A version of this article was originally posted on the WASHfunders.org blog.
At Stars Foundation, we have spent the last 12 years identifying and investing in exceptional organisations working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Since 2007, we have focused our energy on the annual Impact Awards — a program that recognises and rewards outstanding local organisations operating in the countries with the highest rates of under-five mortality.
Initially, we only accepted applications from local charities in Africa, but gradually expanded to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific by 2010. Winners were awarded for both their effective management and impact on the lives of children in one of three categories: Health, Education or Protection.
Using this model, we have established relationships with some of the best local organisations in the developing world; organisations that are embedded in their communities, responding to local needs with innovative and effective development programs that, admittedly, are always more integrated than the reductive category headlines above would have you believe.
This was certainly true for Restless Development Nepal and Action for Integrated Sustainable Development Association (AISDA) in Ethiopia. While they were ostensibly awarded for their impacts in education and health respectively, a large proportion of their development interventions involved water — improving access to it, and raising awareness of the hygiene and sanitation issues that surround it.
This is symptomatic of many of our local partners.
The connections between health, education and water are undeniable. And after a comprehensive strategic review last year, in which we interrogated our proxy measure for need — UNICEF’s under-five mortality index (PDF) — it was clear how crucial improving water, sanitation and hygiene is to child survival, and to effecting lasting impact at scale. Unsafe or inaccessible water and poor sanitation and hygiene contribute significantly to the number of preventable child deaths each year.
But our Awards program did not reflect that.
So, in recognition of its enormous impact on child survival, Stars will be awarding its first two Impact Awards in the WASH category this year, no longer conflating it with health or education.
Marketing to, assessing and awarding in a new category has not been without its challenges.
In every category of the Impact Awards, we remain fairly agnostic about the specific interventions themselves, and instead focus on the overall impact the organisation is having on the lives of children, as well as evaluate its management and governance practices.
And while we're thrilled with the results of the 2013 Awards, we recognise additional adjustments to the process may be needed as the level of technical expertise associated with assessing interventions in the WASH sector seem to be even more pronounced than in other categories.
We cannot reveal the names of the inaugural Stars Impact Award winners in WASH just yet (they will be announced at a ceremony mid-December 2013 and we'll post the winners here as well). But we can disclose that, unsurprisingly, local organisations working to improve the lives of children do not ever focus on just one development issue in isolation. Rather, they employ a range of projects and interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities' most vulnerable members.
That is the strength of local organisations. And we're delighted that adapting our award strategy accordingly with the addition of the WASH category means we can now support even more of them.