Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS)

Applying, researching, and learning about systems-based approaches to improve the sustainability of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services​.


Sustainable WASH Systems Initiative Logo


USAID has recognized that to achieve sustainability, local systems need to be engaged and strengthened. Under the 2017 U.S. Government Global Water Strategy USAID’s agency plan goal is to “increase the availability and sustainable management of safe water and sanitation for the unserved and most vulnerable.” Through SWS, USAID seeks to learn how to improve the sustainability of WASH services by using systems approaches.

SWS defines a systems approach as one that:

  • Seeks to understand the complexity, interactions, and interdependencies between actors and factors in a deliberate, rigorous manner;
  • Acts based on this understanding; and
  • Regularly adapts to feedback and changing conditions.
Activity Status: 

2016 - 2021

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The University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) leads a consortium of partners who are developing, demonstrating, learning about, and sharing evidence on systems-based approaches for improving the sustainability of WASH services. With implementation of systems-based approaches in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, USAID—and the broader WASH sector—will gain an understanding of how, and under what conditions, these approaches can be effectively applied in future programs.

SWS Steering Committee

The steering committee is comprised of leadership from our consortium member organizations.

  • Lucia Henry, Tetra Tech
  • John Butterworth, IRC
  • Rich Fromer, LINC
  • Adam Harvey, Whave
  • Rob Hope, University of Oxford
  • Elizabeth Jordan, USAID
  • Karl Linden, UCB
  • Harold Lockwood, AguaConsult
  • Shawn Peabody, EI
  • Daniel Hollander, UCB
  • Andrew Trevett, UNICEF

SWS Advisory Board Membership

SWS is advised by a group of respected members of the global WASH community.

  • Clare Battle, WaterAID-UK
  • Louis Boorstin, Osprey Foundation
  • Jenna Davis, Stanford University
  • Aaron Kabirizi, Uganda Ministry of Water and Environment
  • Adeeb Mahmud, FSG
  • Heather Skilling, DAI
  • Tjip Walker, USAID


SWS is developing a body of knowledge about the cost of different systems approaches, their benefits, and what is needed to sustain them; how to effectively apply these approaches to new or existing activities; the conditions that support and inhibit different approaches; and the effectiveness of certain approaches. Through a series of knowledge products, webinars, and other resources, SWS shares evidence and lessons related to systems approaches and tools with the broader WASH community.


Resource Type




IRC, Tetra Tech, and LINC are working with local actors in Ethiopia and Uganda to better understand and strengthen local systems for rural water and small town sanitation service delivery. In each location, SWS is promoting and facilitating learning alliances – stakeholder platforms for collaboration and shared learning – as a vehicle for improved sector coordination. These platforms bring together actors at the town, district, zonal, and regional levels to innovate and take collective actions to strengthen systems for sustaining WASH services. Inspired by principles of collective action, SWS is undertaking learning and research activities that involve researchers and implementing agencies working together to further understand the challenges and test solutions. Learn more here.

SWS Maps

UGANDA (Whave)

Whave is working to cultivate a sustainable model for rural water service delivery by testing a preventive maintenance approach in three pilot districts. Operating as a Ugandan regional service provider, Whave is signing multi-year preventive maintenance service agreements with communities that require community leaders to charge operation and maintenance tariffs, manage the collected funds in supervised bank accounts, and pay an annual service fee. An important component of this model is incentivizing local technicians to prevent breakdowns by paying them based on the number of days a water source is functional instead of paying them to make repairs. Whave is helping local governments build an effective institutional and regulatory structure to establish and enforce preventive maintenance services. When incentives are aligned and costs can be recovered locally, the system can continue to work, increasing the sustainability of rural water service provision. Learn more here.

SWS Maps

KENYA (University of Oxford and UNICEF)

Oxford and UNICEF, along with local partner Rural Focus, are developing, testing, and scaling-up the FundiFix model as one response to rural water challenges in Kitui County, Kenya. The goal is to provide a model for universal, rural water service delivery. FundiFix provides a performance-based approach to maintaining water infrastructure, using ‘smart handpumps’ that collect real-time information on abstraction volumes and breakdown incidents. Oxford and UNICEF are incubating the local Kenyan company Miambani Ltd. to provide preventive maintenance for small-piped schemes and handpumps. Learning about and documenting the risks and returns of this approach will provide insights and direction for government, private sector, and communities to establish an empirical basis for improving policy, practice, and investments for water security for the poor. Oxford and UNICEF are working closely with government and other stakeholders, using an existing platform of quarterly County WASH Forums, to strengthen the institutional coordination necessary for effective service delivery. Learn more here.

SWS Maps

CAMBODIA (WaterSHED and LINC), completed in January 2019

WaterSHED and LINC drew upon the principles of collective impact and systems thinking to bring together a diverse set of stakeholders, including government, private sector, NGOs, and donors, around a shared vision for universal sanitation and hygienic environments. With SWS support, stakeholders collaborated to develop a common measurement framework and to align mutually reinforcing activities. Systems mapping and analysis tools were used to effectively identify and engage relevant local actors, collectively prioritize high potential areas of collaboration to achieve sector goals, and better understand how collective efforts contribute to sustainable rural sanitation and hygiene services. Learn more about WaterSHED here.

Contact Us

Elizabeth Jordan, USAID,