3 Questions

Irene Otieno

As well as studying Water Science and Management at Utrecht University, Irene Otieno is part of Simavi’s programme department on WASH Policy Influencing and Social Inclusion. Irene grew up in a village in Homabay county, Kenya, and she is fiercely committed to fighting the global water, sanitation and hygiene crisis by positively influencing WASH policy. We asked her three questions ahead of the forthcoming Global Citizens Festival, where she will share her personal story with the crowd.


What is the Global Citizens Festival and what message do you want to bring to the world there?

“It’s an awareness-driven music festival that offers a large campaign platform for pressuring governmental leaders to work towards a more equitable world for all. It’s held on the 6th of July in Hamburg, Germany – the same city where the 20 most powerful countries in the world will meet at the G20 summit later this year. Excitingly, topics that are related to sustainable development are on the agenda at this summit. This makes the build up to the summit a great time to send a clear signal to governments and businesses to join in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality across the world.

At the Global Citizens Festival I want to share the message that governments must mobilise the political will and financial resources necessary for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ending extreme poverty. To make this happen, we all need to join together to fight global developmental issues – every individual’s small actions will contribute to a greater impact in the long run.

This impact can begin at the G20 summit, which I hope will result in more commitments to global issues and that these commitments, together with others made by individual countries, will become a reality. Ultimately, I want to see people living healthy lives free of preventable diseases (such as cholera) and fully develop without facing limits on basic water and sanitation needs. That’s why I find it really important that there will be a discussion on development issues at the G20 summit, because development issues such as inadequate access to WASH impacts other sectors too.”



What motivates you to improve WASH?

“I grew up in a village where I experienced my fair share of WASH challenges. Seasonal rivers provided the main source of water in my village, and people practiced open defecation (many still do). I saw the impact of these conditions on people’s health and their ability to thrive, which is why I decided to commit my work to fighting the global WASH crisis by influencing policy for the better.

I want universal access to WASH so that people can live better lives, in health, dignity and safety. I also want to give a voice to people who have inadequate access to WASH but do not have opportunity to talk about it. We have to do this to reach people who are the most in need. Decisions are often made without the target group’s input, and as a result many projects risk being abandoned or misused. If these people are empowered to raise their voice, we can work together to change this situation for the better.”


What difference do you hope to make at Simavi?

“Simavi’s WASH programmes target marginalised and vulnerable groups and individuals, as these groups represent the majority of the people who live without access to adequate water and sanitation. In doing this, Simavi contributes to tackling the global issues I mentioned above, a contribution that I am really proud to be part of. Given the recent attention given to social inclusion, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals principle of “leave no one behind”, it’s become important to know how effective our work is. The question therefore is ‘on what basis should such judgements be made?’ – a question we can answer with monitoring and evaluation on how social inclusion should be measured. This process can reveal valuable information for further progress, which is why my aim at Simavi is to try and assess how social inclusion is measured.”


Find more about Global Citizens Festival here.


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