WASH 101: Stay In Your Lane

November 14, 2019

Posted by Amanda, Development Director

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If there is one thing that we’ve definitely established so far in this WASH 101 series, it is that there isn’t a single solution for making dirty water clean. Each solution needs to be scientifically, situationally, geographically and culturally appropriate for the family or community that will use it to access clean water.

That means that sometimes in this global fight to ensure universal, equitable access to clean water, the most valuable thing you can do is stay in your lane.

Real talk: We can’t all be experts on everything.

We can all know a little bit of something about many things.  We can all develop expertise in a few specific areas.  But it is unrealistic, unhealthy, and unhelpful to pretend that one single organization has all of the answers.

There are too many communities that need access to clean water for us to fall victim to that kind of hubris.

Some communities need rain water harvest systems. Other communities need wells. Other communities have access to public taps and need point-of-use treatment options. What that tells me is that as a sector, we need to have well-resourced and effective organizations that know how to deploy rain water harvest systems. We need well-resourced and effective organizations that are experts in drilling and maintaining wells. We need well-resourced and effective organizations that can provide point-of-use treatment options for a variety of contaminants including biological, chemical, and heavy metal pollutants.

The communities that need these solutions are scattered across the globe – in both developing and developed communities. So, we need to have [say it with me] well-resourced and effective organizations in Rwanda, in Argentina, in Iraq, in India, in Thailand, in Mexico, in the United States of America – and all of the other 188 countries around the world.

PAUSE! That was not a call to action for you to start your paperwork to create your own non-profit. Seriously, please don’t.

In most cases, these effective organizations exist already. These organizations, these experts are ready and able to do the hard work to deliver appropriate solutions to communities. But too often, we want to be the hero. We believe that our solution must be the right one, that we can make up for our ignorance with moxie and marketing.

Stay. In. Your. Lane.

But! You tell me, we feel called to help Christmas tree farmers in rural Aldovia!* That’s amazing. Passion is one of the pieces of this puzzle that is necessary for effective programs. But if you’ve never worked in Aldovia or implemented a program to distribute ceramic filters to Christmas tree farmers; if you’ve never dug a latrine or financed a micro-enterprise – do everyone a really big favor and call someone who has.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with an organization that wants to grow and tackle new challenges. 20 Liters wants to grow and tackle new challenges. 20 Liters wants to do things that we currently don’t know how to do.

But we can’t swerve into oncoming traffic to get where we’re going faster. It’s dangerous for us and it’s dangerous for the people around us – including the people we serve.

We need to stay in our lane. Evaluate what we don’t know. And then look for partners.

We may find a partner who can teach us what we need to know. We may find a partner who can implement using our resources. Or, we may find a partner that opens up possibilities that we never dreamed could happen. Maybe we will find that we end up with a wider lane… or maybe we will realize that we’re most effective if we stay focused on just one thing.

But in order to find a good partner – you need to be a good partner. Build trust. Share resources. Learn from one another. Advocate for one another. And still remember to stay in your lane.


Feeling passionate about helping a community access clean water but not sure about your next step?  Here are some ideas and links to get you started…

First, educate yourself. Our WASH 101 Series starts with W is for Water – and that should get you started on the journey to knowing a little bit of something about the WASH sector and the most common solutions for making dirty water clean.

Next, find a partner. I would suggest starting on Google with what you know. Know what kind of solution is going to work best? Search for organizations that currently use that solution. Know where you want to work? Search for organizations that currently work in that area. [Check out Guidestar to find more governance and financial information about potential partners.]

Then, take the time to make a list of specific questions that you need to answer. Finally, make some calls or send some emails to ask for advice. Be patient for responses and be ready to learn something new.


*This is not a real place or thing. But if you [like me] are a big fan of Hallmark Christmas Specials, check out A Christmas Prince on Netflix. You’re welcome.

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