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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

When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) chose Cambodia for their annual Measurement, Evaluation and Dissemination, for Scale (MEDS) convening*, the team asked us to convene 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 around the world, we wanted to spotlight a key success factor: local government leaders.

At WaterSHED, we are intentional about our use of the words ‘leadership’ and ‘leader,’ and we often speak about leadership when talking about our Civic Champions program that fosters local leadership behavior. “Leadership development” can often sound abstract. During the Country Lab, we aimed to show members of the global WASH community how strong, local leaders influence progress in rural WASH, to examine the factors that contribute to – and detract from – leaders’ ability to be successful, and to learn from other countries’ experiences.

Ms. Chamroeun’s (District Counselor, Rolea Bier, Kampong Chhnang) remarked,

“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. 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. A WaterSHED team member recalled his favorite moment,

“Ms. Sopheak, Commune Councilor (local level) in Pursat province told me that it was her first time to attend such a multi-national conference. She was excited and motivated. She said she learned a lot from the event, such as the progress towards ODF (Open Defecation Free) status in different countries, mostly in 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