We want to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere. To speed up progress and achieve this ambitious goal, we must challenge accepted ways of working in everything we do.

The communities in which we work in often include people living in poverty, people facing marginalization, overcrowding, remote rural locations – this requires creative approaches. Just some of the challenges we face are:

  • How to empty full toilet pits, particularly in urban areas.
  • How to maintain water pumps so they go on making a lasting difference.
  • How to change the behaviors of communities and service providers so improvements really stick.

Innovation is not just about technology. It’s about testing new ideas and cultivating a culture of learning and continual adaption.

Our experience consistently shows that successful innovations are:

  • Developed in response to people’s specific needs.
  • Led by a local water and sanitation agency or authority.
  • Embedded within broader plans to improve water and sanitation.

Our groundbreaking approach to hygiene intervention

In Nepal, a new mother will take her baby to a vaccination clinic at least five times in the first nine months of the child's life. It’s the perfect opportunity to promote hygiene behaviour change and improve health among infants.

Female health volunteer conducting hygiene session at District Hospital Khalanga, Jajarkot, Nepal, May 2017.;
Image: WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya

Our approach

Innovation is one of our core values and central to our global strategy.

We use pioneering technologies, especially for water pumps and toilets, but technology alone does not have a transformative, sustainable impact on communities.

To make a bigger difference, we continually explore new, better ways of working in partnership. We tailor our solutions to the contexts we work in and work together with authorities and other sectors to embed them in wider plans and scale them up.

For example, in Burkina Faso, we adapted community-led total sanitation (CLTS). This helps communities to assess their  open defecation status and take steps to become open defecation free. We moulded it to the local culture and integrated it into government policy. And in Nepal we launched a pioneering new approach to promoting good hygiene in a routine vaccination program.

Learning is a crucial part of innovation – we must be willing to let experience influence our plans and be flexible to adapt to challenges as they happen. One instance of this is our work with entrepreneurs, in which we are testing different business models for emptying toilet pits.

We create an ethos of sharing, honesty and learning through:

  • A decentralized structure, with our programs guided by our accountability framework.
  • Adapting programs to respond to lessons learned.
  • Entrusting project management to local staff and partners.
  • Ensuring sound risk management.

Only by changing normal can we reach everyone, everywhere.