Reflections on the Past 6 Months

Leaving Kuria is always hard to do. But, I’m leaving absolutely delighted with the progress we’ve made, the direction we’re headed and the dedication and talent that my colleague Matt Lee, the new Water and Sanitation Program Manager, will bring to the program. The past 6 months I’ve been focusing my efforts on three things. For more on how I arrived at these three, check out an earlier post: Using Design Thinking for Water and Sanitation Solutions.

The well buy-in program

Mentoring and managing our local WatSan Managers

Training and empowering our volunteer WatSan Representatives

To meet the needs in these areas, we’ve launched some exciting new solutions that I’m really proud of. I’ll share some of the highlights of the first two items. But, I’ll save the third item for Matt, the co-creator of our new Water Training package, and let him share more about how we’re reaching farmers by showing videos and bringing our lessons out to the field.  Stay tuned for his debut blog post next week!

The Well Buy-In Program

In many rural villages in the Kuria District and throughout Kenya, the surface water is scarce and polluted but the groundwater is plentiful and clean. This led us to consider deep wells as a clean water solution. Admittedly deep wells require a large upfront investment, but they provide a long-term year-round water supply with limitless potential for a community-wide distribution system once electricity arrives and infrastructure is developed.

I’ll be honest, we got off to a bit of a rocky start with our first four deep wells. Features of our first round of deep wells included a well committee and a small user fee to cover future maintenance costs, which form a solid foundation for leadership and financial sustainability of the wells.  It was a good first attempt, but we hoped for a greater level of community ownership.

Contrast that with our second round, the Nyangiti well. (We made the strategic decision to drill one well and experiment further and try to increase community buy-in, which is integral to sustainability of the wells). We haven’t even drilled yet, and the community has already formed a well committee, they’ve gotten commitments from over 50 families who want to buy clean water, they’ve collected sand and bricks for construction, and they’ve raised 900 KSH to feed the drillers- that’s a lot of ugali.

What are we doing differently this time? We have launched our latest innovation – a Proposed Well Project Agreement, inspired by our friends at Bridge Water as I shared in my recent post, Well Drilling Buy-in and Ownership.  This Agreement facilitates a cost-sharing arrangement between the community and Nuru. The onus is on the community to form a well committee, provide local materials, get a commitment from potential users, and ensure that the well is accessible to everyone in the community, among other important things. Now, for the easy part – drilling the well…

Mentoring and managing our local WatSan Managers

We’ve found great value in using job requirements, professional expectations and performance evaluations. We agree with James Autry, author of The Servant Leader, that these tools are not just corporate paperwork, but can be “a tool to fine-tune understandings and provide assurance (the servant leadership way).” Using these tools here definitely hasn’t been easy.  It has required a lot of training for our local staff and commitment to giving constructive feedback, which can be exhausting and takes tremendous courage. But, when done well and consistently these tools provide a profound opportunity for growth and transformation.

A few examples:

Warning letters have helped us remove bad performers who were dragging the team down and to motivate others to meet or exceed expectations.

Bi-annual performance evaluations give our staff opportunities to improve and make choices about their future with Nuru.

The job responsibilities and professional expectations must be stated in plain language and translated into Kiswahili.

Constructive feedback has definitely increased around here and Nuru is growing a whole lot more than maize, we’re growing solid leaders! I’m grateful that the Water and Sanitation Program is in good hands and I have faith that our local staff will take the program to a whole new level and bring clean water and sanitation to Kuria.