Advocacy Gone Global


By Suzanne Berman, CARE Field Coordinator

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I work with members of the US Congress and their constituents to improve our foreign assistance program. While much of CARE's advocacy work involves the US government, our country office colleagues also engage in advocacy with foreign governments. I got a taste of CARE's global advocacy work last week when I was asked to join meetings between CARE, Emory University (a research partner), and the Kenyan Ministries of Education and Public Health and Sanitation in Kisumu, Kenya. The goal of the meeting was to increase the government's investment in successful hygiene and sanitation programs in rural schools.

For the last six years, CARE and Emory University have worked on a program called SWASH +, which builds latrines and hand washing stations in schools. At the moment, the program is only in the Nyganza province, in southwestern Kenya, but CARE hopes that the government will provide the resources to replicate it across the country.

Studies have found that having clean latrines has positive impacts on health and reduces absenteeism, particularly for girls. CARE hopes that future research will prove that adequate sanitation also improves school performance.

In US advocacy, we generally work toward one of three goals: passing legislation, securing funding, or working with the administration to support policies. Once the law is on the books or the budget is completed, we take implementation for granted. We assume that the legislation will be carried out; the funding will arrive.

In Kenya, the end goal of advocacy work is another matter entirely. Here, the formal policies are comprehensive and support many development programs. Education is legally free; all citizens have the right to water and sanitation. But in reality, schools are not always functional; sanitation facilities are inadequate or absent.

The Kenyan ministry officials who joined us in Kisumu were supportive of SWASH +, but Kenya is changing rapidly, and the future of social programs is uncertain. The country has a new constitution. National elections will take place in the next year. After the post-election violence in 2007-2008, Kenyans are unclear as to what will come next.

Yet after debriefing on our advocacy strategy, my CARE Kenya colleagues realized that the tools we need to advocate for effective programs are similar across cultural contexts. Before starting a program like SWASH +, we need to determine key stakeholders in the community and the government. We need to conduct research that determines the effectiveness of programs, and we need to package that research in a way that is clear, succinct, and useful to policy makers. Finally, we need to engage stakeholders throughout the process and to consider them as critical partners.

To find out more about SWASH +, go to

To support programs like SWASH +, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask to speak to your member of Congress, and tell him/her to support the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act (H.R. 3658).