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Can entrepreneurs in the water sector bring solutions to leave no one behind?

Great entrepreneurs have the ability to change society, shaping the way we live and work. What can entrepreneurs do for water development that will help to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 and deliver universal access to safe water and sanitation?

“In the history of human development, it’s always been innovations that have paved the way to overcome societal challenges,” says Dr Christian Vousvouras, a WASH specialist at Nestle

“If we look at the WASH sector, the challenges are different. There are many technological solutions to provide WASH in a cost-efficient manner. What we need today are innovative and effective delivery models. The most successful WASH entrepreneurs will be the ones that find the right business model or that create the right ecosystem around their solution.”

Vousvouras says that entrepreneurs can make use of existing multi-stakeholder platforms, such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship,to find a place in an ecosystem with other stakeholders.

“The collaboration among different actors will be key. WASH investments have enormous productivity gains from a societal point of view.”

Complimenting utilities

Social entrepreneurs can complement the work of existing utilities in places of high population density, says Mike Barbee from charity Water4.  

“That relationship can look very different depending on the willingness of regulatory bodies. In areas like Ethiopia, where there is strong central control of business environment and assets, there is a very limited way in which entrepreneurs can work alongside government.” 

He says that entrepreneurs often have to knock on doors to initiate public-private partnerships in the WASH sector in developing nations.

“In rural areas, there is often more willingness to partner, but less experience by local officials to help facilitate investment,” he says.

“It’s a learning process for both sides, for how to work together and reach more people. Sometimes it is seen as threat where you’re coming in and offering a higher product than is being delivered—some see that as a threat to their existence rather than an opportunity to improve quality.”

Considering human rights

Applying a human rights framework may be another way to evaluate water entrepreneurs on their social impact.

“I am for a capitalism that leaves no-one behind, and that ensures a fair distribution of added-value, while penalising value extraction (as we see too often in developing countries),” says Samuel Vionnet from water consultancy Valuing Nature.

While he believes it’s not time to move entirely away from public spending on water based on tax, we can still assess water financing in terms of outcomes, such as terms availability, affordability, accountability, accessibility, acceptability, access to information, non-discrimination, participation, sustainability and quality.

“The only solution that will work in the long term is a solution that will integrate communities and give them ownership, meaning that the public sector will need to be involved at different levels,” Vionnet says. 

“In the developed world, this is made possible through socio-economic development, low corruption, and awareness from politicians. But I believe that a window exists where both the private and the public sector can win.”

This is the third article in a four-part series that explores ideas to improve water and sanitation funding around the world. Read the series:


About the author: Elle Hardy writes as a correspondent for the International WaterCentre, charged with exploring water challenges and the ways these challenges are managed around the world. You can follow Ellle on Twitter @ellehardy.


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