FSM Alliance in formation

How can an internationally dispersed but passionate group of volunteers create a vision for a new sanitation NGO and set up a new organization to carry it out?

For almost a decade, a group of dedicated volunteer leaders from prominent sanitation NGOs and academic organizations worked together to put the spotlight on fecal sludge management (FSM) as an important strategy for bringing sanitation solutions to developing countries. Their main task was organizing and delivering the bi-annual FSM conference, which had grown to over 1,000 attendees by 2017. No longer a task for a team of volunteers, but requiring an organization with dedicated staff and financial resources!


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Through grant-making, the Foundation works with partners around the world to alleviate poverty, advance science and technology to improve health outcomes, and build strategic relationships to advance this work. In the U.S., the Foundation focuses on high school and post-secondary education improvements and helping vulnerable children and families in Washington State. Visit BMGF.

The Foundation was a participant in the volunteer FSM committee and funded the FSM Conference.


Over the course of a year, I supported the team of volunteer leaders in shaping their vision and forging agreements through key strategic, fiduciary, and governance questions. The discussions took place over several meetings. For each meeting, the tasks were similar:

  • Collaborated with the Foundation representative and their organizational development consultants to understand the context for the meeting and agree on purpose and desired outcomes.
  • Designed and facilitated an intensive “stakeholder alignment” meeting, in which the volunteer leaders convened to discuss the future of their efforts in FSM. The goal of this meeting was on imagining a larger future, beyond the conference, and wrestling with questions of direction, scope, and focus.
  • Facilitated the meeting, guiding the group through exercises and discussions.
  • Prepared a detailed meeting report to document the many insights, views, agreements, and next steps that the group generated.


  • More aligned views among the committee members about the possibilities they could create through a new organization, rather than a volunteer effort.
  • Strategic questions to be answered in follow-on meetings
  • Enthusiasm built for the innovation initiative by the executives and staff who attended the Innovation Feasibility Workshop
  • Input and direction given to the organizational development consultants, so they could make progress on a Governance Manual for the new organization.
  • Election of an executive committee.
  • Completion of a Governance Manual (by other consultants)

Since the fall of 2019, the FSM Alliance has been created, including a host NGO to provide an operational platform, an executive head of secretariat, a formal executive committee, and an organizational structure that includes sub-committees.