2013 OU International Water Prize Winner
Ada Oko-Williams is an African woman dedicated to the cause of reducing poverty in Africa and an ardent believer that the development problems of Africa have African solutions.
She is confident that, with the support and collaboration of the developed world, these solutions are achievable with Africa in the driver's seat. Oko-Williams has dedicated the last 14 years of her life advancing the belief that water, especially water for sanitation and hygiene (WASH), is critical to the development agenda of Africa and that WASH is a catalyst that can sponsor and trigger growth and is, indeed, a valued input to economic development.
Born and raised in Otukpo town, Benue State of Nigeria, Oko-Williams understands firsthand the problems of lack of access to water and sanitation. Trained as a social development practitioner (MSc., Development Studies), she has been actively involved and engaged in the social development sphere in the West African region. Highly committed and dynamic, she currently holds the position of assistant director at the Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West Africa Regional Development (STEWARD) program; a US Forest Services International Programs/USAID program where she is responsible for programs and development and supports program implementation across the participating countries. She gained prior experience at Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) (http://www.wsafrica.org) and WaterAid in Nigeria in various capacities and started her career in development at the Development and Learning Centre in Makurdi, Nigeria.
Oko-Williams’ career spans the spectrum of engagement in the sanitation sub-sector. From poor, rural, disease-stricken communities in Nigeria to communities of the deep forests of war torn Sierra Leone and Liberia to desert communities in Niger Republic facing some of the world’s greatest challenges through climate change, Oko-Williams is engaged with issues of rebuilding lives as well as infrastructure. The hallmark of her career is inspiring communities to take action towards their own development through participatory processes and critical analyses of situations while proffering solutions and action designed to address undesirable situations.
In the last five years Oko-Williams has trained more than 350 sanitation practitioners in West Africa. She has directly worked with more than 1000 communities, reaching over 600,000 people with access to sanitation and hygiene in open-defecation free (ODF) communities in West Africa. At the policy advocacy level, she influenced the development of sanitation programs and agenda though direct engagements with governments and duty bearers, supporting national sanitation coordinating platforms across the West African region. She remains active in the scaling up demand led sanitation approaches circles globally.
Oko-Williams is currently exploring economic and business potentials in WASH and biodiversity conservation that can contribute to better livelihood, support environmental sustainability, and spur economic development and growth at micro levels in Africa. Adopting a business approach, as opposed to previous approaches of charity and aid, is considered imperative for accelerated access to WASH in Africa.
Oko-Williams formally received the OU International Water Prize and gave the plenary lecture at the OU International WaTER Conference, held Sept. 23-25, 2013.
The 2013 Water Prize Selection Jury included:
- Rita Colwell, Ph.D. - Unversity of Maryland
- Idrissa Doucoure - Director, Water and Sanitation for Africa
- Ravii Jayakaran, Ph.D. - V.P., Global Programs, MAP International
- Christine Moe, Ph.D. - Director, Center for Global Safe Water, Emory University
- Marc Parlange, Ph.D. - Professor of Hydrology and Dean, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland
- Dennis Warner, Ph.D. - Senior Technical Advisor, Catholic Relief Services