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Providing Access to Safe Water: Lessons Learned from Two Decades of Philanthropic Investment in the Rural Poor

by Tanvi Nagpal

Sep 1, 2012
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been a leading U.S. funder for increasing safe water access for over 20 years. The author reflects on that history to describe valuable lessons, especially on partnership (in the context of West Africa Water Initiative), and how to think strategically in the long- and short-term about efficient and sustainable WASH funding.
  • While the Foundation has made the strategic decision to focus on water in keeping with its vision, priorities, and strengths, this may in the future limit its ability to work with smaller actors who cannot raise sufficient matches to fund sanitation and hygiene to complement water access. The author suggests that the Foundation make more exceptions to its rule that grantees raise a matched amount of funds.
  • Monitoring health outcomes is complex and expensive. No grantees have established monitoring systems that can rigorously track health outcomes.
  • Partnership is no longer a precondition for support at the Hilton Foundation--collaborations that do not arise naturally may have goal misalignment or power imbalance.
  • By keeping continuity in target locations long-term, the Foundation builds on past investments.
  • The Foundation is committed to the "ultra-poor" in remote, rural areas, which often translates into much higher operating costs.
  • To incorporate more rigorous monitoring of sustainability, impact outcomes, best practices, and learning into its grants in coming years, the Foundation has made a grant to the UNC Water Institute to assess currently used WASH standards and indicators and select those to be tracked in Hilton-funded programs in the future.
  • A comparison of the alternative approaches adopted by various grantees, their costs and benefits over time, and the scalability of their methods would be tremendously useful to the sector.