WASH Multi-sector Partnership between HSBC and World Vision Lanka
Learning from Initial Failures
Neluwa is one of the poorest divisional secretariats in the Galle District of Sri Lanka’s Southern Province. Before the project, less than 50% of its population had access to safe water. The lack of access to a continuous supply of safe drinking water, the absence of institutional arrangements for water regulation and the paucity of sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools significantly affected the lives of Neluwa residents. The consequences included the spread of water-borne diseases and low rate of school attendance by female students.
World Vision Lanka (WVL) identified Neluwa as a focus area, and from August 2016 to July 2017 partnered with HSBC Bank to implement a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project. The project adopted a multi-sector partnership approach, closely involving local communities of Neluwa and the Pradeshiya Sabha (legislative body that presides over third tier municipalities in Sri Lanka). This partnership arrangement was crucial to ensuring that HSBC and WVL effectively and appropriately addressed local WASH issues.
About the Stakeholders
Each of the stakeholders contributed to the USD $850, 000 project based on their expertise and resources.
World Vision Lanka, with strong experience working to alleviate WASH issues in Sri Lanka, has been steadily increasing its WASH capacity for the last 10 years. Therefore, WVL had technical and operational expertise to ensure the success of the project, and accordingly took charge of community mobilisation and the design, construction, and distribution of water and sanitation systems. Other responsibilities included forming user groups of people with shared values and goals who would regularly convene community consultation meetings. These user groups played an important role in accounting for community concerns — a key factor for the sustainability of the project. WVL also created water management committees comprised of community members who were trained in financial management and the operation and maintenance of water and sanitation systems installed. Community members underwent training in gender sensitivity, safe hygiene practices and environmental protection. WVL worked collaboratively with local authorities to make sure the project went as smoothly as possible.
The community in Neluwa provided labour for on the ground, physical work. For example, workers from the community did much of the trenching and ground preparation for the water pipe system.
The Pradeshiya Sabha facilitated the process of obtaining approvals from relevant authorities such as the Road Development Authority (RDA) and the Forestry Department.
In addition to its large monetary contribution, HSBC provided the manpower necessary to get the work done. Around 300 HSBC staff contributed a total of 2,500 working hours. Many of the staff provided training for communities and school children in basic hygiene and sanitation behaviour and participated in the construction activities such as water pipe laying and repainting schools. As well, HSBC continuously coordinated with WVL in keeping to the project timeline.
Challenges and Takeaways
Though the project was successful, it was not without its challenges. Because of differences in approaches, expectations and communication, HSBC and WVL experienced difficulties at the start of the partnership. A partnership project of this scale and nature was new for WVL, and WVL had to shift its thinking from a purely non-profit mindset to that of a corporate. For example, corporate expectations didn’t match with the WVL operational model, which incorporates a long-term development model. WVL historically seeks to start projects with community engagement and consultation, a process that takes a longer time to go through, to cater projects to local needs and foster a more sustainable model. HSBC, a corporate, has a more results-oriented model and thus expected to see results quickly, not anticipating that a process considering community-based engagement takes longer. Moreover, WVL’s method of reporting progress and communication didn’t adhere to specific and tight timelines and milestones, which made it hard for HSBC to comprehend the pace of the project. While WVL had more expertise and experience in WASH projects, WVL assumed that HSBC understood technical aspects and operational language and initially didn’t feel the need to unpack terms or procedures.
WVL regained the confidence lost by HSBC during the first few months of the project by establishing regular reports and discussions with the HSBC senior management and creating easy-to-follow step-by-step processes that included weekly milestones. Clarence Sutharsan, the Director of Corporate Partnership and Public Engagement at WVL, remarked, “through this project, I learned that simple steps to stick to the target, report in a timely manner and communicate frequently are crucial to make a partnership, especially a multi-sector partnership, work.” In other words, finding a common language to communicate is key to eliminating the distance between partners that operate in different manners.
Overall, the project improved the hygienic behavioural practices of 930 families in Neluwa. Through the installation of tap connections, those 930 families also gained access to safe and reliable drinking water at their doorstep. This contrasts from conditions before, in which some families had to walk 30 minutes to the closest water source, which still consisted of unsafe drinking water. Furthermore, before the installation of a water system in the mountainous area, people used to tap into water flowing from upstream — water that also contains wastes from communities living at higher elevations — which spread water-borne diseases and affected people downstream disproportionately. The project took into account accessibility of water and sanitation facilities for disabled people as well.
10 schools received water and sanitation facilities, and a total of 4,165 students underwent an awareness program on appropriate hygiene and sanitation behavior. As a result of these efforts, there was a 75% increase in knowledge of hygiene practices and school dropout rates of adolescent girls decreased by 50%.
The project oversaw training in 5 community-based organizations (CBOs), making sure that these CBOs have the capacity to maintain the water systems. The creation of a water safety development plan also ensures that the project is sustainable in the long run.
As for HSBC, staff morale increased significantly. Many HSBC staff volunteers stated in a review of the project that it was the first time they had visited such rural communities. In this sense, it eliminated the distance between communities in need and office workers who wouldn’t have otherwise had to worry about access to clean water and sanitation. The project humanized WASH issues for many of the HSBC staff. It was a rare chance for volunteers to get out of the office and work on the ground. In a lot of cases, many staff wanted to continually come back to help.
Experiences shared by enthusiastic HSBC staff volunteers increased the visibility of WVL. There was a marked increase in people wanting to donate to WVL WASH projects as more and more HSBC staff participated. For WVL, this WASH project in Neluwa provided a great learning experience. Adapting from initial failures, WVL learnt how to conduct large projects in partnership with corporates and hopes to scale up projects with other companies in the future.
Compiled and written by: Phearak Svay and Micaela Tam