Coming from a major NGO, we are often tagged as "implementers," by which people often mean that we directly deliver services. However, we are making concerted moves away from doing so. The argument against external funding for school WASH services has been well made by Peter Burr. Put simply, and especially in the case of public institutions like schools, directly delivering services risks undermining the social compact, exchanging short-term small gains in capital costs for long-term political will, institutional architecture and funding to provide services every day.
How then, can external funding be productive? NGOs and learning institutions should embrace the fact that we are smaller than the major external donors such as the World Bank (I will leave it to others to debate the impact of large external funding from the Bank) and don't have to live with the political realities, constraints and snail's pace of government. Because smaller institutions with lower levels of funding can be fast and nimble and operate outside of the official institutions, we can have outsize influence.
This then is the challenge for many of the organizations now in the position of directly delivering WASH in schools services (and who shouldn't be): how can we position ourselves as learners, influencers and advocates? The transition involves some sobering realities: (1) Many donors are currently more interested in funding direct service delivery; we have to learn to say, “no,” or even better, “here’s how your funds could have more influence” (2) It is cheaper to do this kind of work—mainly staff and some research costs with limited to no hardware—so there will be less funding flowing through NGOs (3) The skill sets needed are different. We will need less project managers and field officers and more staff with research and analysis skills and the ability to network with and influence policymakers.
While these realities imply serious changes in the way we do business, the payoff is that progress in meeting school WASH goals will be more sustainable as the systems and funds for operations and maintenance are brought online. And when improvements happen, they will more likely be at large, sometimes national, scale rather than a few latrine blocks here and a rainwater system there.