Learning Series on engaging the Private Sector in Inclusive WASH


Photo by: Sereypanha Sith (iDE Cambodia)

ISF-UTS, along with the Water for Women Fund Partners (iDE, SNV, RTI, East Meets West/Thrive Networks) organised a learning series to better understand how the private sector can contribute to improved and inclusive WASH services. As part of this initiative, ISF-UTS organised two webinars bringing together Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who work with the private sector in WASH programs to share their experiences, challenges and recommendations. The learning series was supported by a curated reading list, compiling key resources related to private sector engagement in WASH, with a focus on inclusion. The reading list can be accessed here.

During the first webinar (1 September 2021), participants shared the various modes in which they are working with the private sector, and the contextual factors that they have taken into account to define their approaches to engaging the private sector. The discussions showed the breadth of ways in which WASH CSOs engage the private sector – from small-scale enterprises, to large networks and organisations that facilitate partnerships between diverse stakeholders and contribute to create an enabling environment in the WASH sector.

The second webinar (14 October 2021) focussed on how organisations support gender equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI) in partnership with private sector actors in their WASH programs. iDE and SHE Investments shared their experience of supporting women latrine business owners in Cambodia, through a video designed and developed for the learning series. The webinar also included interactive sessions which enabled participants to discuss the opportunities and challenges that the WASH sector has in strengthening inclusion through the private sector and how they are addressing these challenges. Some of the ideas that participants identified included the following:

Benefits of applying a GEDSI lens to engagement with the private sector:

  1. Promoting diversity and inclusion in WASH service provision, including empowerment of women and other marginalised people, both as providers and users of WASH products and services.
  2. Increased awareness and a better understanding among private sector organisations of the differentiated needs of diverse groups.
  3. Benefits to society, including creation of equal opportunities and economic empowerment of all.

Strategies for WASH actors to strengthen GEDSI through their engagement with the private sector:

  1. Collaborating with rights holder organisations/local GEDSI experts (beyond WASH) and local government.
  2. Engaging both men and women together in WASH programs as a way to ‘Do No Harm’ and encourage a transformative process to support women as entrepreneurs.
  3. Taking an evidence-based approach, for instance conducting a WASH supply chain analysis in a country or market context and including in this how women are being engaged at each stage of the supply chain (their opportunities, constraints, barriers etc.)

A learning brief will be developed to bring together information and insights from the learning series in early 2022. This brief will help to inform future programming and investments related to private sector engagement in WASH, with a focus on inclusion.

For more of ISF’s research on this topic, please see: Gender equality and women in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) enterprises in Cambodia: synthesis of recent studies. Available at: https://waterforwomen.uts.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/57/2020/06/Cambodia-Enterprise-Synthesis.pdf