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

SWS held a webinar on August 23 to present recent learning about preventive maintenance, and how it can help local governments, communities, and the local private sector to shift the paradigm from paying pump mechanics, to fix broken pumps to paying them to keep water services running.

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Sustainable services remain a daunting challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. Traditionally, national and local governments, WASH service providers, and development partners have focused on the construction of WASH facilities and the expansion of service coverage. Less emphasis has been placed on sustaining and maintaining existing WASH services. As a result, failure rates of water supply and sanitation systems continue to be high.

Universal access cannot be achieved without addressing the sustainability of WASH services. This requires taking a comprehensive, long-term view of service delivery and changing local systems. While the sector recognizes this shift in programming is necessary, there has been limited exploration of what approaches work, what benefit they bring to sustainability, and how they can be applied effectively.

The Sustainable WASH Systems (SWS) Learning Partnership tests new ideas, approaches, and tools to overcome barriers for improving WASH service sustainability. The partnership seeks to:

  • Influence USAID to apply evidence on how systems approaches can help improve the sustainability of future USAID WASH programs

  • Catalyze national and international uptake of successful systems change approaches


USAID has recognized that to achieve sustainability, local systems need to be engaged and strengthened. According to the 2017 U.S. Government Global Water Strategy, one of the primary goals of USAID is to “increase the availability and sustainable management of safe water and sanitation for the unserved and most vulnerable.” Through the innovative SWS Learning Partnership, 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
  • Regularly adapts to feedback and changing conditions
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SWS Concept Map

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University of Colorado Boulder 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.

  • Jonathan Annis, Tetra Tech
  • John Butterworth, IRC
  • Rich Fromer, LINC
  • Adam Harvey, Whave
  • Rob Hope, University of Oxford
  • Ella Lazarte, USAID
  • Karl Linden, UCB
  • Harold Lockwood, AguaConsult
  • Lyn McLennan, WaterSHED
  • Shawn Peabody, EI
  • Eddy Perez, 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

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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.


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Learn more about our latest research and activities, and get news about upcoming SWS events.

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Contact Us

Liz Jordan, USAID,  


Ethiopian Women