Unify to amplify: collaborating for change (Story of Change)


The V4CP programme saw the need to advance the district-level sanitation and hygiene advocacy agenda to a national level. To this end, the programme supported the formation of a national Alliance for WASH Advocacy (A4WA). The alliance pulled together a wide range of civil society organisations and networks in the WASH sector. By working in tandem they unified, and thereby amplified, their voice for change. As a result, they managed to inspire the national Government to step up efforts to improve Ghana’s outdated sanitation governance structures, policies and processes.

This story illustrates how the DGIS-funded Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme influences systems change by empowering civil society organisations (CSOs) to become advocates for effective policies and practices. It bears testimony to the value of working with others towards a common goal, so that evidence can be amplified and become a powerful catalyst for progress on a wider scale.

The V4CP programme’s work in eight Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) caught the attention of the Government of Ghana because it provided tangible proof that better sanitation governance works. Yet the full potential of these results as a tool for advocacy came to fruition through collaboration.

The V4CP programme saw the need to advance the district-level sanitation and hygiene advocacy agenda to a national level. The aim was to trigger sectoral changes, such as an inclusive sector policy and improved sanitation governance structures, at the top. Changes at this level would not only help sustain progress, they would also strongly influence improved sanitation policy implementation and service delivery at the district level.

To this end, the programme supported the formation of a national Alliance for WASH Advocacy (A4WA), which included WaterAid Ghana, Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS), World Vision, SafeWater Network, SNV-Ghana, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Plan International Ghana, SkyFox Ltd, Intervention Forum (IF), UcSOND, NewEnergy and INTAGRAD.

The alliance pulled together a wide range of civil society organisations and networks in the Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) sector. By working in tandem they unified, and thereby amplified, their voice for change. As a result, they managed to inspire the national Government to step up efforts to improve Ghana’s outdated sanitation governance structures, policies and processes.

While there is still much to be done to sustain and secure progress through systemic reform, the alliance has set the wheels in motion. It has proved to be a powerful and effective force for better sanitation in Ghana.

A4WA team with the staff of the Ministry of Sanitation.

A4WA team with the staff of the Ministry of Sanitation.

A4WA presented two papers to the Ministry of Sanitation.

A4WA presented two papers to the Ministry of Sanitation.

Setting the scene

When the V4CP programme started working to improve sanitation and hygiene in Ghana in 2016, it faced an enormous challenge. A vast majority (83%) of people in rural areas lacked access to a toilet and faecal-related diseases were rife. Although concerns over poor sanitation were rising, the pace of progress was slow. This was largely because the country’s sanitation governance systems were outdated and lacked centralised co-ordination.

Given the scale of the problem, the V4CP programme decided to focus its efforts on eight MMDAs across four regions in Ghana: the Awutu Senya East Municipal and Awutu Senya District Assemblies in the Central Region; Jomoro and Nzema East Municipalities in the Western Region; Wa Municipal and Nandom District Assemblies in the Upper West Region; and East Gonja and West Gonja Municipalities in the Savannah Region. It hoped that, by improving sanitation in these districts, it could encourage the Government to review its current WASH policies and strategic documents. It also aimed to inspire it to improve the  coordination of sanitation and hygiene interventions across the country’s districts, through the establishment of an overarching National Sanitation Authority, for example.

The V4CP collaborated with four local CSOs to implement its programme - Intervention Forum, NewEnergy, Integrated Action for Community Development, and the United Civil Society Organizations for National Development. In light of its expertise in evidence-based advocacy and in strengthening governance systems, the V4CP set about increasing these CSOs’ capacity and empowering them with solid evidence and recommendations to back their advocacy efforts with district decision makers.

Shifting attitudes

In early 2017, following poor results of a sanitation survey for the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDG) baselines, the newly elected Government started to acknowledge the need to re-address the WASH sector. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo set new targets in line with SDG 6, to ensure universal access to sanitation. While the deadline for the SDGs is 2030, Goal 6 includes a target to increase access to basic sanitation and end open defecation as soon as 2025. He also announced the creation of a new Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources to provide sector policy direction in order to help the district assemblies put sanitation initiatives into motion across the country.

This increased Government support for district-level action on sanitation provided a fresh opportunity for the V4CP programme to advocate for a review of WASH policies with the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources and the Ministry of Local Governance and Rural Development, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of these policies. It also allowed them to step up their advocacy efforts with the District Assemblies and to push for greater participation of CSOs in their decision-making processes.

Over the following months, the V4CP programme managed to inspire the authorities and the private sector to act on the communities’ demands. As a result, access to sanitation services and products increased across the eight districts; one has since become the first in Ghana to be awarded district-wide open defecation free status.

Unify to amplify

A year later, although change was underway in these districts, it became evident that any lasting improvements towards better sanitation could only be secured if the issue was made a higher national priority. To sustain and support progress towards the SDG target of universal access to sanitation, a cohesive and well-funded national WASH programme was required.

To achieve this, the V4CP realised that it must amplify district advocacy to a national level and build consensus among everyone involved. Therefore, in September 2017, it supported one of the four civil society organisations, Intervention Forum (IF) in setting up the Alliance for WASH Advocacy at the national level.

The alliance aims to promote WASH access for all and to alleviate existing sector challenges through consensus building, advocacy and active role play in WASH policy agenda setting and implementation. Intervention Forum coordinates the group’s activities, which include: policy research; knowledge resource and information sharing; preparation and presentation of memos, position papers and communique targeting key governmental entities; coordinating responses to key sector developments; participating in key national-level WASH sector events and discussions; and media outreach. It also tracks progress on key commitments and sector indicators at the national level.

Ms. Nora Ollennu, Chief Executive Officer, Intervention Forum, recounts her experience with the alliance and the thinking of its members prior to its formation:

“Most felt that a vibrant advocacy machinery was needed to knock on doors and accelerate the existing advocacy wheels to bridge the WASH sector gaps both at the national and subnational levels. Thankfully, the Alliance for WASH Advocacy is doing this at the minute. It is raking several national-level WASH sector policy and implementation issues into view and drawing concerted efforts by all to drive evidence-based advocacy and agenda setting to address them.”

– Ms. Nora Ollennu, Chief Executive Officer, Intervention Forum

As the coordinating secretariat and leader of the alliance, Intervention Forum strengthened collaboration among the newly formed alliance and scaled up advocacy by engaging key national sector players and stakeholders, influencing agenda setting, and collating evidence provided by its WASH CSOs and networks. It was now ready to build a stronger advocacy case for national sanitation policy reform and pledged to support the Government in reaching its sanitation targets.

Ms. Ollennu continued: “Setting up the Alliance for WASH Advocacy is well and truly one of the foremost milestones in Intervention Forum’s advocacy work. When I first interacted with key WASH sector players ahead of its formation, it was very clear in everybody’s mind that achieving SDG 6 by 2030 would require all hands on deck, and that one of the surest ways of surmounting this would be to amplify voices at the national level.”

Evidence for advocacy

One of the alliance’s priorities was to advocate for an urgent review of Ghana’s outdated WASH policy landscape which still laid emphasis on the outdated Millennium Development Goals’ indicators. This was considered vital in order to sustain the district-level progress on sanitation so far, and to ensure Ghana’s attainment of the SDGs by 2030.

In 2018, the V4CP programme commissioned the alliance to assess key sector policies and strategy documents, including the National Water Policy and the National Environmental Sanitation Policy, which had not been revised since 2007 and 2010 respectively.

This research revealed how important it was to update the policy landscape in line with current needs and to realign them with the more recent SDGs and its targets. It highlighted a lack of clear guidance on the implementation structures that district governments should put in place. In addition, it underlined that opportunities for the private sector to participate in the sanitation sector were unclear, and that the budget allocation for local government to implement the policies was far too limited.

Modernising Ghana’s sanitation and hygiene policies

The alliance used this evidence to prioritise key issues to ensure that open, workable and updated WASH policies were put in place by the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources in line with SDG6, with an ultimate aim of leaving no one behind.

At a WASH meeting in Accra in June 2019, it presented two position papers to the Ministry. Based on the findings from the research, one paper called for a review of the role of private sector in WASH delivery and the other highlighted the urgent need to review and modernise outdated WASH policies, and to revise other strategic frameworks in order to realign them with the SDGs.

In response, Mr. Joseph Obeng–Poku, Chief Director of the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources, said:

“The policies serve as guide documents, so we are very much enthused with the idea of carrying out their review. We have a role to play and so does the alliance. We appreciate the efforts made by the alliance to contribute to this process. Our doors are continually open to get useful inputs like this which can shape the national policies going forward.”

– Mr. Joseph Obeng-Poku, Chief Director, Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources

This was a positive sign that the Ministry was strengthening its commitment to collaborate and address sanitation-related issues in the country. The strategy behind forming an alliance with a clear, common goal was proving to be effective.

In October 2019, the Ministry took steps to develop its concept, budget and Terms of Reference (ToR) for the revision of the 2010 Environmental Sanitation Policy and National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan, and to share these with key development partners across the country. Key among the focus areas outlined in the ToR was the need for the revision process to reflect the SDGs, cross cutting gender and social inclusion (GESI) issues and innovative solutions for current sector challenges (as highlighted by the alliance in its WASH policies’ assessment report and position paper).

Calls for a National Sanitation Authority

From its outset, the alliance had agreed that the Government of Ghana must establish a cohesive and well-funded national WASH programme to secure and sustain progress.

In November 2017 the alliance issued a communique at a WASH meeting in Accra. In it, they commended the Government on the establishment of the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources, which was proving to be valuable in ensuring sustainable sanitation and hygiene access for all Ghanaians, and praised its national campaign to change social attitudes on the importance of good sanitation. Yet it also pressed for a National Sanitation Authority and an associated National Sanitation Fund to be established to coordinate the district sanitation authorities and to consolidate district reporting on progress under one roof.

Subsequently, the alliance engaged the Government on the issue through other platforms. For example, on 5 March 2019, the alliance participated in a roundtable discussion on the status of the national sanitation campaign, organised by CONIWAS with the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources. A week later, it held further discussions on the need for a National Sanitation Authority with the Chief Director of the Ministry.

Nothing more was heard of this until 5 November 2019 when, in response to these advocacy efforts, the Vice President of Ghana, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, indicated at the 30th Mole WASH conference that the establishment of a National Sanitation Authority and a National Sanitation Fund was once again on the government’s agenda.

Towards better sanitation

The Alliance for WASH Advocacy has found that working together towards a common goal has increased their legitimacy and influence at national level.

Ms. Ollennu said: “Our primary object in this process has been to make the partnership as participatory and open as possible. This has seen us propose - and have accepted by all members - the lead rotation system, which allows for all member organisations to play active roles in the national advocacy process. This strategy aligns with our thinking that it takes all of us to bring our knowledge, resources and experience to the table and to complement each other all the way to achieve the change we desire to have. The journey has not been without bumps but there is a huge beam of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Today, the alliance continues to engage the Government in order to ensure that work towards establishing a new National Sanitation Authority and National Sanitation Fund continues. It is also monitoring the review of Ghana’s WASH policies and assessing how the refreshed policies can be applied in districts and communities. Once completed, this review will help ensure effective, efficient and timely implementation of better sanitation and hygiene governance and initiatives throughout Ghana’s 260 districts. It will also encourage the district authorities to develop more inclusive SDG policies and programmes in the longer term.

Mr. George Yorke, Head of Policy at WaterAid Ghana and member of the alliance, said:

“For me, over the period, we have done well. Together, we assessed the WASH policies, developed our position papers and this helped to highlight the WASH policy issues that ought to be targeted under the SDGs. These policies, given that their time of implementation had been long overdue, have to be reviewed. As a contribution by the alliance, the Ministry is now looking at reviewing the Environmental Sanitation Policy and the other policies.”

– Mr. George Yorke, Head of Policy, WaterAid Ghana

Who we are

The Voice for Change Partnership strengthens the capacities of civil society organisations to foster collaboration among relevant stakeholders, influence agenda-setting and hold the government and private sector accountable for their promises and actions. It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.