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On the Role of Expatriate Staff and Other Reflections from Early WaterSHED Team

What kind of Executive Director refuses to put their NGO’s logo on anything? Probably the kind who is proud to lead an organization that some in government call the “no money NGO”.

We sit down with two of the original WaterSHED team who established a set of values from the beginning — work with integrity, apply unwavering discipline to work behind the scenes, have our eyes towards the exit, and foster leadership at all levels — for their thoughts and reflections as WaterSHED comes to a close.

Hengly Aun

Hengly Aun served as the first Executive Director from 2011-2014. Hengly’s innovative, entrepreneurial approach set the ambitious tone of WaterSHED as a young organization, to make the “impossible possible”. Hengly rallied to sell toilets amidst widely deployed subsidy programs and uncoordinated giveaways. He advocated for less NGO branding in the sector and greater roles for local leaders.

Hengly was interviewed by current Executive Director, Sovattha Neou.


  • “We were fighting those norms, and it’s not easy. Many people didn’t like me at that time, there were a lot of bad words I heard, [and people saying things like]: ‘You are Cambodian, why do you care so much about the money that donors already give?’ But it’s not about that. We had to explain to the government that it’s about thinking sustainably.”
  • One thing I want to point out is that the other core team – all of them used to be my bosses, and later on they became my employees. I want expatriate staff, especially in Cambodia or working in developing countries, to learn from [this] example. At the beginning where they used to be my boss…[but], ultimately, I’m the one that decides for the organization, and I can tell you so far, I don’t see any organization [who gives local staff this role]. More importantly, I was the one that evaluated their performance, and I decided how much they get for their salary, whether they increase [salary] or are fired.
  • “That’s the role of expatriates from my point of view: to support local staff, to guide and  explore new ideas [together] – because the local people they have, we have, we have, our own ideas of how things work…The question is really what is successful, what is sustainable? Empowering local people, that’s the answer. I want [foreign-funded NGOs] to know that the real development is not the success of their organization but it’s the [success of the] people in the country.”

Watch the full video and read the transcript.

Lyn McLennan

Lyn McLennan first came to Cambodia in 1999. Sanitation coverage was less than 10 percent. Adopting toilets was seen as a private matter and not on the radar of community health initiatives. Lyn describes the inspiration for and development of WaterSHED’s flagship program, Civic Champions

Lyn was interviewed by a current Program Manager for Civic Champions, Nareth Choun.


  • “Research by others and research that I did in Cambodia indicates that there needs to be a mechanism by which local leaders – indigenous leaders if you will – can come together and develop or foster their leadership potential…[This] really fits well with the Royal Government of Cambodia’s decentralization program, where they’re expecting that more and more services will be undertaken at these local levels. The more we can work with the locally elected leaders and help to strengthen their capacity to develop their own potential, the better [and] stronger the decentralization program will be in the long term”
  • We wanted to at all times make sure that the change was emerging from within the community – from within those businesses themselves – and that government saw that it was central to the work that they have been doing and will continue to do. So from the beginning we tried to influence… the shift of emphasis from NGOs, to have government at the center. And so our work on Civic Champions and also [our] work on collective action with the sector was key to supporting that change.
  • We don’t see it happen often enough where organizations plan for these exits early on by not inserting themselves in, or creating dependencies on the work that they’re doing, but also to support and encourage their own staff to develop their potential to be the best that they can wherever they go. 

Watch the full video and read the transcript.