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Inspiring to act and breaking the mould at the WSSCC Global Forum in Mumbai

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The WSSCC Forum in Mumbai has been simply amazing. I do not regret having set aside time to come and thanks to Robert and Petra for the encouragement and support. I have been on the move a lot since July 2011. I arrived here on Sunday 9th 2011 around 4am. The inauguration was amazing and really colourful. We had a taste of Indian culture through music, drumming and dance. However, looking around the hall I could not tell if people enjoyed the music or not. I guess I am used to African Music where it is difficult to remain in your seat once the artists are on stage. It reminded me of a Lady Smith Black Mambazo concert I had been to the previous week in Nairobi where even my two year old son could not resist dancing. All in all the reception set the right atmosphere for the 1st Global Forum Sanitation and Hygiene organized by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) which brought together about 500 participants from around the globe. It was great to meet colleagues from other Plan International countries all together about 14 participants, 10 of whom came from West, East and Southern Africa.

Inspiring to act and breaking the mould was the focus of the plenary session on the first day of the forum. Speakers were not the usual suspects of the sanitation sectors. In seeking pro-poor change, what can the sanitation and hygiene sectors learn from other sectors? The speakers who responded to this questions I must say were quite inspirational and visionary. Coming from humble beginnings, like my fellow country man David Kuria CEO of Ecotat a social entrepreneur and inventor of the Iko toilet, speaker after speaker shared how they had used their positions and power to improve lives of millions of people. Anna Tibaijuka, WSSCC chair and a Minister of Lands in Tanzania, who could not make it to the Forum because she had to lead a Tanzanian Government delegation to the funeral of Nobel Prize winner Professor Wangari spoke to us through a video link and reminded us of how many women, children and communities had been touched through the great work of the Green Belt Movement that Wangari Mathai founded in 1970s. Had she been alive –she had been invited to speak in the WSSCC Global Sanitation and Hygiene Forum.

The plenary sessions set us on the right footing with the afternoon session jogging our brains with very engaging speakers who made us reflect on what changes behaviour and even start questioning what it is we are not doing right in our efforts to facilitate behaviour change in sanitation and hygiene. To be honest I found myself wondering if we (professionals and institutions) are not the ones who need to change our behaviour in terms of ways of working our motivation – are we really committed to seeing change and working ourselves out of the job? No wonder then in an Open Space session to identify important themes and launch Communities of Practice, the theme Behaviour Change was scored the highest.

I came here with a full agenda with 3 sessions where I was expected to make a major input. The first one was the CLTS debate. This was sending shivers down my spine. It was ironical that someone who four years ago had written an article Sceptics and Evangelists- considered by proponents of CLTS as too critical was expected to lead the proposition side of a polarized debate to advocate for “pure” CLTS. The idea was that there would be a debate between those in favour of CLTS only and those for a mix of CLTS and other approaches (CLTS++ PHAST, SANMARK). I remember meeting one of the organizers about 3 hours before the sessions and asking her how they were really expecting people to decide on which side to take given that most of the assertions against CLTS were based on misunderstanding or misuse of CLTS e.g. CLTS not integrating hygiene aspects or CLTS advocating for simple and unsustainable latrines. CLTS does include hygiene promotion –it is a key consideration during ODF verification. Also CLTS does not advocate for any latrine designs, rather people decide to end OD and decide on their own what they want to do.

Well as I walked into what looked like a very adversarial room I did not know what to expect. There were ushers handing over what looked like post cards with two questions. If you answered no to CLTS being mixed with other methods you were directed to the left side of the room and if yes to the right side. I noticed that Robert and Kamal were hesitant in filling in the cards to a point of causing a scene – no doubt they were more scared than I was. All three of us had been assigned a role to play in this session. Kamal would refresh people’s minds on the principles, I would lead the team for “Pure CLTS” and Robert would be a neutral listener and who would give a summary at the end of the debate. Robert had placed his chair in the middle of the two sides, at the back and near the entrance as if to make sure he could run out if things got hot! After a brief introduction of the session by the moderator, Masud from VERC gave the story of the first ODF village in Bangladesh, Ada Oko-Williams gave the story of spread of CLTS in Africa and then Kamal a brief overview of CLTS principles. For the first time, Kamal was able to do this in under 10 minutes.

I think the organizers of the session were smart to read the mood and sense the tension in the room. When the moderator said that we would be breaking to about 5 groups to respond to key questions and feedback in plenary, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was like music to my ears. I can’t remember the exact questions but they were around: a) Compatibility of CLTS with other methods; b) Sustainability beyond ODF; c) CLTS and Subsidy; d) Cultural taboos; and e) Use of Shame which to me was about language of CLTS and the aspect of evoking negative emotions which nevertheless have positive consequences. The discussions were quite orderly and the outcomes great. Each group was given 5 minutes to report back – I reported for mine. Robert was almost forgotten at the end and he had to claim his space to give a summary – no doubt he had his briefing notes worked out way before the session – he referred the participants to the Lukenya Notes and I could add to the list and suggest they read the Tales of Shit Section on Taboos, Going to Scale Challenges and Opportunities or better still the entire issue.

The second of my engagements was the Urban CLTS experiences from Mathare 10. This session was packed to the doors. I would have done this with Rose Nyawira but she had to drop out at the last minute so I was all by myself. Though it enlisted a lot of interest and was well appreciated I could not help but think that there are still people who feel like we are going up the stream as the challenges in the urban environment are wide-ranging: from land tenure and politics to governance of urban sanitation among others. I did make it clear – in my third engagement – though that CLTS in an urban setting and combined with the social media tools was a very powerful tool for galvanizing citizen collective action and building a movement for change and that it is just a matter of time before we can see the dividends. I was able to demonstrate this the following day when I shared the experiences of using Participatory GIS, Mobile Phones and Social Media for collecting data and engaging with stakeholder (presentation to follow shortly).

The Forum ends tomorrow and no doubt it has been a great success. The networking in the sanitation fair stalls area and side meetings has been great. I have been able to interact with colleagues from the civil society, Plan colleagues, African government colleagues, WSSCC staff, UN, donors, academicians and the private sector. An introductory session on www.DevInfo.org was a great eye opener. Why this information has not been widely circulated to development agencies leaves a lot to be desired. Such as resource would save development agencies a lot of resources and time spend in undertaking baselines and studies. I have already written to the point persons for Kenya and gotten a response and I plan to organize a meeting with them when I am back in Kenya.

Date: 14 October 2011