African Sanitation Academy: Market and Feasibility Study in East Africa


There are still many people who do not have access to improved sanitation and hygiene facilities or services in East Africa. For cities and other areas throughout the region, a lack of core country systems for sanitation, and a weak enabling environment, means that the building blocks for sanitation management and leadership are absent. To make the situation more challenging, targeting and implementation of sanitation improvements are clearly not meeting the needs of lower-income areas. Tackling the problem of pro-poor urban sanitation requires vision and innovation, which are strongly linked to the capacity of staff within utilities and municipalities.

The feasibility study examined various models for leadership development both inside and outside the sanitation sector. Leaders do not necessarily need a technical background, because they can gather the necessary technical skills from their team. What they do need is vision and the ability to inspire and develop a strategy to be executed. However, there is another level of leaders, whose skills can be acquired through classroom-based learning and consolidated in the field. It is these leaders who are needed to ensure that implementation efforts are maximized and efficient in the region’s sanitation sector.

The models and approaches examined include more traditional face-to-face training through to approaches that capitalize on technology. What is apparent in the feedback from key informants is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Their feedback pointed to three top factors that influence leadership:

  • Experience: Leadership comes not only from courses and training, but also from experience, learning-by-doing, working collaboratively, and exposure to good leadership examples.
  • Mentors: Having an experienced mentor to show them the ropes, or encourage them to try new ideas and think outside of the box.
  • Communication: The importance of having a voice, that being able to communicate effectively inside and outside the sector and be recognized has been a key aspect of becoming a leader.

Solutions to address these top three factors could include:

  • Short courses: Several sanitation short courses are offered in the region by official institutions. Technical courses are also offered by overseas institutes and regional training institutions. There are several online courses in sanitation-related subjects available.
  • Online courses: Online courses have the advantage of not being location specific, and are theoretically available to all. However, they also rely on internet connectivity, which can be problematic in some areas. As with other courses, the provision of a certificate of completion of an online course is likely to be important to trainees in the East Africa region. The quality of the issuing institution is also important; accreditation from a recognized institute raises the perceived “value” of an online course for some employers. Mobile technology not only allows peers to connect following training, but also allows them to connect if they are carrying out online training.
  • Fellowships and mentorships: Although no sanitation-specific fellowships or mentorships have been identified, examples from other fields highlight the potential of such programs to address identified sanitation leadership development needs in East Africa by providing guided experience, links to mentors and peer networks, and teaching elements that include leadership skills. Mentors can come from a different field or be senior specialists in the same field as the fellows. Fellowship programs can also link participants to an alumni network.
  • Knowledge exchange: Knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer learning have been used in the region to help sanitation professionals learn from others in the field with similar experience. Many organizations are investing in knowledge exchange or South-South learning as a cost-effective approach to building capacity. The direct results from knowledge exchange can also influence results at the institutional and even systemic levels. Participants of successful knowledge exchanges are empowered and motivated to make things happen. They will seek to change the environment in which they operate, affect policies and norms that influence the way people behave, and strengthen the institutions where they work. All countries had some experience with knowledge exchange programs, and all were highly valued to learn and build capacity rapidly, especially when they were tailored to particular needs. Knowledge exchange activities allow for more self-directed learning, targeted in a short amount of time.


On the whole, the sector lacks the required quantity and quality of leadership needed to catalyze service provision in pursuit of meeting SDG 6. Although technical training is sufficient, few organizations have the requisite structures and systems in place to build sanitation leadership. Given the complexity and interrelatedness of the issues, an Africa Sanitation Academy (ASA) needs to address not only the quality of the training and the need for practical experience and learning-by-doing, but also the issues of making a career in the sector more attractive. This can be done through a combination of mentoring and fellowships that encourages retention in the sector and peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange. It is this combination of prestigious mentors, up-to-date curriculum, practical experience, accreditation, and the opportunity to “join the club” that will in turn help to attract fee-paying clients (students). The aim is that within five years, ASA can be funded entirely through fees.

Recommendations for next steps include following up with key provider institutions that will be responsible for different components. The recommendation of this report is to establish ASA in Uganda, because there are already institutions and organizations that are willing to partner and can provide the necessary aspects of the course. It is advised that the recommended institutions be brought together in a joint meeting that could be facilitated by a consultant to iron out the roles and responsibilities and to finalize budgets and financing. However, a full-time course coordinator position would need to be funded for three to five years before transitioning that to the umbrella institution. One institution will need to take responsibility for “housing” and incubating ASA. This institution will need to have good governance, finance, and oversight.