Celebrating six years of training more than 500 ‘agents for change’ for improved water and sanitation services across Africa and Asia


Photo: WaterAid

For the past six years, NIRAS has been running SUWAS, a Sida-funded water and sanitation training intervention, in Africa and Asia that has led to remarkable changes. At the end of March and the beginning of April, symposiums were held in Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to mark its successful closure. Similar events are planned in Asia, bringing together alumni from the respective countries, as well as representatives from relevant sector institutions, ministries and the Swedish Embassies to share outcomes and discuss synergies and future opportunities.

May 29, 2022

On a global scale, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than half of the global population does not have access to safely managed sanitation services. Unsafe water and sanitation conditions  pose a hazard towards many people’s health and also hamper education, economic development and gender equality. Money is not the only resource needed to address these challenges. Human capital, new skills and strengthening of capacity in the institutions and organisations that provide the services are critical.

In response to this challenge, the Sustainable Urban Water and Sanitation – Integrated Processes intervention – SUWAS for short – aimed to bolster capacity and enable planning and service provision that is more sustainable and equitable in the long run. Running since 2016 and winding down operations after six successful years, SUWAS spanned seventeen programmes and ten countries in Asia and Africa, implemented by NIRAS in partnership with the international organisation WaterAid. The intervention was part of Sida’s International Training Programmes (ITPs) modality, which supports building capacity and skills on themes where Sweden has extensive competencies, in this case on water and sanitation.

The ITP programmes that Sida has been providing together with our partners all over the world, such as NIRAS and WaterAid in this case, have proved that not only within a country but between countries, they have increased awareness of financial resources for one of the most basic human rights, which is access to water and sanitation. It has also raised awareness amongst politicians, who are normally not directly involved in these issues.

Annika Otterstedt Counsellor, Head of Section for Kenya Development Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden

people have participated in the SUWAS intervention across five countries in Africa and five countries in Asia


programmes have been completed since 2016

IMG 4338
Participants at the SUWAS Symposium in Kenya during a roundtable discussion on synergies for sustaining the results and collaborations from the SUWAS programme

Calling all ‘agents for change’ for participation in training programme

In order for SUWAS to be effective, the right kind of people had to participate in the programme – those with the mandate to affect change within their sphere of influence and the vision and drive to make it happen. To identify such individuals, when the programme launched in 2016, the project team reached out to key stakeholders, namely utility companies, local and regional government, ministries, regulatory agencies, NGOs, and universities, after which the institutions nominated relevant candidates for participation. Since that inaugural effort six years ago, SUWAS has completed 17 programmes, each running for approximately 15 months. This model has led to the successful participation of 500 stakeholders from a broad range of institutions across Asia and Africa. As the geographical focus has remained on certain cities and urban areas, some institutions had multiple participants over time, which has enabled a concerted and long-running approach to some change projects.

Left to right: Lisa Andersson, First Secretary/Senior Programme Manager at the Embassy of Sweden, Florence Gatome, NIRAS Africa country director, Annika Annika Otterstedt, Counsellor, Head of Section for Kenya Development Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden, Jenny Fredby, programme director for the Africa programmes and alumni Rono Obadiah, Narok County Government

“In my opinion, SUWAS is not like other training programmes. Neither does it come with a big budget for driving change but builds upon participants’ and institutions engagement and their own change projects. Supported with tools and skills for problem analysis and change management, they would identify the kind of change that was needed in their organisation and city and then map out how to make progress. Discussing as a team, they define the problem and then plan from there how to create buy-in and identify which stakeholders should be engaged. Ownership has been key to make it work,” says Jenny Fredby, programme director for the Africa programmes.

Annabell Waititu , who worked as national facilitator for the Kenyan participants agrees with the importance of participant and organisational engagement: “The good thing about SUWAS is that it focuses on helping participants to change the way they do things and it also helps them to look at what can be changed in their organisation, that way making their organisations more effective in the delivery of services to the people in their communities.”

A problem-driven approach and collaboration enabled strong impact

Interaction between stakeholders from the same cities and towns has been essential, as teams with participants from the same cities but different institutions have worked together often without knowing each other beforehand. “We brought them together to solve a joint problem,” says Jenny. “We have offered mentorship via the country mentors and national facilitators, both individual and team support, and we provided training on both technical components but also on managing change, how to involve stakeholders, how to communicate about change, how to define a problem and so on.”

Participants were also exposed to water and sanitation practices in Nordic countries with scheduled training sessions in Sweden and in their own countries as well as online during the COVID pandemic. “We brought in Swedish stakeholders, for instance water utilities . We then identified important issues of joint interest. For instance, we looked into the issue of a changing climate and how to manage increasing amounts of rainwater. How to plan for it and avoid flooding, for example? Swedish utilities are good at this and they showed how they handle these issues and there was sharing of experiences and knowledge between the professionals from different countries.”

SUWAS participants visiting Sweden as part of the programme

Turning challenges into opportunities

Many of the change projects the SUWAS participants launched aimed to tackle concrete challenges identified during the programme. Annabell mentions  how some projects in Nakuru looked into how to provide access to sanitation facilities free of charge for homeless people and poor families, which the county government has now picked up, as reflected in policy changes and that also reduce open defecation significantly. Another challenge many change projects tried to address was inadequate access to safe water. One of the water utilities  scaled up the change project of its SUWAS participants and began serving the poor people in informal settlements with individual household connections, although with an adjusted approach. The water utility partnered with an NGO while also working closely with the county government.

“It’s a win-win situation which is also what the water utility  discovered: once you give people water, they are happy, they will pay for it although you may need to adjust how connection fees are paid, maybe in smaller instalment rather than big lump sums,” says Annabell. “The SUWAS programme has really brought about a lot of changes in practice but also in the way people think - and this is why it is making a difference.”

I think the SUWAS programme is a very good example of how we can make progress to reach the SDG targets for water and sanitation globally – through collaboration, through team work, and bringing different stakeholders together where each can contribute within their mandate.

Daniel Ddiba, mentor for Kenya participants

Daniel Ddiba who works as a researcher with the Stockholm Environmental Institute facilitated some specific sessions while participants were in Sweden, and he also worked as mentor for the Kenyan participants. “One of the things that have been most inspiring to me in this programme is the fact that it has brought together different stakeholders, of course in each of the cities where SUWAS has been implemented, but also seeing the bridging between the different countries involved in the programme. Delivering progress towards SDG 6 – Sustainable Water and Sanitation – is not something that can be done by one individual alone, or by one organisation alone. It requires collaboration from the public sector, private sector, civil society actors, research institutions, and we have seen all these actors represented in the participating teams.”

Ackloyd Mubila, 36, an accounts executive at Kafubu Water and Sewarage Company diplays results of his Change Project in Revenue Collection Efficiency for Pamodzi and Chifubu peri urban areas. Photo: WaterAid.

Although SUWAS is closing its doors after six years of operation, the SUWAS legacy lives on in the change agents it has gathered and trained but more importantly connected across the WASH sector. Many participants joined the programme to expand their knowledge in terms of sustainable WASH access and service provision, be it from a utility company, government or NGO perspective, but walked away with so much more. As Harry Njung’e, a Kenyan water and sanitation expert from the water company in Naivasha  succinctly explains, “The programme has brought impact by being able to gather change agents across the WASH sector. The strong networks we have established through this programme will enable us to push the conversations further, even beyond SUWAS to ensure that we sustain the gains that we have started while ensuring WASH access in our country. I will work to ensure that we use these gains and continue to be change agents moving forward in the WASH sector both in Kenya and globally.”

Claus Aagaard Pedersen

Claus Aagaard Pedersen

Project Manager

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 8 545 533 27

Anna Liljelund Hedqvist

Anna Liljelund Hedqvist

Vice President

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 8 588 318 20