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“I’m proud that now my husband and colleagues tease me about being too active, being too active is how you get change”

Facilitating the “Government-Led Change” Country Lab at the 2019 MEDS Convening, Siem Reap, Cambodia

In November 2019, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) chose Cambodia for their annual MEDS convening, the team asked us to design a Country Lab to showcase the exciting progress in Cambodian rural sanitation. Given the rare opportunity for in-depth exchange with WASH researchers and practitioners from around the world, we spotlighted a key but surprising success factor: local government leaders.

At WaterSHED, we are intentional about our use of ‘leadership’ and ‘leader,’ and we often speak about leadership when sharing the work of our Civic Champions program that fosters local leadership behavior. In our experience, leadership development can often sound abstract. With the Lab, we aimed to show the global WASH community exactly what strong, local WASH leadership looks like in Cambodia.

One WaterSHED team member shared this quote from District Counselor Ms. Chamroeun (Rolea Bier, Kampong Chhnang) during the Lab’s panel discussion,

“Before, I used to ask, why do I sit here, for government salary? No, I want to be active – and I’m proud that now my husband and colleagues tease me about being too active, but being too active is how you get change. I tell my husband, don’t be jealous – I’m achieving change! I’m old already, but I want to move quickly and run with young people. I want to be recognized by leaders – when they listen to us it is [motivating] and it gives us purpose.”

Delivering the Country Lab underscored for us the importance of local voices on larger, international stages – not only for local actors to give perspectives, but to gain new ones as well. Another team member shared his favorite moment,

“Ms. Sopheak, Commune Councilor in Pursat province, told me that it was her first time to attend such a multi-national conference; she could not believe that she was invited. She was excited and motivated. She says she learned a lot from the event, such as progress on ODF (Open Defecation Free status) in different countries, mostly from India. She could not believe that a huge country with over a billion people and complexity of religious/cultural beliefs like India can achieve more than 80% latrine coverage, and in some states even achieve 100%. It motivated her to work even harder to achieve ODF in her communities.”

If you are curious about our leadership work and separate MEDS presentation on Women’s Economic Empowerment research, you can find more at:

Civic Champions