WASH Canada Final Report, Impact and Reflection – June 2015

The Global Water and Sanitation Crisis:

There are still almost 800 million people without access to clean water and 2.5 billion without access to sanitation (functional toilets). Without water and toilets, hygiene education or even a simple act like washing hands before eating or after the toilet becomes difficult. Close to 50% of schools in the developing world do not have a water connection and almost 70% do not have any functional toilets. Women bear the disproportionate impact of this crisis. Young girls easily drop out of schools that do not meet their privacy or menstrual hygiene needs. The health impact of this crisis is enormous. Over 4000 children die per day of water-borne diseases; 50% of hospital beds in the developing world at any given time are full of people with water borne illnesses. The economic impact of lost workdays and schooldays, due to sickness by contaminated water has a clear impact on the GDP of nations. The economics of addressing sanitation makes sense both for developed nations, like Canada, and also for developing world nations. In fact, research shows that no other public health intervention has a better economic return. $1 spent on increased sanitation equals an average of $8 in economic benefit.

The Goal:

WASH (WAter+Sanitation+Hygiene) Canada was launched in 2012 to strengthen the Canadian voice and impact on the global water and sanitation crisis by bringing together all stakeholders working on international water, sanitation and hygiene (including innovators, implementers, funders and experts). By joining the voices and resources of those working on WASH we aimed to get the attention of decision makers and funders, engage the public and leverage our collective global participation and impact. We did this by

  • Fostering collaboration among all WASH stakeholders and creating a platform for joint action
  • Providing a snapshot of overall WASH spending in Canada and WASH research in Universities
  • Increasing national awareness about the WASH Crisis and donor interest in funding WASH projects
  • Advocating for the need to address WASH to the government and to the public and private sectors
  • Linking Canadian WASH with international players to exponentially increase our reach and impact

Activities of WASH Canada from 2012:

For over three years, the WASH Canada initiative has served as a facilitator and catalyst that has helped bring a large segment of global WASH players in Canada together. Our philosophy has been that while each of our partners has his or her own sphere of influence and core competence, not any one of them alone can tackle a crisis of this magnitude. WASH Canada has actively worked on the goal it set for itself by:

1.Convening Canadian WASH actors: We have grown our network for WASH action to over 40 partners. In doing so, we have created a unique platform for WASH collaboration, information exchange, networking, joint implementation and advocacy.

2.Undertaking Unique Research on the current funding and research landscape for WASH in Canada: We built on the baseline data, initially collected by Harbinger, to map the total contributions of the Canadian WASH sector. We estimate this to be valued at CA$90 million per year. RESULTS Canada is now continuing to gather this information and build on this report. We have also started to list the various research, courses and programs related to WASH that are taking place at Canadian Universities. This is the first such report for the sector. This data on research and spending on WASH in Canada helps us to be better informed, as a group, about the current landscape and any gaps that exist. This kind of data driven information helps grab attention of decision makers and individuals alike. To read our 2012 landscape report click: document.

3.Generating new donor interest in WASH: We have continued to generate new donor interest. We have also engaged some non-traditional organizations in WASH issues. Our list of funders for both the sector and for WASH Canada’s mission itself has grown every year. For example, we have worked with Grand Challenges Canada to encourage them to explicitly fund WASH projects in their calls for proposals on behalf of the Canadian Government’s multi-million dollar grants. In my last conversation with the Grand Challenges team, they assured us that WASH is now a major component of their grants funding and has steadily grown every year. For the first time ever they have funded a Menstrual Hygiene Grant (we consider this to be a key component of WASH and keeping girls in schools) in Africa for $ I Million this month. We have also heard from several partners who have applied and received Grand Challenges funding either individually or jointly.

WASH Canada has also succeeded in raising new donor interest to support its own mission and events. We have been fortunate to have the support of the Harbinger Foundation and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation since our inception. This funding has been instrumental in our making steady progress. Other examples of new funders that have come on board are: The Donner Canadian Foundation; The Martin Family Foundation and, most recently, Humber College

4.Hosting high profile events: to bring together practitioners, funders, researchers, academics, politicians and the public to interact and collectively plan for better WASH outcomes. Some examples of these include: a). The Women-in-Water Series (in partnership with United Nations University Rotary Club- Toronto Eglinton and H2O 4 All) held from September 18-20, 2012. This series, featuring 12 expert speakers, took place over three days and three cities Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa. The Honourable Maria Mutagamba, (who until very recently was the Minister of Water and the Environment for the Republic of Uganda) was the keynote speaker of the series. b) Innovation, Inspiration, Action on November 15, 2012 with representation from more than 30 organizations. The evening highlighted Canadian innovation in the WASH sector with speakers such as:
 Yu-Ling Cheng, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge award winner
 Stuart Taylor, IQ Director, IDE Canada, winner of the Wharton School’s Lipman Prize for innovative, market based WASH and hygiene projects.
Treana Peake, Fashion designer, founder of Obakki Foundation, social entrepreneur and water advocate. c). Highlighting Cooperation in the Water and Sanitation Sector, on May 14, 2013: Sixty people representing twenty-nine organizations attended. The themes of the evening were bridging research and practice and making the most of a changing political climate. Keynote address delivered by Chris Alexander, MP. d). Two WASH Coalition Round table discussions held by WASH Canada in Toronto and Ottawa (Feb. 18 and 24, 2014): to allow all our partners to get to know each other and help define the priorities of the coalition and a governance structure. e). Menstrual Hygiene Day Event on May 19, 2105: We hosted this event with Femme International in Canada and WASH United in Germany. The event took place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It included a screening of the acclaimed documentary Menstrual Man and a reception and discussion on the consequences of the lack of access to Menstrual Hygiene in the developing world.

5. Using Social Media for Regular Communication with our Partners and OutreachThe WASH Canada website is regularly updated and serves as a repository for all our actions and events. 

Newsletters: WASH Canada has been engaging its base with regular newsletters to all on our mailing list. All our newsletters can be accessed via our website: prior newsletters

Blog: I have posted more than 16 articles to the WASH Canada blog. Anyone can access and read present and past blog articles.

Twitter: We have an active twitter feed that I update whenever I come across something of interest to WASH enthusiasts. We currently have over 750 followers.

Facebook: This is another channel for sending out our messages globally to our over 560 friends.

Media Hits: Radio Canada International (RCI) interviewed WASH Canada on World Toilet Day (November 19, 2012). “Why should Canadians care about World Toilet Day?” Link: http://tinyurl.com/cc84okt

6. Encouraging the government and relevant Private Sectors to prioritize WASH as a development strategy: We have built a case for why WASH spending brings the best returns on investment in development, and worked hard to educate decision makers. We have initiated targeted advocacy actions to promote WASH. For example, when the Canadian Government declared Maternal Newborn Child Health (MNCH) to be its number one development priority, WASH Canada worked with its partnership to send a joint letter, signed by over 20 of our partners, along with an accompanying factsheet to the organizers of the summit and key politicians (including Minister Christian Paradis from DFATD, Minister Chris Alexander, the Director and various members of the CAN-MNCH steering committee) highlighting the connections between WASH and MNCH. This ensured that WASH was incorporated into MNCH targets and WASH Canada got a seat at the table at Prime Minister Harper’s high level MNCH summit in Toronto in May 2014.

We have personally met with and found enthusiasm for WASH among politicians of all parties. For example: Lois Brown (Conservative MP), Chris Alexander (Conservative MP – keynote speaker at one of our event’s); Dean Allison (Conservative); Mark Eyking (Liberal); Hélène Laverdière (NDP).

I also represented WASH Canada at three stakeholder discussions at large mining and extractive industries conferences, to ensure that WASH was on the agenda and part of discussions on stakeholder needs.

7.Linking to international WASH partnerships to increase our reach and impact: I am in regular contact with other international WASH coalitions such as WASH Advocates (in Washington DC, USA); End Water Poverty (UK); WASH in Schools (WinS) Partnership Network hosted by UNICEF, NY; WSSCC (Geneva), WASH United (Germany), etc. This helps the Canadian WASH movement to be counted as part of the larger global effort and we work together with our international partners to increase momentum, outreach and build on each other’s successes. For example, the recently celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day event in Toronto Canada on May 19 was co-hosted with Femme International, thanks to our being introduced by WASH United in Germany. We were counted as one of 126 events related to MH Day held in thirty-three countries, highlighted by WASH United. In addition, we found a new Canadian donor ‘Humber College’ to sponsor our efforts.

Impact of WASH Canada:

WASH Canada sees itself as a facilitator or catalyst that helped start a movement. A recap of the impact we can point to since 2012 as taken from our goals and activities:

  • WASH Canada currently provides a platform for collaboration, education and joint action for WASH practitioners and enthusiasts from all sectors. This existed in a very limited way in Canada before
  • We now have over forty partners committed to WASH, that understand the importance of working collectively and across sectors to increase impact
  • We have a mailing list of over 300 WASH enthusiasts and active social media outreach via our blogs, twitter feed, newsletters and Facebook site.
  • We have repeatedly brought together (with five high impact events) practitioners, funders, academics, researchers, politicians and the public to interact and collectively plan for better WASH outcomes.
  • We have collected data on research and spending on WASH in Canada so we are better informed, as a group, about the current landscape and any gaps that exist
  • We have engaged and interested some non-traditional organizations and new funders in WASH issues
  • We have met with and found enthusiasm for WASH among politicians of all parties.
  • We have advocated for prioritization and better outcomes related to global WASH with the Canadian Government and key public sector and private sector organizations ( such as Mining Companies)
  • We are in regular contact with other international WASH coalitions so that the Canadian WASH movement is counted as part of the larger global effort
  • We have broken down silos by encouraging cross-sector collaborations for funding, evaluation and joint implementation.

Please do visit our website: www.washcanada.ca for further details on our vision and activities.

Personal Reflection:

The WASH Canada campaign was launched as a 3-year initiative to provide a valuable and timely service to the WASH community. WASH Canada’s time is now up. On a personal note, I have left Toronto for Boston. Our funders, who have supported us for the past three years, are also ready to move on to other urgent interests.

As demonstrated, WASH Canada accomplished a lot of what it set out to do in a short period of time and with limited resources. We are today the only organization in Canada that brings together the entire WASH sector. Coalition partners can work on WASH priorities and projects together. The global community can now connect with a single entity in Canada that represents all WASH interests. We are slowly gaining traction with funders and with the Canadian government as the main channel to reach the entire WASH sector. We have connected many partners to each other and got WASH on the agenda as an integral part of key government priorities such as MNCH. The groundwork has been done, and we have a strong foundation for WASH in Canada. We also have a viable website which is a repository for most of the relevant information related to WASH in Canada including a snapshot of key WASH partners and social media channels for communication with Canadian WASH enthusiasts. We plan to leave this website up for the next couple of years.

We have spoken to our WASH coalition partners, multiple times over the past few months, about the need for coming up with a viable sustainability plan. This has been challenging, as there are various types of WASH organizations in the mix with different interests and abilities, especially to fund and organize a coalition such as ours. There is also a lot of movement among WASH professionals. We often lose people (along with their history of WASH interactions of their organizations within the coalition) when they move on to other jobs. The Canadian government has also had shifting international development priorities and representatives, so it has been hard to form a long-standing relationship with any one person or group related to WASH.

Our coalition partners have always remained very appreciative of what we have accomplished. The challenge, of course, is for them to now find a way to keep up the momentum and sustain the coalition. This will be particularly important when the partnership has a need to advocate for WASH or address a particular WASH related issue that come up. We after all still have to address a huge global crisis that is bigger than all of us combined. A few organizations within our coalition have expressed interest in taking the coalition forward. We hope they will pitch their ideas to the larger group and work out the details with them.

For my part, I plan to send out an email to all our partners shortly, listing a synopsis of what has been done so far and connecting them with each other. I will also leave my contact on the website, so whenever someone is ready to take the WASH coalition forward, they can connect with me for any details they may need. I am convinced it is only a matter of time till our WASH coalition partners figure out the best model to move forward.

It has been a real pleasure setting up WASH Canada and working with all of our funders and partners!

Best wishes,

Lotika Shaunik Paintal

Director, WASH Canada