Sharing Perspectives

Nov 06, 2012


Glenn Austin
WASH Group Leader for the Safe Water Project at PATH


Hurricane Sandy brushed lightly by Chapel Hill as the annual UNC Water and Health conference unfolded. I was sucked into the conference right from the start, even missing the wild Halloween scene on Franklin Street! As in previous years, I was impressed with the range and relevance of the presenters and attendees. All aspects of WASH have evolved dramatically over the three short years the conference has been held. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the meeting of the WHO Network for Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage. There, our Safe Water Project team launched Perspectives magazine, which shares findings, tools, and approaches from our six-year learning initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  It was great to hear from attendees how relevant they found Perspectives in light of our changing world.


Especially gratifying was to see how attendees of the Safe Water Project workshop engaged with the three sets of WASH tools we shared. After overview presentations, we were to breakout for 25 minutes and reassemble for a discussion, yet no one wanted to leave. The cleaning crew chased us out at 5:15, after our discussions extended for nearly an hour.

Products and people were the main focus of a small but passionate group who met with Robyn Wilmouth, Safe Water Project engineer. Playing with new products, filters, and taps was complemented by video and deeper discussions of how to get it right with end users.

The largest crowd sat circled around Tim Elliott, our commercialization lead, as he dove into the Commercialization Toolkit.  The group discussed the tools' relevance to all WASH actors, including smaller NGOs who seek efficiency, social enterprises who want sustainability, and even governments as they consider creating enabling environments that support provision of health-giving durable products through consumer-driven approaches.

Another animated and attentive group, led by Liz Blanton, our research and evaluation manager, discussed how to meet the needs of communities with nascent or non-existent commercial markets. This group examined strategies to understand community needs, constraints, and desires as prerequisites to providing tools that enable communities to create and maintain their own WASH solutions.  

Robyn, Tim, and Liz are just a small part of the dedicated and diverse team representing many different disciplines and partner organizations from the Safe Water Project. Together we've learned through failure, iteration, and inspiration over the past six years. Today our tools are much sharper and some of our models are continuing to thrive, scale, and evolve for changing and local challenges. The Perspectives magazine is chock full of photos and stories from our team. We worked to distill our learning to be easy to find, absorb, and probe. I hope you find it useful.