ILE meeting 2016 in Indonesia

A win for WinS (WASH in schools): The UNICEF-GIZ partnership turns 10

A unique alignment of development partners working together over the last 10 years has supported major improvements in some countries and led to greater momentum for WASH in Schools.  

‘It’s shocking to see how few countries meet the criteria for basic WASH services,’ says Bella Monse, Senior Adviser to Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Regional Fit for School programme. For the last 10 years, she has been one of the main movers and shakers behind a highly effective partnership between GIZ and UNICEF (along with other development organisations such as Water Aid and Save the Children) which has been working hard to ensure all children have access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services in schools (WinS).  From the beginning, Bella’s vision has been for a partnership built on simple, effective, replicable and scaleable strategies for success. 

Starting in the Philippines: Championing a simple and harmonised approach 

Dr Michael Gnilo, now a sanitation and hygiene specialist at UNICEF’s headquarters, was previously Deputy Head of the WASH team in the Philippines Department of Education and involved in the beginnings of the Fit for School programme. Then it was still a small project providing schools in just a couple of provinces with an essential health care package consisting of group hand washing with soap, tooth brushing and bi-annual de-worming, with GIZ providing technical support (see GHPC, 2012). He says the trigger for expansion of the school programme and collaboration between development partners came with the H1N1 pandemic in Asia in 2008/9, when the government called for multi-ministerial action in response.  

Bella Monse quickly recognised the advantages of GIZ and UNICEF working together for a common end: It was an opportunity to draw up institutionalised policies and scale up the hand washing programme, which eventually became the Department of Education WASH in schools programme supported by the combined resources of development partners such as GIZ and UNICEF. GIZ’s technical advisers in ministries played a key role – and their insider knowledge worked well with UNICEF’s strategic policy overview. By working together the two agencies could reinforce the message and support the government to institutionalise WinS within the education sector as a basic necessity rather than a ‘nice to have’ luxury.

Irene Amongin (UNICEF), Bella Monse (GIZ), Christie Chatterley (JMP and WinS Network0 and Therese Mahon (Wateraid and WinS Network) address the ILE in Manila in 2019
Irene Amongin (UNICEF), Bella Monse (GIZ), Christie Chatterley (JMP and WinS Network0 and Therese Mahon (Wateraid and WinS Network) address the ILE in Manila in 2019

hilippines is a great example of collaboration between partners – academic institutions, national institutions, national and local government, GIZ and UNICEF, as well as NGOs like Save the Children etc.’ says Michael Gnilo, adding that a successful partnership depends on goals and aims to be aligned: GIZ and UNICEF gave the same message and support structure to governments. It also depends on ‘champions’, he says, describing Bella Monse as a ‘force of nature’ driving the partnership forwards. 

Monitoring for visible success

This collaboration generated several publications designed to promote simple, scalable and sustainable hygiene behaviour change programmes in schools to ensure that healthy habits are taught, practiced and integrated into daily routines of public schools. A simple but easy to follow performance benchmarking scheme – the Three Star Approach – was also introduced to help hold schools accountable and measure progress and award good performance – and in the process move from minimum to national standards in line with the then Millennium, and later the Sustainable Development Goals.  

The beauty of this approach is that it is easily replicable adopting four simple steps (see graphic below), and it has subsequently been taken up by many other countries in the region and beyond. ‘It was a nice tool to use because didn’t require additional resources,’ says Belinda Abraham, who in her former role as UNICEF’s Chief of WASH in Cambodia worked with the GIZ Fit for School team to introduce the Three Star approach there. 

Investing in networks for shared learning

From the beginning, the partnership was committed to shared learning, and this in turn has given further momentum to the regional WinS movement. ‘The process has helped our organisations to understand the nature of the problems faced and how WinS has evolved, and a shared vision of what it might look at in the future,’ says Brooke Yamakoshi, water sanitation and hygiene specialist in UNICEF East Asia and Pacific regional office, based in Bangkok. ‘That again contributes to the knowledge cycle because everybody’s learning together.’ 

As part of this learning process, capacity-building and research courses on WinS for local staff have been established at Emory University in Atlanta, with support from GIZ and UNICEF.  The course is now part of the university’s general offering, and GIZ is also currently developing a ‘Massive open online course (MOOC)’ with Stockholm International Water Institute and Emory University to reach a wider audience.  

The main platform for shared learning, however, is the annual International Learning Exchange (ILE) meeting, organised by the Fit for School programme in Asia and the Regional UNICEF Offices in Bangkok and Kathmandu and supported by the informal Global WinS Network.  With its focus on capacity building and sharing/aligning effective development tools, the ILE meets for a week, and organises field trips to schools and meetings with officials to facilitate county-to-country consultation and a learning exchange at regional and country level. Around 250 people usually attend, and the ILE provides a platform for countries to showcase their achievements in WinS, as well as reporting mechanisms for various WASH indicators that help to provide clear direction for implementing the 2030 SDGs.

International Learning Exchanges (ILE): ‘Where the magic happens’

Since the first meeting in the Philippines in 2012, the event has developed from a UNICEF-GIZ initiated and managed event to an established format involving high-level governmental representation, organised by host countries, such as Indonesia in 2016 (see clip below), allowing valuable government-to-government exchange. ‘That’s really where the magic happens in these country-to-country discussions,’ says Yamakoshi. 

The meeting involves a long planning phase of four to five months, which is a learning experience for the host country in itself, and the co-facilitation process means that UNICEF and GIZ staff work closely together, further strengthening the relationship between the two organisations in the region.  

For Dr Christie Chatterley, a WASH consultant for UNICEF and WHO on the Joint Monitoring Programme, personal relationships are key to the success of the ILE meetings. She attended her first one in 2016: ‘That was probably the best international meeting or conference I’d ever been to as far as effectiveness, advocacy and the likelihood that there would be action as a result of the meeting… I always leave the ILE feeling more positive about the sector.’ Whilst site visits to schools are useful and interesting, she says the greatest impact is that they offer a space that’s not a formal meeting room: ‘You’re on a bus together and you’re in a space where you can have informal discussions and compare experiences.’ 

Virtual ILE during COVID to keep the momentum

The last two ILE meetings had to be held virtually due to the pandemic, and this year’s meeting will also be held online. This, says Bella Monse, gives people who might not have otherwise been able to travel the opportunity to participate, and virtual visits to schools and breakout meetings give greater flexibility to focus on what’s relevant to that particular country – but she admits it is difficult to replicate those valuable personal contacts and networking opportunities online.

Nevertheless, says Brooke Yamakoshi, the virtual meetings have been very important in a rapidly changing pandemic environment, with schools opening and closing all the time: ‘It’s a great way to share experiences and inform that process of rapid learning.’ But as the immediate COVID crisis abates, she’s hoping the ILE will be able to revert to being a face-to-face meeting next year:  ‘Fingers crossed for 2023.’

‘COVID has definitely energised the advocacy for WinS,’ says Christie Chatterley. ‘There is so much more emphasis not only on the importance of WinS and the infrastructure needed, but also on getting more information on WASH and what facilities schools have and how we can improve these services quickly so that in pandemic crisis situation schools can reopen and stay open, as described in this article about WinS in times of COVID in Indonesia. The work the partnership had done already laid the foundations for this rapid scaling-up to address the crisis.

Partnership has led to marked improvements 

As a learning partnership, the collaboration between UNICEF and GIZ is constantly evolving. National status is now regularly reported in preparation for the ILE, and this in turn gives structure and momentum to country-reporting and monitoring mechanisms for the Joint Monitoring Programme report, published every two years to assess the status of WinS globally.  This year’s report suggests there have been marked improvements in WinS in countries where the GIZ-UNICEF partnership has been strong and in countries that have hosted the ILE. 

The Philippines Department of Education, for example, now has WinS data covering the last 5 years,  which shows really strong improvements in WinS – much faster than many other countries in the region. 

‘Always further to go’: Extending the WinS network to Africa

New challenges, however, are constantly coming onto the WinS agenda: The climate crisis means that schools need more sustainable water resources. Education systems in a post-COVID world are also changing and adapting to more digital and online learning, and the WinS movement will inevitably have to change too. ’It’s the nature of this thing called progress that the goal posts are always moving,’ says Brooke Yamakoshi. ‘You reach a false summit and look up and there’s always further to go.’ 

Now there are plans to expand the ILE format and partnership approach to Africa through the WinS network with a meeting in Dakar provisionally planned for November. ‘So much has been learned and done already, says Bella Monse. ‘Many lessons have been documented and many of them could be used and adapted to the African context.’ Preparation for the meeting would, she says, hopefully spur on activity and give WinS the same momentum that has been seen in Asia. India has also adopted the Three Star approach and is scaling up the initiative in the educational sector. ‘It’s a great example of learning,’ says Bella. 

The formula for success has paid off 

German development cooperation regards the realisation of the human right to water and sanitation as key to sustainable development and poverty reduction, but as the newly published JMP report shows there is still a long way to go and progress has to be accelerated to meet the 2030 Agenda of ensuring that all schools have universal access to basic WASH services. However, Belinda Abraham from the WinS Network thinks it’s impressive what the UNICEF-GIZ partnership has achieved over the last 10 years by combining 1- simple, sustainable and scalable measures with 2- a monitoring system that motivates and 3- international visibility through the regular Joint Monitoring (JMP) report. She is looking forward to intensified cooperation between UNICEF and GIZ in the years ahead. 

’There’s a lot to learn from this specific partnership,’ says Michael Gnilo. In his current job working in sanitation and hygiene at UNICEF headquarters, he’s trying to replicate the WinS partnership approach: ‘The formula works – the critical piece is finding the right champions in organisations.’ 

Ruth Evans, June 2022

© Department of Education, Philippines (2018) Three Stars Approach, p. 7.

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