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Business as usual? A New Year, A New Approach to NGO Work

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By Dr. Patrick Moriarty, Director of IRC International Water & Sanitation Centre The Hague.

What needs to happen to ensure that everyone in the world has access to water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) services?

IRC - Ghana, collecting water

This question drives IRC. What value does an NGO bring to this international effort? In other words, what does a 21st century NGO look like? There is a lot of scepticism about development aid. IRC is an International NGO that works to achieve sustainable water, hygiene and sanitation services to the poorest.  Which in practice means addressing the twin challenges of meeting the needs of people who have never had a service before; but, equally important, addressing the scandalously high levels of failure in existing services.

But what does this mean for IRC? As an organization of about120 people, we don’t pretend to know or be able to do it all. Indeed we believe passionately that it is the role of government (national and especially) local to lead provision of services – supported by a whole range of private and non-private actors who actually provide them.

Our understanding of our own role in this is based on a broader vision of what the proper role of external agencies – especially NGOs – should be in development more generally: not as alternative service providers to those who should do the job (be that government or local private sector) – but as experimenters, energizers, drivers and catalysts of change. And that’s exactly what IRC does.

We work in a number of focus countries – currently Ghana, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Honduras – where we act as a backbone to a “whole-system change process”. We bring people together who might not normally meet, we confront parties with evidence through collecting and sharing new data in new ways. With experiments at a local level, we test solutions to the different points of failure in the service delivery chain. To measure our success we develop tools that go beyond just counting infrastructure, to actually measuring the quality of service it delivers to people. Building out from our focus countries, we lobby the international community to change the behavior of donors and financiers.

If assuring equitable and sustainable Water and Sanitation services at every level of society is the ultimate goal, then we need to start creating broad-based and government led coalitions to tackle deep-seated failings in current practice. Driving, catalysing and supporting such coalitions is, in our opinion, the role of a 21st century NGO.

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