Researcher of the Month: Abel Dugange
Our Researcher of the Month this month is Abel Dugange, Director of Programmes at WaterAid Tanzania, who works on the SHARE Cities of Tomorrow research project. Being involved in research within the NGO sector, Abel tells us how he thinks NGOs can contribute to research, policy and practice in the WASH sector.
What is your background?
I joined the NGO world and worked for ActionAid for around 8 years, where I worked in different capacities, as a programme officer, then a programme coordinator, then a national coordinator for impact assessment and fundraising. I then joined ICAP as a regional programme manager, worked for two years and then I joined WaterAid. This is my fifth year in WaterAid, and I’ve served in two different capacities: as Head of Strategic Support (responsible for planning and M&E) and now as Director of Programmes (responsible for managing the organisation’s overall programming, project executions and ensuring strategic value of our projects in line with the existing country programmes strategy.)
What made you interested in WASH?
Throughout my working experience I’ve seen that WASH is aligned with so many thematic areas. For example, when I was in ActionAid, we used to do WASH but aligned to women’s rights. So water supply as a means to ensure women have access to their rights. Being here, I’ve learnt more that water a key to development, including education, economy, social development.
What are you currently working on?
My role is leading the programming aspect and providing strategic leadership for the programme team to ensure what we are implementing is in line with the sector challenges. I manage different projects, including the SHARE research, WASH in Health Care Facilities, rural water supply and Urban WASH. My role is to ensure we have all the necessary strategic engagement, we are profiling the research work in different ways – at the district level, at regional level and at national level. But also ensuring effective management of the partnerships. For us, partnerships are key. We don’t just conduct research for the purpose of publication, but for the purpose of informing the sector.
This research will be providing experience showing how we can adaptively manage sanitation in growing towns. The Babati of today is the Dar Es Salaam of tomorrow. Babati is a township today but is going to be a city – it’s among the fastest growing towns. Therefore you have to have a proper way of managing sanitation, looking at population growth and also the safe management of solid and liquid waste. This research will also uncover a lot in terms of what type of sanitation facilities are required for the different types of geological areas.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
What makes me enjoy my work is when we spend time finding solutions to challenges. I think there is a lot of acknowledgment of what we are doing. When we talk about WASH in healthcare facilities for instance, I remember the first proposal that two of us developed. And as we speak today, this proposal has informed the national engagement for WASH in HCF. Just the little work we have done. We’ve also been among the source of information for the global campaign for WASH in HCF. Through this small proposal we did, it’s helped us work internationally – that makes me happy. When I see this kind of success it makes me feel proud and happy.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I think forging partnerships is most challenging because when you speak about WASH you’re talking about a number of different perspectives – some are interested in water, some in sanitation and some in hygiene. But in terms of programming, you cannot separate this. That challenge also goes to the government – the government are a key partner for us, but forging partnerships with government is very difficult as you have a separate ministry for water and for health, who have their own ways of working. Forging partnerships across these are the biggest challenge.
How would you like your work to influence policy?
With everything we do we want to influence thinking. We have to change the way we think about our programming, planning and implementation of WASH. This will happen at different levels – if it’s at national level it should be influencing our thinking of how we can best support sanitation in different categories of cities. I think the Babati research will do that. We have an urban category, but there are many different levels of urban. We need to change the thinking of how to support sanitation services in growing towns, and we have to be more adaptive. Adaptive thinking has to be induced. When we developed our research protocol, we didn’t much consider spatial planning. But now we are working with a spatial planning consultant who sees benefit from integrating our work.
If there was one thing you could change about your work, what would it be?
The way we think – the NGO mentality – is no longer working effectively. When you think of the NGO sector, the way of delivering services has always been charity-focused. I think contextually, at a country level things have changed. Our nature of partnerships and programme designs have to adopt the changes. More specifically, how can we bring the private sector into our work? At WaterAid Tanzania we have started working on this, and we are exploring how we can ensure private sector engagement can help us deliver sustainable sanitation services. For examples, for our rural water supply project, we are already working with e-water, who work on water supply technology. We are piloting this in one district, and we’ve also started engaging with private sector foundations to explore more opportunities to work with the private sector.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in this area?
Ensuring relevance of what you do is the most important thing. You need to think in terms of the bigger picture in term of what you want to implement, and whether it’s relevant to the sector. There needs to be a continuous analysis of the context and ensuring you are doing adaptive planning and management to meet the changing demands of the sector challenges.