In conversation with Eveline Viegas, Isuku Iwacu Chief of Party: #BeBoldForChange in WASH

In conversation with Eveline Viegas, Isuku Iwacu Chief of Party: #BeBoldForChange in WASH

In September of 2016, SNV signed a contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement Isuku Iwacu, a four-year project aiming to improve household sanitation in Rwanda and decrease childhood stunting. Isuku Iwacu will launch operations this March. To learn more about the project we asked its Chief of Party, Eveline Viegas, about the project’s startup.

Eveline Viegas (centre-left) with participants in Isuku Iwacu

Eveline Viegas (centre-left) with participants in Isuku Iwacu

What is Isuku Iwacu? What does the project hope to accomplish?

Isuku Iwacu is an innovative project that establishes SNV as a facilitator that brings together the private sector, the Rwandan Government, and households to create a market for improved sanitation in rural Rwanda. In total over its four-year implementation, Isuku Iwacu aims to help about 500,000 Rwandans gain access to improved household sanitation and ensure that an additional 1,000,000 Rwandans are living in open-defecation free (ODF) environments.

Rwanda approved its national sanitation policy and strategy on December 9th, 2016. The Government has recognised household sanitation as a priority; and the policy’s goal is to achieve universal access to sustainable sanitation solutions across the country by 2020. They recognise though that they cannot do it alone, and that private sector investment is a critical component. So it’s perfect timing to start this project in partnership with the Government.

There are three main components of this project. The first is BCC (Behaviour Change Communication) campaigns to help households understand the available financial and technical options for improving their sanitation. This includes working with microfinance organizations and banks to design customised and subsidised loans for low-income households to use for improving their sanitation. To meet this increased demand, the second component will build up the business capabilities of sanitation product and service providers. The final, unifying component is working with the Rwandan Government to improve their data management to improve planning and create an enabling environment for this new sanitation market.

Isuku Iwacu was awarded by USAID in September of 2016. How does a project of this scale get started?

The key is knowing your environment. It was quite scary to see the targets: 500,000 Rwandans gain improved sanitation, and helping one million live in ODF environments. Overall the project is quite ambitious. So how do you get started? You break it up and ask yourself: What is the foundation you need to establish? What are your entry points?

What became our entry points are Village Saving and Lending Associations. The project does not give out any handouts, so to help half-a-million people improve their sanitation, we’re betting on the effective use of the loans that we customise and subsidise. So the project starts by tapping into current lending and saving practices to make sure the loans are understood and can be used effectively. We’ll begin with an assessment to identify the groups that already exist that can help us plug into this system and expand it.

What do you expect some of the challenges might be, and how do you plan to meet them?

One of the first challenges will be the lack of availability of water, and the competing uses of water in the household. If I live in a rural household, and I go to the river to get what water I can, and it needs to be used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, it will be difficult to convince me that I should use my water for sanitation before other things. To meet this challenge, the project will, when possible, select villages for intervention that have existing water infrastructure. Access to water remains a critical challenge for Rwandans, and it impedes the ability of projects to successfully conduct behaviour change interventions. So another challenge that comes from this will be attracting private sector investment to household water infrastructure.

Another big challenge is developing a user-friendly and accessible BCC campaign. The solution here is coordination with other WASH projects to make sure that we don’t create an entirely new or duplicative BCC program. Instead, we hope to compliment those that already exist. In general when working with other programs, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Isuku Iwacu will tap into what already exists and ask: what’s our value added here? The value add for us is to help build the sanitation market through BCC campaigns that make sure households understand that loans for improving sanitation can be affordable and beneficial to the overall household. That’s why it’s important for us to segment the targeted households into groups and have customised loans, so the financing system can respond to the people involved.

Will gender considerations be incorporated into Isuku Iwacu? What role will women play in the project?

Traditionally in Rwanda, women are not the head of the household, yet household sanitation is considered a woman’s responsibility. Women are charged with maintaining household hygiene and sanitation, particularly in the areas of food preparation, childcare, children’s waste management, and routine handwashing. Women and children also play a key role in supporting WASH behaviours in the household, including being the main carriers of water.

Despite this, social constructs continue to restrict women’s involvement in decision-making regarding sanitation improvement opportunities. Gender issues pose specific barriers to health improvement goals, but also opportunities to empower women and advance gender equality through WASH activities.

So if you really want to make a change, women need to be a priority target. Isuku Iwacu was designed to address these barriers and reinforce motivators of women’s, and men’s, good sanitation and hygiene practices. The project’s gender integration plan was developed in partnership with the Government of Rwanda. The approach is to avoid creating further exclusion through gender-specific programming by incorporating gender considerations into programming overall.

Also, the project will deliberately incorporate female headed households.

International Women's Day 2017 will be observed on March, 8th. The theme of this year’s Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. How is this theme relevant to Isuku Iwacu?

Isuku Iwacu will build up the business capabilities of WASH product and service providers to meet the demand created among households. Many of these service providers will be entrepreneurs, others will be scaling up microenterprises.

The project recognises that women need to lead this role. Isuku Iwacu will push women to be bold, and to take their place in the sanitation and hygiene market. We need to recognise that if women have the largest sanitation role within the household, then they are best placed to create businesses that understand the needs of consumers. Who better to drive this process than the people who know the households’ sanitation needs, and can relate as a business to other households?

As the Chief of Party (COP) of Isuku Iwacu, you are responsible for leading the project as a whole, including project design, technical direction, and implementation. What is your day-to-day like in this position? And do you have any thoughts on being a woman in a position of leadership?

My day-to-day on this project is both demanding and fascinating. It’s a tricky project, but I’m very passionate about this project succeeding. I also greatly appreciate our technical team and the value that our partners bring to this project.

When our technical leads from SNV and from our partners discuss aspects of the project, it is my job to ask ‘so what?’ It is my job to realise what the technical approach will mean in practical application, and translate this into actions that will realise our goals. Over the next four years, I need to be vigilant in asking the same questions over and over again: How do we do it? With who? When? Where do we start? How do we get from here to there? And, what do the technical aspects mean in terms of accomplishing the goals of the project? I’m constantly reminding the team of what the end vision is.

SNV leads this project by acting as the facilitator that brings together the Rwandan Government, specifically the Ministries of Health of Infrastructure, the private sector, local partners and NGOs, and the households themselves to create a flourishing market for improved sanitation. SNV has extensive experience in this area, in particular from its multi-country Sustainable Hygiene & and Sanitation for All project. My role is to bring this wealth of experience in sanitation to the table with very different stakeholders with very different ideas and mobilise resources that facilitate achievement of our common goal. Different groups have different indicators they operate on, and different approaches. My role leading the project depends upon finding the strengths and complements among these approaches so we can bring them together to work as one solution.

On every project I get the same reaction. People ask, “How old are you? And, you’re a woman?” One thing that’s saved me is gaining experience with USAID. Being able to translate ideas and solutions into the language of development; that helps. Being straightforward and being able to speak the language is what makes it work.

If you could choose one thing for readers to understand about Isuku Iwacu, what would that be?

Take out a loan! It’s critical to the project that households understand that the loans facilitated through Isuku Iwacu have been customised to their situation. Many people we will be working with shy away from traditional loans, or think that they’re out of reach for them. The project will be partnering with financial institutions specifically to make these loans affordable and advantageous to households. A large part of the project will be helping households understand and take advantage of this loan system.