Discovering a Passion for WASH: A Sanergy Fellow Experience

Let me start with a proud confession: I’m obsessed with sanitation.

It took me a while to realize this, but the clues were all there. I pursued my MBA and MPH to explore “innovative approaches to solving problems in global health.” Every time I gave an example of what I meant by that, I turned to new ways to prevent sanitation-related disease, low-tech water treatment solutions, or amazing advances in latrine design.

Ruthie leads a training at World Toilet Day 2014
Ruthie leads a training at World Toilet Day 2014.

My examples reflected what I could not yet articulate: using my public health and business skills to solve problems in WASH enables me to address all of the barriers to global development that matter to me most. Maternal and child health, economic development, education, and women’s rights are but a few of the areas in which burdens are alleviated through increased access to improved sanitation and safe water. I clung to a general interest in innovation because I was reluctant to deem a single issue most critical; acknowledging my interest in WASH gave me the freedom to work toward solutions that yield holistically healthy, prosperous communities.

In October 2014, I joined Sanergy as a Fellow on the Insights and Innovations team. My assignment was to figure out the best combination of products and services to ensure success of the Fresh Life WASH in Schools program, which was a perfect fit for my background, interests, and skills.

Over the course of my Fellowship, I convened a focus group with teachers from schools with Fresh Life Toilets, attended the Kenyan government’s celebration of Global Handwashing Day, and created original educational games for students to play at Sanergy’s World Toilet Day event in Mukuru. Our talented WASH in Schools Program Coordinator, Rose Nyawira, and I designed a survey on WASH infrastructure and behavior in schools that was conducted in almost 200 schools. At the end of my Fellowship, I presented my findings and recommendations to a group of team leads and directors, with whom I then devised a plan for implementation.

Throughout my time as a Fellow, I felt valued, supported, and like my work was important for the success of the organization. Sanergy encouraged me to take initiative. The people I needed – team leads to directors – were there to provide guidance and review my work, but I ultimately determined the scope and strategy for my own project.

This balance between support and independence, the elusive equilibrium between having substantial responsibility and receiving ample guidance, is at the heart of why I was so excited to join Sanergy as a teammate at the conclusion of my Fellowship. I grow professionally every day. I learn from others, and I am given the space to learn on my own. And, I get to talk about toilets all the time.

This post was authored by Ruthie Rosenberg. Having served as a Sanergy Fellow in Fall 2014, Ruthie is now Program Officer, Business Development. Learn more about the Sanergy Fellows Program here. Apply to be a Sanergy Fellow here.

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