Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Kris.

I agree with your 1st paragrapgh on the second one I have decided to read it as, we have various failures in the WASH sector and decolonising the sector can go a long way in addressing most of these challenges from a systemic lens towards ensuring that we realise VFM towards attaining SDG 6 effectively :-)
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Euphresia wrote: Kris wrote:

To summarize: the entire current setup isn't suitable for de-colonization, and current efforts are at most going to divert some
more funding from the global north into just as colonizing but maybe
superficially (as in skin color only) more diverse setups, likely
involving a lot of people that are even less self-motivated to solve the
issues in question. Hence, in my personal opinion it is probably better to accept current global north institutions (as bad and non-diverse as they are) but push for more open / patent free access to knowledge.

Already we have dwindling funding in the WASH sector, would you rather fix the system challenges or continue having no value for money invested by donors  in developing countries?


Well, that was kind of my point 😅 I believe pushing global north institutions to become more diverse will result in them investing in more "no value for money" projects. This is not because global south institutions that might potentially benefit are inherently inferior, but rather because most global north institutions are really bad at finding the right places to invest (in general).
With their own internal structures there is at least some more direct feedback on what works or not.

On the broader topic, yeah like Elisabeth suggests, lets try to find some more practical topics on what can be done. Painting things in broad strokes of "white supremacy everywhere" will just make people needlessly defensive 😉
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Thank you Euphresia for joining us here on the forum to field our questions, and thanks to all for speaking up, even if it's painful and risky. I am really glad this discussion is now continuing. I had posted in this thread in June (see on page 1) and was feeling a bit frustrated as to the lack of responses. 

Overall, I think we have to be a little bit careful though that we don't stray too far beyond sanitation topics because the whole topic of white privilege, white supremacy, racism, Black lives Matter etc. is huge and I am not sure if it's the right place to discuss it all here on the forum? I would prefer if we try to look at racism issues specifically in the WASH sector and specifically in SuSanA. Let's try to make it specific to us and our work so that it really helps us. (or if people want, we could start up a new sub-category where "broader" topics are allowed; we actually had the same issue when it came to Covid responses where some people wanted to keep this forum focused on sanitation topics only, and others (including me) said "let's discuss the wider Covid lock-down ramifications", see this thread here ) . 

Euphresia, you have linked to an article about white supremacy. When I think of white supremacy I think of Donald Trump and all that stuff in the US... The article that you linked to lists a lot of things that we probably all agree are wrong but I am surprised they are summarised under "white supremacy". Some of it looks more like "male dominated culture" or "cultural differences" or "bad management styles" etc. but I am really not sure if they are specifically linked to "white people":
https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html#

In your speech at the 30th SuSanA meeting you mentioned "white supremacy in the sector" and said "the problem is not the white people, it's the white supremacy" (even though you try to make it sound nice, it is still confusing for a white person to hear; it's a bit like saying "the problem is not black people, it's black people's attitudes"). All the people I have ever worked with during my time in the WASH sector have been anything but racist and I could not name a single person (or even organization) where I have felt that it was "white supremacy" at play. Power issues, incompetence, wrong decisions, sexism etc. yes - but white supremacy?  Maybe it's a question of definition. I am going by the definition of white supremacy as per Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_supremacy

White supremacy or white supremacism is the  racist  belief that  white people  are superior to those of other  races  and thus should dominate them. White supremacy has roots in the now-discredited doctrine of  scientific racism  and often relies on  pseudoscientific  arguments, and was a key justification for  Colonialism . It underlies a spectrum of contemporary movements including  neo-Confederates  and  neo-Nazism .

In your speech you also said we need to talk about failures. I think here you are speaking to the converted. Everyone here at SuSanA would agree that this needs doing. We have a dedicated sub-category on the forum for this and we all know that it should be done more (and that it's not easy; people are also worried about their jobs or their next funding):  forum.susana.org/learning-from-failures


In your speech you also said "we need to change our mindsets. We should change the norm so that African WASH knowledge platforms are no longer viewed as inferior". This really confuses me: Who exactly sees WASH knowledge platforms as inferior? I don't think anyone does? Which WASH knowledge platforms do you have in mind? I can think of ASK-net, sister-net, Cap-net or all the work coming out from WRC in South Africa. 
Actually, I have filtered the SuSanA partner database for sub-Saharan Africa plus local NGO, network, government-owned or university and it shows these 50 SuSanA partners:  https://www.susana.org/en/community/partners/list?vbl_14%5B92%5D=92&vbl_14%5B88%5D=88&vbl_14%5B94%5D=94&vbl_14%5B91%5D=91&vbl_2%5B13%5D=13&test=

It would never have occurred to me to think of any of them as inferior, far from it.

Another thing you said in your speech is that organisations should have a "communication + learning + adaptation department" and this should be separate from the marketing department.  I agree with that, sounds good. I think organisations in general should budget more for knowledge management, dissemination and outreach (and support the SuSanA discussion forum and Wikipedia along the way).

To re-iterate, this is a great conversation to have. Let's try to make it as specific as possible for the sanitation sector and to exactly what we (= SuSanA members and the organisations that we work for) should do differently. 

Here is again the link to Euphresia's speech at the SuSanA meeting in case anyone hasn't seen it yet:
Video of Euphresia's speech at the 30th SuSanA meeting (at 1:02:12)

Regards,
Elisabeth
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Discussionson decolonisation are quite sensitive and un-comfortable but we have to raise
the tough questions to move forward. It is also important for us as WASH
practitioners to take responsibility in making sound judgement of agenda from a
triangulated perspective and not face value.

Regardingyour questions, in my speech I had attempted to answer how we can resolve this
similar to what contributors on this topic. I am also attaching reads on
the same. On your second question, referring to my article on medium I believe knowledge
must be shared. In the spirit of development work, stopping the North aid or
trade to Africa to address de-colonisation will be more of responding to a
mosquito bite with a hammer. Also in my closing of the speech I indicated that
we work in the spirit of Ubuntu, meaningI am because we are – Humanity is one! - We need each other; SDG 17 affirms this. SDG 10 and SDG 16 underscore reducing inequalities, issues to do with inclusion and so on overall upholding the necessity of decolonisation.

  https://wash.leeds.ac.uk/what-the-f-how-we-failed-to-publish-a-journal-special-issue-on-failures/

https://realkm.com/2018/08/09/how-do-we-fix-the-worlds-very-unequal-knowledge-and-knowledge-management-map/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/its-time-to-put-an-end-to-supremacy-language-in-international-development/#disqus_thread

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13613324.2019.1679751?tab=permissions&scroll=top

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jul/17/african-businesses-black-entrepreneurs-us-investors

https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html#

https://beyonddevelopment.net/about-the-global-working-group-beyond-development/   
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

I am attaching Depinder Kapur's thought piece on the subject as well : www.ircwash.org/blog/decolonisation-wash...g-institutional-bias

I am just so glad that this discussion is really changing institution operations.
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Kris wrote:

To summarize: the entire current setup isn't suitable for de-colonization, and current efforts are at most going to divert some
more funding from the global north into just as colonizing but maybe
superficially (as in skin color only) more diverse setups, likely
involving a lot of people that are even less self-motivated to solve the
issues in question. Hence, in my personal opinion it is probably better to accept current global north institutions (as bad and non-diverse as they are) but push for more open / patent free access to knowledge.

Already we have dwindling funding in the WASH sector, would you rather fix the system challenges or continue having no value for money invested by donors  in developing countries?
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

I have been discussing this subject for 11 years and this is the first time I am being told it's not constructive; interestingly in USA we also
still got people who don't believe #BlackLivesMatter and the advocacy
against it is unnecessary on the other hand recently we are also
increasingly seeing most organizations, governments, people etc. coming
out strongly on their stand on equality, anti-racism and the likes and
as an African who knows where the shoe pinches, I choose to focus on
this positivity and advancement of human rights. The WASH sector is a
human rights sector and the principle of equality, fairness and good
governance must apply regardless. This is non-negotiable. Remember the
problem is not white people but white supremacy and my initial article
on de-colonising WASH knowledge and all contributions I have made on
knowledge platforms is very clear on this.

I also do not understand your stand; from your input at some point you
agree a challenge exists and equality in donor funded work is pertinent
and even demonstrate an example of your experience then you also say
that this conversation is not constructive. Well, this sector is very
contextualized to believe that equality in donor work is homogenous in
Africa because it worked for you in the countries you worked in. For
instance, how many donors are in SierraLeone, Ghana or Namibia? Are they
all applying the principles of transparency, accountability and
participation in their partnerships with Africans? Evidence is clear
from BIPOC WASH experts amongst other professionals who are sharing
their stories on the topic and giving win-win solutions that there is
need of de-colonising WASH sector, it is for these people and most
importantly ensuring we have impactful donor aid and trade in Africa
that this discussion is important and will continue remaining pertinent
even generations to come.

We need to come together in mutual dialogue and a willingness to change
and address power imbalances. There are so many reasons for WASH failure
and de-colonisation can help address this in a systems thinking
approach (referencing to input of various WASH stakeholders on various
knowledge platforms on how this can be attained), so our voices will
remain undaunted. All in all I would encourage you to read more about
the subject and understand it in its totality.
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

depinder wrote: 1. Who drives eh WASH Knowledge agenda - is this important for us to understand and dig deeper? If not then the debate ends. If yes, then de colonisation of WASH knowledge should happen at every level - including sub national to national. Not just north-south.


Yes definitely. High level centralization is probably a major deterrent for meaningful contributions from the global south. Of course (having fallen into the same trap before) this is often preferred by donors and other institutional actors from the global north as it appears much easier to engage with and apparent quick wins can be done easily. But unless it becomes a national agenda (with all the negative side effects as seen in India), central government/institutional staff is unlikely to contribute significantly in the medium to long term.

depinder wrote: 2. Are there WASH knowledge areas/perspectives/contexts that southern national experts are in a better position to understand? If no, then the debate ends here. If yes, then the debate shifts to how these issues can be brought up to international level and collaborations forged with north experts.


There is certainly a number of southern national experts that are "colonized" in the sense that they studied abroad and/or primarily learned from standard northern textbooks and now try to replicate/extend this knowledge back home. This isn't all bad, as they do push for better technology and services, but often it ends up being only feasible for a tiny percentage of the population due to broader social & economic constraints.
What I find striking though, is the relative lack of "home-grown" contributions especially from transitional countries that seemingly could add a lot to the international WASH knowledge sector. I somewhat suspect that this is due to language barrier (Brazil/China) and specific institutional and cultural issues (India, see also above). But I think a notable exception might be contributions from South Africa, at least in the past. Edit: If I would guess, this might be also due to a lack of externally funded projects in these countries that are compelled to document their findings to satisfy donor requirements.

depinder wrote: 3. Are the existing institutional WASH Knowledge Platforms inclusive? Are they representative of southern experts? If yes then fine, debate ends. If not, then lets identify areas of improvement. 

Probably not too much, but given the general lack of engagement I would rather question their overall relevance than debate finer details of inclusiveness...
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

amooijman wrote: An other observation. Having worked in the sector for so long is, that I see for the past 10 years or so, that countries in the North send more and more well-paid evaluators for programmes and projects. Politicians in the North, pushed by their tax-paying voters, want to be sure that money being provided to the South is being used efficiently and without fraude.  I agree that, indeed, this can feel like a colonial attitude.


I think the core problem isn't the foreign evaluators, and sadly I seen too many cases of "too friendly" evaluations especially (but not only) when evaluators came from the same country. In fact, I think nearly everyone agrees that the lack of accountability on all levels is often one if not the main issue with many development projects. However, rarely do external evaluations result in any change regarding this either...

But it does indeed start to feel a somewhat colonial when the goals of a project are too donor driven. An external evaluation just makes this painfully obvious when trying to measure the results compared to the stated goals.
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Its good to have an open discussion on this topic.

While we may all interpret this from our own experience and perspective, it will be good to define a few questions or atleast the critical areas of discussion first. Let me attempt this here. 

1. Who drives eh WASH Knowledge agenda - is this important for us to understand and dig deeper? If not then the debate ends. If yes, then de colonisation of WASH knowledge should happen at every level - including sub national to national. Not just north-south.

2. Are there WASH knowledge areas/perspectives/contexts that southern national experts are in a better position to understand? If no, then the debate ends here. If yes, then the debate shifts to how these issues can be brought up to international level and collaborations forged with north experts.

3. Are the existing institutional WASH Knowledge Platforms inclusive? Are they representative of southern experts? If yes then fine, debate ends. If not, then lets identify areas of improvement. 

Any other critical areas - if we start defining as a start?

Regards.

Depinder Kapur
Depinder Kapur is Director Water Programme at Centre for Science and Environment. He has taight at Shiv Nadar University and has lead the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform(SCBP) of National Institute of Urban Affairs. His professional engagements have been with AKRSP(Program Officer Forestry), SPWD(Sr. Program Officer), CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator) and as an independent consultant.

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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge" - and recording from Euphresia's speech at 30th SuSanA meeting

Thank you Kris and Depinder for your very honest and insightful contributions in this thread! I think it takes guts to post one's views in this thread because it's easy to "say the wrong thing" and then be regarded as another "insensitive Northerner" or something like that. 

I'd like to highlight this thought from Kris which I think is important:

Adding to that, various reasons (language and formal qualifications among them) result in a selection of mostly people from the rich urban upper-class of the global south being the ones getting the offered jobs and most of the interaction (despite having little intrinsic self-interest/motivation in most of the typical "development" topics), thus this can be hardly called de-colonisation.

From Depinder's post I'd like to highlight in particular this one which I found very important:

The caste and class or tribal community perspective - perhaps is difficult to capture from a northern lens. It is also a political issue that many southern experts don't want to touch. 



Meanwhile, Euphresia Luseka (the Kenyan Water Governance Expert whose article started this thread) gave a keynote speech (no slides) at the opening plenary of the SuSanA meeting. You can watch and listen here, it starts at 1:02:12 hours:minutes into the video:

Video at 1:02:12

If the link above doesn't take you to the right place just scroll forward to 1:02:12 here:



When I attended the webinar, I saw many people writing in the chat and felt there was still many things that needed to be discussed and explored. Hence I invite you all to continue the discussion in this thread.

Regards,
Elisabeth
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Elizabeth,

Institutions are made of individuals. To remove institutional bias - de colonisation of knowledge - requires an openness in questioning how the sub groups, individuals and parts of the large institution function. I had no intention to paint Susana as bad or IRC as good. You have been very supportive in encouraging participation. I am also part of the Susana Change Management Task Force, that has a representation from all parts of the world and organisational typologies. 

I would not have liked to share my experience but since you have been persistent in knowing why i made that comment on the WG 1, suffice to say that I had been persuading Working Group 1 Capacity Building to not just expand the WG 1 with representation from southern experts but to make the WG 1 more functional in terms of having more active WG Leads who work in collaboration with a group of active co leads and core group members who lead discussions, take the WG1 agenda forward - and this should be representative. When Capacity Building Factsheet revision mail was sent out, I had again reached out and asked for specific southern experts participation in this work. This recommendation was made when a small working group essentially from north was nominating itself to revise the Capacity Building Factsheet. Yes based on my persistence, I was asked to join the group thereafter. And am happy to contribute to the finalisation of the Factsheet that I believe, in partnership with some members of WG 1, has been a better output. Now out for peer review.

Hope this helps.

Coming back to the topic - de colonisation of WASH knowledge - the discussion is important to identify where we are failing in the agenda setting for WASH Knowledge and what needs to be done. The caste and class or tribal community perspective - perhaps is difficult to capture from a northern lens. It is also a political issue that many southern experts dont want to touch. 

Constantly challenging ourselves, not being defensive, not making it personal....................is perhaps the way to go. Hence I had identified the challenge as removing institutional bias. 
Depinder Kapur is Director Water Programme at Centre for Science and Environment. He has taight at Shiv Nadar University and has lead the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform(SCBP) of National Institute of Urban Affairs. His professional engagements have been with AKRSP(Program Officer Forestry), SPWD(Sr. Program Officer), CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator) and as an independent consultant.

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