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Combining water with empowerment for better development outcomes in Asia

Water supply is under more strain than ever in Asia, as major changes in development, population, and climate change are all stretching resources. In order to help meet the increasing demand for water, many organisations are bringing together human and economic resources to make clean water a powerful source of transformation.

Vanh Mixap, who spent time working with Engineers Without Borders and Oxfam in Cambodia, found that when helping build the capacity of female entrepreneurs, soft skills, including mindset, were just as critical to develop as hard economics or technical skills, but were often overlooked.

“We brought together about 10 women from across the country, who had the potential to turn their business ideas related to both water and energy into something more tangible,” she says.

“The women went through a program to strengthen their knowledge about water supply and sanitation and to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills to address the water and energy related challenges in their own context, with the opportunity to earn a living.”

Mixap says the program was an initiative to empower women to create a job that fits their unique circumstances, while contributing to positive social and environmental outcomes.

“In the work that I do, usually I would challenge a “pump and pipe solution” to water supply as the only solution and explore what else is possible. I found that by engaging the voices of people who are often not included in the decision-making processes, it opened up possibilities many of us couldn’t imagine.”

Leapfrogging development

Mixap has a strong interest in the concept of ‘leapfrogging’, where developing nations can try to avoid the mistakes developed countries have experienced on the road to achieving their development goals.

She says there are many different opportunities for development when the narrative shifts from a problematic planning perspective to a visionary planning perspective. Mixap says her views on this were inspired by the Asian Development Bank’s youth empowerment champion, Chris Morris.

Mixap points to the example of Liuzhou ‘Forest City’ in China’s Guangxi Province as an example of applying visionary thinking, with available technology on a large scale. The ‘zero impact’ city will have 40,000 trees, one million plants, and be will be home to 30,000 people.

But before we can get to such grand visions, Mixap says that we need to close a significant knowledge gap by actively and meaningfully empowering and engaging more women, youth, people with disabilities and Indigenous people in dialogue around sustainable development. She says that diverse skills and perspectives are critical to dealing with the complex challenges we are facing.

“In Asia, we have so much of that potential to maximize that energy and that contribution that these groups can bring to the table for the development of the country, and I think that’s a great opportunity,” she says.

“It’s not unique to the water sector when we’re talking about good governance, where the input and perspectives of certain people are lacking. Good governance is what’s needed to achieve the sustainable development outcomes. Therefore, we need to bring these people to the table as an equal partner—not just as the beneficiaries in managing our water resources.”

This is the fourth 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.

About the interviewee: Vanh Mixap is a graduate of the International WaterCentre’s Master of Integrated Water Management.

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