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 services remain a daunting challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. National and local governments, service providers, and development organizations have traditionally focused on access and service expansion. Less emphasis has been placed on sustaining existing services and infrastructure. As a result, service functionality rates remain low as infrastructure quickly fails into disrepair.

Under the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS), eight partners are working with USAID to test new ideas, approaches, and tools to strengthen local WASH systems — comprised of actors, factors, and the dynamic interrelationships among them — and improve service sustainability. Technical areas of focus include professionalized maintenance for rural water services, collective action approaches, and systems understanding and engagement. Learn more about these topics through a set of curated resources here.

Professionalized Maintenance Approaches Icon
Professionalized maintenance that proactively service, repair, and replace hardware to deliver a more reliable, guaranteed service. SWS is working with in-country partners — Whave in three districts in Uganda and Oxford/FundiFix in Kitui County, Kenya — to assess promising maintenance models, capture information about their performance, and analyze the systems that underpin these models.
Collaborative Approaches Icon
Collective and collaborative approaches that leverage partnership among WASH stakeholders to overcome complex systems constraints and challenges. Through implementing a variety of convening bodies — including IRC- and Tetra Tech-led learning alliances in Ethiopia and Uganda, government partnership meetings in Uganda, and county-level WASH forums in Kenya — SWS is learning about how collective action approaches work, when and why to implement them, how to monitor them, and what outcomes can be expected.
Systems icon
Systems understanding and engagement tools and methods to better map, assess, and engage with WASH systems and actor networks. SWS is facilitating participatory research and is conducting targeted analyses such as network analysis, factor mapping, qualitative monitoring, and others.

A vacuum truck provides emptying services in Woliso, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Tetra Tech


SWS conducts factor mapping workshops in Kamuli District, Uganda. Photo credit: Nick Valcourt



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 Advisory Board Membership

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

  • Vincent Casey, WaterAID-UK
  • Louis Boorstin, Osprey Foundation
  • Jenna Davis, Stanford University
  • Adeeb Mahmud, FSG
  • Heather Skilling, DAI
  • Tjip Walker, USAID
  • Aaron Kabirizi, Uganda Ministry of Water and Environment (former member, now retired)
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Environmental Incentives Logo
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Tetra Tech
University of Oxford Logo

A Whave technician conducts a regular maintenance check. Photo credit: Whave


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.

Click here to view resources by priority learning theme.

Ten Factors for Viable Rural Water Services Ten Factors for Viable Rural Water Services

A water supply installation is only worthwhile if it is safe and reliable, which is achievable with consistent service delivery. A “viable service delivery model” is one that maintains a safe water supply in working conditions while being…
Afar Asset Management System Uptake and Use Afar Asset Management System Uptake and Use

The USAID Lowland WASH Activity, in partnership with mWater and with support from Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS), developed the Afar Asset Management Systems (AMS) for the Afar Regional Water, Irrigation and Energy Bureau. This…
Endline Organizational Network Analysis of the Kamuli Rural Water Stakeholder Network Endline Organizational Network Analysis of the Kamuli Rural Water Stakeholder Network

The USAID–funded Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership has been supporting Whave Solutions’ work in Kamuli District, Uganda, to understand how different approaches to systems thinking and analysis might strengthen rural water service…
Collective Action in WASH: Findings from SWS Collective Action in WASH: Findings from SWS

June 29, 2021 8:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. Washington D.C. / 3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. East Africa The international water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector is increasingly looking to systems approaches to build sustainable services. Many…
Understanding Changes in Coordination in Kitui County's Water Sector 2018–2021 Understanding Changes in Coordination in Kitui County's Water Sector 2018–2021

In Kenya, the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) implemented various interventions in support of the Kitui WASH forum. SWS applied organizational network analysis (ONA) at baseline in 2018 to quantitatively understand interactions…

Water Kiosk in Kitui County, Kenya. Photo credit: Jeff Waweru


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

A Whave technician conducts a regular maintenance check. Photo credit: Whave Pandemic Impacts on Rural Water Services in Uganda: An Interview with Whave Director Adam Harvey

Restrictions on gatherings and movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have affected essentially all aspects of life around the world—from movie theater closures in India to November’s 2020 G20 Summit being held virtually. Even essential…
SWS header Leveraging WASH Network Connections to Strengthen Sanitation Services in Ethiopia

On May 20, 2020, USAID’s Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) hosted a webinar, “Strengthening WASH Networks in Ethiopia: Analyzing an Urban Sanitation System,” featuring representatives from SWS partners University of Colorado…
Muhammed Ibrahim works with members of the collective action group in Woliso, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Maheder Haileselassie Facilitation Makes the Difference in Sanitation

Muhammed Ibrahim is a local facilitator in Ethiopia working on USAID’s Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS). His job is to improve the sanitation systems in the small towns of Debre Birhan and Woliso using an unconventional approach.…
Enumerators collecting data for the Ethiopia organizational network analysis project. The picture here is from a trip between July and September 2017, when they collected data in  South Ari and Mille. A New Approach to Address Urban Sanitation Shortcomings

In December, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies joined with USAID implementer AECOM to host a panel discussion on Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS), a topic of particular interest as USAID expands its focus and shifts its…
Learning How to Fix the System and Not Just the Pump Learning How to Fix the System and Not Just the Pump

As Ethiopia manages to develop more and more new rural water schemes – springs, wells or boreholes with hand-pumps or engines, piped water – keeping the existing infrastructure running well and safely is a challenge that gets bigger every day. And,…

Community members attend a sanitation sales event in Cambodia. Photo credit: WaterSHED



IRC, Tetra Tech, and LINC are working with local actors in Ethiopia and Uganda to better understand and strengthen local systems for (1) rural water and (2) 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 better 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.

UGANDA (Whave)

Whave is cultivating a sustainable model for rural water service delivery by testing and expanding a preventive maintenance approach in three Ugandan 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. Learn more here.

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 hand pumps. Learning about and documenting the risks and returns of this approach will provide insights and direction for the 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 the government and other actors, using an existing platform of quarterly County WASH Forums, to strengthen the institutional coordination necessary for effective service delivery. Learn more here.

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 actors, including government, private sector, NGOs, and donors, around a shared vision for universal sanitation and hygienic environments. With SWS support, the actors 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,