanitation services to keep the clean water running.
“The issue that people always say is that water is important, but when you implement and you ask people to pay for it they say, ‘walang pera’ [no money],” Lee lamented. “We have to make people understand that water and sanitation are important and should be a priority by our lives and the government.” ASDSW pushed locals and even the local governments that it worked with to understand the importance of prioritizing clean water and sanitation by investing in it and changing the behavior of the people. “You change your behavior the way you go to the toilet; you change your behavior to wash your hands,” Lee said.
Working with the government provides challenges along the way. Lee had to provide a good example on how clean water and sanitation services can have good effects on the economy. “We discovered that for the most vulnerable families, the cost [for clean water and sanitation services] is equivalent to their 13th-month pay, and so the money that they would lose on medical cost, they won’t lose anymore,” Lee explained to the BusinessMirror. “And their lost opportunity cost to earn money is increased, and so this creates wealth,” he added.
Aside from the economic impact, Lee explained that good water services increase a child’s good health. “Within the first five years is where you have the biggest impact of the learning capacity of the children, so by raising that awareness and creating demand, then people start investing and changing their behaviors.”
These reasons can actually start people to think and demand improved WaSH services from the government, as well as demanding responsibility from water-service providers.
Lee comes from a country where water, sanitation and hygiene services exceed not just a basic human right but also a privilege. He emphasized that the key component in any program is to create demand.
In most vulnerable communities in the Philippines, demand for these kind of services is low. The understanding of prevention of waterborne diseases, malnutrition and proper livelihood stems from proper WaSH services. This kind of mind-set leads to poverty alleviation.
“We have to identify areas with sanitation problems, and the local government units must be the focal point,” Lee said. The importance of having the cooperation and collaboration in the municipal level is that community participation can be pushed. “If the LGU has the knowledge and the push, demand, supply and good governance intersect, and success is achieved.” Hence, a strategic plan-resource mobilization is needed.
Behavior change is needed, particularly when it comes to sanitation, which relates to health and economic impact. “Many people in most vulnerable communities have very limited amount of money, and they have to decide on what they should invest and without understanding the economic impact of not having a toilet, they chose to spend it on other things,” Lee said.
Beyond the social issues, Lee, through ASDSW, also sees that people would not only address proper WaSH services but also take pride in that having a proper toilet, which goes a long way in terms of people’s confidence and pride in their homes.
“We want to be proud of where we live,” Lee said to the BusinessMirror. He added, “It’s not about shame but we want to be proud of where we live, and we want to be healthy.”
The future for ASDSW
As Lee stays in the Philippines, the work for ASDSW continues. The organization itself has come a long way since 2006. In 2009 ASDSW partnered with Oxfam and other local organizations, where it entered the humanitarian response industry. In 2011, right after Typhoon Sendong devastating the city of Cagayan de Oro, ASDSW included high-profile WaSH interventions, such as designing, building and operating sludge disposal plants.
Lee said, “There is always a return of investment when we invest in clean water and sanitation services and that kind of investment starts in our mindset change that having these kind of services can go a long way for long term effects.”