Building Influential Networks in Community-Managed Water and Sanitation Near Cali, Colombia

Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

Community participation has been promoted as a way to improve development outcomes, but decades of experience have shown that participation is most effective when beneficiaries have more control over decisions. The capabilities framework promotes such meaningful participation, arguing that opportunities to self-define and self-determine are fundamental for improving well-being. This study examines the capabilities approach in practice among community water and sanitation (WSS) providers in the rural areas of Cali, Colombia. These organizations have built their infrastructure systems through autonomous efforts and in collaboration with support networks involving their peers and WSS support institutions. This study analyzes the processes through which these networks formed, how they facilitate access to information and resources, and how they have gained a stronger voice in WSS governance. The evolution of these networks, guided by practical necessity and a desire for a democratic, rights-centered approach to WSS, has empowered the organizations to interact assertively with support institutions who now engage on their terms. This approach has been credited with measurable improvements in service quality and coverage and is already being promoted throughout Colombia and Latin America, where parallel struggles for autonomy and collective WSS management may learn from these experiences.