Fresh, clean, affordable water. It is difficult to imagine anything more important.

Throughout rural Chile small cooperatives manage regional sanitation. Driving through the countryside, one sees occasional lagoons and water tanks glinting in the distance. Dedicated community members maintain these reservoirs and the pipes and drainage systems that keep them functioning. However, groups often work in isolation from other providers. This disconnect can lead to inefficiency because these tiny organizations do not have access to information nor the ability to finance infrastructure projects.

Four years ago, the Federacion National de Cooperativas de Servicios Sanitarios Ltda. (FESAN) formed as a venue to support these small providers. Created through lessons learned from World Bank initiatives and based on a flourishing model developed in Colombia, FESAN is a growing success. In assisting more than 60,000 people through their seven coop members, FESAN provides education and training to several other organizations and fulfills its role as an information clearinghouse.

While knowledge sharing is critical to healthy water supplies, the cooperative-of-cooperatives model has facilitated other crucial changes for its members. When they join together, cooperatives have more buying power, allowing the purchase of better equipment. Together, they also possess greater political leverage, and FESAN helps spread awareness of the cooperatives’ needs and wants from the quiet countryside to political centers.

In February 2010, a massive earthquake hit Chile and destroyed all the equipment of several FESAN members. While the group had not necessarily envisioned itself as a crisis response organization, it still understood the importance of addressing critical needs of members. Since then, in a display of the multiplicity of benefits that membership brings, FESAN has worked to rebuild damaged infrastructure. While maintaining focus on education and development, the Federation also continues to help members rebuild. Pulling together expertise and funding on local, national, and international levels, FESAN is currently working to reconstruct precious lagoons for wastewater eco treatment. Through these multiple forms of support, FESAN ensures that this most precious resource, clean water, keeps flowing to its members and to people all across the Chilean countryside.