We want to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere by 2030. To speed up progress and achieve this ambitious goal, we must challenge accepted ways of working.

Working with communities who are marginalised or live in poverty requires creative approaches. Some of the challenges we face include:

  • How to empty full toilet pits, particularly in urban areas
  • How to maintain water pumps so they continue to make a lasting difference
  • How to change the behaviours 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 utility or authority
  • Embedded within broader plans to improve water and sanitation

Our groundbreaking approach to hygiene intervention

In Nepal, a mother will take her baby to an immunisation 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.

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Image: WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya

Our approach

Innovation is one of our core values and is 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 communities.

To make a bigger difference, we continually explore new and better ways of working in partnership. We tailor our solutions to the contexts in which we work, and collaborate 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 which helps communities to assess their own open defecation status and take steps to become open defecation free. We moulded the approach to the local culture and integrated it into government policy. And in Nepal, we launched a pioneering approach to promoting good hygiene in a routine vaccination programme.

Learning is a crucial part of innovation. We must be willing to let experiences 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 decentralised structure, with our programmes guided by our accountability framework
  • Adapting programmes to respond to lessons learned
  • Entrusting project management to local staff and partners
  • Ensuring sound risk management

Latest resources and expert opinion

Top image: Gita Roy, 38, inspects the water storage tank at the reverse osmosis plant she manages as the leader of the Golap Dol Women's Group in Tengrakhali village, Kadakati, Khulna Division, Bangladesh, May 2021.

Second image: Mothers with their babies attending a hygiene session at the District Hospital in Jajarkot, Nepal, May 2017.

Page last updated: April 2024