Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Large scale change or spreading good practice?

As a Rotarian I have recently been involved in a project to help the Masai Mara community in Tanzania get clean water near their homes. We're working with an inspirational fledgling charity called Weston Turville Wells for Tanzania. They have already enabled the installation of wells, are looking for more as well as more ambitious projects.

My link to this work has helped me understand more about some of the differences between "spreading good practice" and "large scale transformation". Well, it has sort of helped - it also raises more questions for me...

Think of community of 4,000 people which is made up of smaller communities (think small town and suburbs). It costs around £3,000 to install a well that will support a small sub-set of a suburb. One way to help the whole 4,000 community is to take the "good practice/good idea" of the single well and replicate this across the community, say building 15 or 20 wells. Twenty wells will cost around £60,000. There is no doubt that this will transform the lives of the whole community.

Another option, is to spend £60,000 and build a pipeline from a source of water in a mountainous area not far away. The impact of doing this is also a large scale transformation for the community. It is ambitious in scale, impact and ingenuity is required to implement a reliable solution.

So which would be your choice? Option 2 sounds great and at first glance looks sustainable. However, it will take many months, possibly a year or so, to raise the funds, get the permissions and then build. During this time the community is without a viable water supply within any close distance of their homes. Option 1 feels suspiciously like a quick fix with the added difficult dynamic of the spread of the wells not feeling (my feeling) democratically spread. However, money can be found "per well" and work can start in a very short time. The individual well is a solution is tried and tested. In addition the charity has ensured there is local support from within the community to help maintain them.

I can see that both options are transformative for the community. The outcome will make a difference to daily life and health. The process may also be transformative and everyone gets involved with the well / pipeline building process. Option 1 is more emergent, flexible and bottom up type approach. Option 2 is more planned, organised and top down approach. The both/and would be to have a pipeline and some wells - but then I'm torn between the extra cost of doing this where more wells can be provided for another community...

For the record, we've gone for supporting the provision of a well - right now. The essence being that in some cases a quick fix is a good one and when it comes to water, every day without it is a trial.

What would you do?

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