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Demystifying the Private Sector Constituency: Who We Are and How We Can Help

David Auerbach, Co-Founder, Sanergy, Nairobi, Kenya
09 Apr 2019
Several members of the Private Sector Constituency, 2019 SMM, San José, 2019


The Private Sector constituency has sent its largest delegation ever to the SWA Sector Ministers’ Meeting – a total of 11 people operating in several countries – Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya, Mali, and Pakistan to name a few - as well as several industry-enabling organizations such as the Toilet Board Coalition, Aquafed, Global Handwashing Partnership, and Waterpreneurs. From the last two days’ progress, we are confident that private sector organizations from Vietnam and other countries will soon be joining our ranks. We have shown up because we believe that the private sector can and should be a critical partner to governments and the larger ecosystem in achieving SDGs 6.1 and 6.2. The recent hiring on by SWA of a private-sector focused adviser is an important move too, ensuring a sustained presence in the planning, duration, and aftermath of the SMM.

Overall, from the SWA 2019 SMM, it is clear that the private sector can play a few important roles:

  • Innovation Agents – governments need work out how to test new ideas and the private sector can help, ranging from business model innovation to, more fundamentally, serving those who are hardest to reach. Sanergy has utilized its market-based approach to serve 100,000 people in non-sewered urban areas on a daily basis in Kenya, who would otherwise never had access this early on to quality, safe sanitation services, and is doing that as a fraction of the cost of water-based sewer systems. UDUMA introduces innovative O&M models for small-piped networks and manual pumps. Harnessing new technologies and applying co-investment schemes, they have been able to supply affordable, safe drinking water to tough rural places and to even the poorest populations: in Mali, its 1400 water points reach 560,000 people for at least 15 years.
  • Policy Soundboards – there’s a lot of important talk at this meeting about implementing tariff structures. Yet, still, you’ll hear the skepticism of the private sector – and those here in San Jose are among the most committed to working with government – that it’s hard to trust governments to deliver on their promises. The private sector is willing and able to offer guidance on what could stimulate their interest to participate. Indeed, perhaps the most successful collaboration through SWA has been the Nigerian delegation, where the Ministry, civil society, and private sector company Zenith Water Projects consistently, frequently and openly work with each other. Niyel has been able to bring together stakeholders in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal for credible, meaningful progress. AWF in Pakistan has helped convene the joint sector review and policy dialogues that has led to mutual understanding and new projects. The Global Handwashing Partnership works to bring partners together from all sectors to build collective action for improved hygiene.
  • Financing Collaborators – it is one thing for a government to be open for business with the private sector, but it’s quite another to do the incentivizing. Government needs actions to follow up on its words. What are the incentives? Tax breaks, guaranteed off-take contracts, credible tariff systems, access to cheap land, sponsored capacity development of workforces, co-financing facilities, risk reduction plans – all of these are great ideas and ones the private sector can respond to, saying how it could work and how it could not. Aquafed, for example, represents over 30 private water and sanitation providers with years of experience. The Toilet Board Coalition, similarly, represents a coalition of corporations and start-ups, and is able to bring their experiences to bear. Waterpreneurs has brought together new investors to the WASH sector through its series of Innovate4Water forums in Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere.


It is a new day at SWA, the appetite for new thinking by ministries has developed, and the private sector’s ideas are welcome. Now, we return to our home countries and let’s get to work!


PS Constituency Chair Neil Dhot speaking at a plenary at SMM, San Jose, April 2019


If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to our co-chairs: Neil Dhot and Nicholas Igwe.