Strengthening the voice of civil society with Watershed

Watershed is a strategic partnership under the dialogue and dissent programme of the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs (DGIS), in which four Dutch NGOs work together with civil society organisations (CSOs) in six countries: Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Ghana, and Mali.

Since 2015, the Watershed programme has been working to improve the management of WASH services by empowering civil society to lobby duty bearers. CSOs have a key role in mobilising communities and are the voice of citizens and marginalised groups at local, national, and international level. By strengthening the skills, knowledge and resources of local CSOs to initiate effective dialogues with governments, this programme aims to improve the standard and sustainability of WASH services, for all.

Above: Afou Chantal Bengaly Traoré (right), project leader at Wetlands International Mali, is interviewed on the Watershed programme by the national broadcaster of Mali (ORTM), Mali, 2017.




Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Integrated water resources management (IWRM)


Tool training

Planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning (PMEL)

The challenge

Mali’s WASH sector faces a lack of financial and human resources, and marginalised groups in Mali are underrepresented both in government and in the development sector. As a result, the management of water and related resources lacks effective coordination, WASH infrastructure isn’t sustainably managed or equally distributed, and the government is not held accountable for delivering quality WASH services to everyone.

Local CSOs can play a major role in holding policy makers accountable and raising the voice of marginalised groups in society. Without the resources to initiate evidence-based lobby and advocacy strategies, creating sustainable change is a slow and tiresome process.


data collection pilots


local CSOs and governments


data points

The partnership

In Mali, the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), Simavi, and Akvo each contracted local CSOs to participate in workshops, training sessions and data collection pilots.

With their expertise in evidence-based lobby and advocacy, Akvo team members facilitate numerous workshops to exchange knowledge with Malian partners, as well as creating and executing a capacity strengthening strategy focused on data collection and visualisation. During this capacity strengthening process, Akvo staff also train local partners in using tools to capture, understand and share data related to WASH services.

The Akvo Sites Watershed website

The change

Following the capacity strengthening, a number of pilots are being implemented to capture high quality data and visualise that data in a clear and compelling way. One pilot, for example, maps the pollution of the surface water of the Inner Niger Delta, providing a starting point for WASH duty bearers to take action. Another pilot gains insights into the untreated waste that is disposed of in the Bamako region, with consequences for the water quality of the Niger River. Akvo also works on gathering, analysing, and visualising all available water quality data on the Inner Niger Delta in Mali in an open data lobbying process.

These pilots provide important information for decision making, while equipping local CSOs with the methodology to do evidence-based lobby and advocacy in the future. Effective lobby and advocacy is strategic and based on research and analysis, and the Watershed programme provides civil society with methodologies that are evidence-based, strategic and coordinated to achieve sustainable impact.