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Commendable WASH Career

We will feature several guest bloggers from the Maji Safi Group (MSG) community this year to celebrate Maji Safi Group’s fifth anniversary. Our first guest is Craig Hafner, whose successful global WASH career has spanned over five decades. Craig has always advocated for the “software” side of the WASH sector, believing that the most lasting and meaningful changes occur when behavioral change is given priority. MSG has been blessed to have Craig’s mentorship during our first five years, and we look forward to continuing to work with him. We hope you enjoy reading about Craig’s vast experience and knowledge.

  1. What are your biggest takeaways from your 40 years in the WASH sector?

My WASH career started in 1978 when I was hired as the first WASH-sector specialist for the Peace Corps. Throughout my career, infrastructure has always been the first thing people wanted to fund and the easiest. However, there are huge issues with the sustainability of projects, and they have yet to have any real impact. For real influence, you need to change people’s behaviors. In the 1980s, the new big thing was the ultimate hand pump designed by engineering schools with a technical mentality. Additionally, much more money has gone into disease treatment and drugs rather than prevention, which is much cheaper in the long run.

Another major barrier for the WASH sector has been the institutional arrangements and the challenges of the overlapping industries that make this field so multi-disciplinary. For example, if you want to impact health, you can’t just have the Ministry of Water in charge of WASH – you also need the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. If you don’t have this collaboration, it falls apart. This makes it difficult because it is hard to get people to communicate across ministries; there is a strong silo effect, and each church has its priorities. I am proud to have pioneered some of this collaborative work through the WASH and environmental health projects I worked on with USAID for 20 years. I believe many of our projects were exceptionally good, and we were the first multisectoral projects by USAID in the 1980s. USAID has since used this model with its major grants and continues to bring professional firms on board to perform different specialties.

  1. What seminal moments during your WASH career have shaped your thinking?

The first experience that interested me in WASH was carrying water as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s at the school in Tanzania where I was teaching. After a few days, I hired a young man to fetch it for me and realized what a colossal problem water was. Later, while working in northern Kenya on a medical mission during my master’s work on the Turkana tribe, I also saw first-hand the impact of drought on people and the desperate need for clean and clear water.

Working with Gilbert White at the University of Colorado was career-changing. One moment I remember vividly is when Thomas Kuhn, 1962, gave me the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It taught me about paradigms in thinking and how they shift when people look for new ways of approaching a problem every so often. I have always respected Gilbert White’s interdisciplinary approach to WASH and his focus on behavioral sciences at CU. One instance that stuck out was when I consulted for World Vision in the late 1980s in Ghana and visited their well-drilling rig. They had only done 2-3 days of outreach and preparation in the community after I had advocated for 9-12 months of education (which probably needed to be longer).

Two of my proudest achievements have been helping start Friends of Tanzania 27 years ago, which has been worthwhile and successful, and representing the Peace Corps when the UN launched their Water Decade in 1980 because they were going to solve the problem by 1990. But unfortunately, that did not happen, and I have seen many examples of unmet goals like that. For example, the Carter Center was going to eliminate the guinea worm disease by 1990, then 1995, then 2000, but is still working on it because of the difficulty of changing people’s behaviors.


  1. What aspects of Maji Safi Group have made you a supporter and advocate?

What first attracted me to MSG was attacking the lack of behavioral change in the WASH sector. I have thought for a long time that the fundamental issue around WASH is behavioral change, and I have not seen that much. Keeping in touch with various ideas and efforts has been intriguing, and I am excited to continue to follow MSG for two main reasons. One is to see if it will be successful, and two, will people look at the model and say that they need to adopt more behavioral change into WASH projects?

  1. What role do you think women play in the WASH sector, and how has that changed over your career?

This has been discussed in the sector since the early 1980s when Mary Elmendorf, a USAID consultant, advocated for women’s role in WASH. For a long time, people have paid lip service to it. First, it was that you have to have a woman on a project committee; then, it was that a woman had to be the treasurer; and then, it was that a woman had to be the committee leader. But it has been slow and gradual and has a long way to go, as with many feminine issues in society. Having women take over more responsibilities and taking more of a leadership role is very important. I have yet to see many successful female project managers of WASH projects, but I hope to see that continue to change.

MSG has always put women at the center of our WASH work at every level. Over 75% of our staff are women; as you can see, they mean business.

  1. Bill Gates has referred to behavioral change as the most challenging thing his foundation has tried to address. Why do you think that is?

To see how difficult it is, you can look at issues like people quitting smoking and questions about obesity worldwide. Getting people to alter their behaviors is a difficult thing to do. Many studies in many different contexts have gone into this for many years, but no silver bullet has been found. People have habits and are influenced by peers and society. Getting people to make fundamental changes to the way they live their lives has always been difficult.


  1. What do you think effective WASH behavioral change campaigns do?

I have been encouraged by Maji Safi Group’s progress since you started, and you seem to be making inroads, but while working in the WASH sector, I have not seen many success stories. For example, Dr. Valerie Curtis, professor at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has done some good work over the years, but good examples and successes on behavioral changes have been hard to come by.


  1. If you could change one thing about the WASH sector, what would it be?

Rather than keeping behavioral change as an afterthought or add-on to the technical aspects of WASH projects – maybe 5% of a budget – you should build WASH projects around community education initiatives and put 25-30% of the budget into behavioral change campaigns.

  1. What do you think good projects and organizations usually do well?

Good projects I have seen were planned with the community up front and were engaged in the community. This is key, so the community has a sense of ownership in the project, which leads to sustainability. Having effective management of the projects is also critical to make sure you have systems that provide good checks and balances for the expenditure of funds. If an engineer has a salary of $5,000 managing the budget of a $100,000 project, there is a high chance of mismanagement, so checks and balances are essential. I remember meeting a paramount chief on a trip in Sierra Leone who wanted another water project for his community. I learned the history of the village from him, only to find out that his porch was made with the pipes that were supposed to be for a previously provided community system!

Successful organizations have also had good outreach and a collaborative approach to dealing with the needs and interests of others. Learning from what other organizations are doing to solve similar problems is essential as well as being open to new ideas and approaches. There is no problem with taking the ideas of others and running with them and being flexible with how you are planning things. Staying in touch with the newest ideas and models to find best practices is important.

Finally, being willing to continue doing hard assessment on a regular basis, taking responsibility for failures, learning from your mistakes and being willing to move ahead is key. For WASH specifically, it has to be an interdisciplinary effort, and if you want to affect health outcomes, you need a collaborative approach that can’t be dominated by the engineers.



  1. You have been involved with development work in Tanzania for over 50 years. What are common mistakes you have seen organizations make?

Through my long-time involvement with Tanzania, I have noticed a lot of things, but in general, I think there has been a lack of community involvement and communication, which has led to a lack of ownership. I think the book Watering White Elephants, by Ole Therkildsen of the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1988, is a real indictment of funding water projects that were not sustainable. One major difference I saw between WASH work in Tanzania and Malawi was that the people who were in charge of building water systems in Malawi were from the Office of Community Development, so there was much more local buy-in than there was in Tanzania.

Over the years, I have also seen the perverseness of organizations paying increasing sitting fees for workshop attendees, and this is especially prominent in Tanzania compared to other countries. I see it as a failure in development. To pay people salaries, per diem expenses and other allowances to get training is inhibiting. Dealing with the levels of corruption in Tanzania has always been a challenge, and as a country, Tanzania has often had a really low international rating.