Global Water & Sanitation Center (GWSC), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was launched on November 30 at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). The launch ceremony was attended by more than 140 participants representing more than 45 organizations, including International Financing Institutions (World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Islamic Development Bank), Development Partners (United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Development Programme, United States Agency for International Development), academic and research institutions, and governmental agencies.
Giving his welcome remarks, Dr. Anat Arbhabhirama, Vice Chairperson of the AIT Board of Trustees extended good wishes for the center and said, “Since AIT’s establishment, we have contributed to not only develop human resources through our programs but also in implementing several applied research projects with an emphasis on technology for development. With over 25,000 alumni working in different parts of the world and a significant volume of research, I am confident that AIT is very familiar with the region and has a strong network and connection with different governments and development partners, which can support initiatives such as this.”
He stressed that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a strong vision of how water & sanitation issues can be resolved in developing countries and expressed confidence that AIT’s expertise, with the support from the foundation, will be successful and effective.
Giving his welcome remarks Mr. Brian Arbogast, Director, Water Sanitation & Hygiene, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the scale of challenges in delivering safe sanitation services to everyone in the world. “With almost half of the world population still lacking access to safe sanitation and management, we realized that we needed different approaches to reach this incredibly aspirational goal. Climate change is having a bigger impact and with the rapid urbanization, challenges are becoming harder”, he said.
He added, “The Gates Foundation, for over a decade, has been focusing on innovations that could solve sanitation issues. We have been investing in transformative technologies and collaborating with different partners. AIT has successfully delivered the Reinvented Toilet Technology and transferred to our industrial partner by which tremendous amounts of insight and knowhow from their significant research could lead to better understanding of the system and its impact on public health. We believe it is critical to collaborate with successful institutions, and today I believe we are launching something that is very important and needed.”
Dr. Roshan Raj Shrestha, Deputy Director, South & Southeast Asia Region, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene; Global Growth & Opportunity, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation stressed that technology alone is not enough to achieve the desired goal. “We need mechanisms and funding to implement it, but most importantly, we need a lot of human resources and professionals. That is why we are working with various partners. AIT has a strong network and connections in the region, which will be beneficial as we work closely with different governments. AIT alumni are in different high-level positions and this networking and connection will be useful in achieving our desired goal.”
He expressed delight that the GWSC will be under the guidance of the AIT President and thanked AIT for the leadership. “We are focusing on South and Southeast Asia that need qualified human resources as we only have seven years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We have successfully established a good collaboration in many places and plan to expand it. In the last few years, we have partnered with different universities and institutions, including AIT. Through GWSC, we will not only be making inventions but also documenting the process to create valuable knowledge products for the future.” he added.
H.E. Mr. Nagesh Singh, Ambassador of India to Thailand congratulated AIT and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the relevant and timely initiative of setting up GWSC as humanity strives to attain sustainable development goals in the declared time frame.
H.E. Mr. Ganesh Prasad Dhakal, Ambassador of Nepal to Thailand and member of the AIT Board of Trustees extended congratulations and expressed confidence that the GWSC will serve as a center of excellence to support, accelerate and advance the water, sanitation, and hygiene agenda in Asia and beyond, which will ultimately contribute to achieving SDGs.
Prof. Shobhakar Dhakal, Vice President for Academic Affairs, AIT stated that the collaboration is a milestone for AIT, “GWSC crosscuts between three core values of AIT: sustainability, social impact, and innovation, and it rightly fits into AIT’s mission. AIT and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have a great synergy, as we have also developed a wonderful working relationship in the last several years.”
He further added, “This is a wonderful collaboration between academia and philanthropic organizations to work together to drive change, bringing knowledge into the action and galvanizing research, policy, and actions together. AIT has strong experience and expertise, and we can really add to the efforts from different dimensions. I am confident that through GWSC, we will achieve the transformative change that we need in the region.”
Providing his closing remarks, Prof. Kazuo Yamamoto, AIT President, said, “With a legacy of 60 years of working on water and sanitation sector, we believe that AIT has a greater role to play in improving the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond and therefore, we are very much happy and honored to host the GWSC”. He expressed appreciation to the Foundation and the esteemed partners for their trust and committed to provide fullest support from the Institute to fulfill the vision and mission of GWSC.
As part of the launch ceremony agenda, intriguing panel discussions among representatives of the government of Nepal, Bangladesh, and India and representatives from International Financial Institutions (IFIs) were conducted in the attempt to accelerate and scale SDG 6.2 outcomes given that business as usual is not delivering results and significant paradigm shifts are anticipated to achieve desired changes within the expected timeline.
To commemorate an important milestone in GWSC’s journey, new partnerships were formalized through exchanges of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) and Letter of Intent (LOI) among the partners consisting of Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), International Training Network Centre (ITN-BUET), Aspire to Innovate (a2i), and Umwelt-Projekt-Management GmbH (UPM). These partnerships are crucial to achieving the bold mission of the 2030 agenda for sanitation.
Prof. Sangam Shrestha and Prof. Thammarat Koottatep are the founding Co-Directors of the center. Prof. Sangam Shrestha is Head of the Department of Civil and Infrastructure Engineering in the School of Engineering and Technology, and Prof. Thammarat Koottatep belongs to the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Change in the School of Environment, Resources and Development. The center will work closely with governments, international financing institutions, and other development partners.
The GWSC initially has four initiatives:
Establishment of Technical Assistance Hub (TA Hub)
An initiative/platform to assist governments, development banks & other development partners in planning, designing, scaling, and implementing City-wide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS) approach.
Development and scaling up of Integrated Municipal Information System (IMIS)
The IMIS is an innovative GIS-based Information Technology solution to manage sanitation services, adopting the CWIS principle and framework catalyzing outcomes of SDG 6.2 and 6.3. The IMIS provides a sound and reliable framework for effective municipal infrastructure and service planning, management, monitoring, and evaluation, allowing integration and interoperability.
Improvement of the National Sanitation Dashboard (NSD)
The initiative aims to provide technical assistance to upgrade the national sanitation dashboard and website to develop safe and inclusive sanitation in Bangladesh.
Women in Sanitation Enterprises Project (WISE)
The project aims to support institutional strengthening, reducing the equity gap in sanitation entrepreneurship between men and women in terms of access to finance and investment, help WSMEs integrate digital finance in their businesses, develop their leadership abilities, and increase WSMEs access to markets and networks to strengthen their engagement in the sanitation value chain.
About Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest nonprofit fighting poverty, disease, and inequity worldwide. It was founded on a simple premise: that people everywhere, regardless of identity or circumstances, should have the chance to live healthy, productive lives by building a global and cultural workplace that supports greater diversity, equity, and inclusion — of voices, ideas, and approaches. Together with their employees and partners, the Foundation helps all people improve their lives, from poverty and health to education. Learn more