Babar Kabir

Innovation Forward and Backward: BRAC adapts its microcredit model to water, sanitation and hygiene

Innovators can sometimes be too fascinated with things that are radically new, when sometimes what’s needed are proven concepts adapted to new spaces. Not long ago, BRAC began experimenting with two ideas – local village organizations and entrepreneurialism – that we had applied long before in other spheres, adapting them to solve the problems of water, sanitation and hygiene through the WASH program.

In the 1970s, BRAC began helping women in poor communities form village organizations for microcredit to ensure access to savings and loans in hard-to-reach places. These social networks aren’t just collection mechanisms; they play a crucial role in controlling for risky loans and over-indebtedness. We have taken a similar approach in the WASH program, establishing Village WASH Committees to help make key decisions about program work.

Each Village WASH Committee has 11 members – six women and five men. They make annual plans to improve sanitation in the village, and meet every two months to assess progress and to identify emerging problems. Village WASH Committee members select sites for community water sources, mobilize funds from local people and organizations to invest in improving the village’s sanitation, and identify households to receive sanitation grants from BRAC and the Bangladeshi government’s Annual Development Program. The committee members also serve as educational leaders, presenting to schools and student groups.

BRAC Program participants

The second key program element is training local entrepreneurs as micro-franchisees to distribute goods and services at affordable prices for the poor. BRAC has long held monthly training refreshers for its network of community health volunteers, for example, who are self-employed women who sell or provide basic health goods and services to their neighbors. In the WASH program, we have done the same.

(Left: Women are collecting arsenic-free safe drinking water from a newly constructed water treatment plant in Chitalmari, Bagerhat.)

In 2011, BRAC held 4,624 training sessions for entrepreneurs who make and sell ring slabs, a key component in converting unsanitary latrines to hygienic ones. That same year, BRAC counted 84,617 converted latrines through the WASH program and its networks. Entrepreneurs such as Rasheda Saheb, who appears in the video below, also work alongside the Village WASH Committees as champions in their communities for better sanitation and hygiene habits. We estimate that BRAC’s WASH program now covers 55 million people.

In its latest phase, WASH is also beginning to experiment with two innovative monitoring and evaluation methods, a qualitative information system based on sanitation ladders and SenseMaker®, both of which are essentially ways to gather and analyze qualitative or narrative data at scale. You can learn more about the new evaluation methods in this series of posts from our monitoring and evaluation partner, the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. Innovation goes in many ways, so perhaps one day these methods might be extended to other BRAC programs.

Note: For more information on BRAC’s water, sanitation and hygiene program, view the video below, and/or read a recent Tweetchat featuring Babar Kabir and Joep Verhagen, senior program manager at the International Water and Sanitation Centre.

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