Innovative leadership will enable achieving water and sanitation for Everyone Forever

Note to readers: this post is adapted from my November 14, 2017, keynote speech at the International Water Association’s (IWA’s) Water and Development Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Imagine the year 2031. We are back here in Buenos Aires. The main challenge facing us is getting enough people into the water sector.

Memory Banda giving her TED talk

Memory — yes, that is her name — from Malawi, is giving the keynote. She is new to the water sector and is talking about her thriving operator training business. Memory’s company partners with municipalities. In Malawi, water rates are affordable, technology robust and locally available, and service level is high. Because of water, the economy is thriving, kids stay in school longer (especially girls), and everyone is healthier. Social progress is visible and measurable, even in rural Malawi.

School children in Malawi

How real is this story? It is true. Memory is an amazing Malawian woman. Today she is an advocate against child marriage. Maybe she could become a water advocate too. Several other things could become a reality — a robust pipeline of trained water professionals, more water businesses, expanded utilities, affordable rates, and reliable water service 24/7.

We know how to get there, how to solve the global water and sanitation crisis to reach Sustainable Development Goal #6 — sustainable water and sanitation for Everyone Forever.

Here is the crisis that we are living amidst — 2.1 billion people without access to safe water and 4.5 billion without proper sanitation. Hard to imagine when it isn’t part of your daily life. Easy to feel the impact when it is.

What will it take to end this crisis? Innovative leadership in 3 areas:

First - political will and tone at the top. Presidents of nations that make water the foundation of economic development do succeed.

Second - new financing methods, from capital cities all the way to the last mile.

Third - human capital. We need more water professionals in the world.

Our role, as water professionals, is to educate, influence and encourage our national leaders to lead with water. We know they will get a hefty return on their investment. We have the ability, and moral obligation, to drive this vision forward.

Let’s look into the future. Consider this:

We should be investing about 3X more today to be on our way to SDG6. $114B/year is our target. This is equivalent to the annual e-commerce volume of Japan - definitely within our reach globally for water. Especially because we get a 5X return on investment. A clear business case. And we’ll need twice as many water professionals to get the job done. WOW! Think about that!

The byproducts of water are education, health, economic growth.

Education, health, and economic growth lead to social progress

Together they are social progress. What leader would not want this for their country?

Let’s look at the 3 aspects of Innovative leadership needed for social progress:

  1. Political will

Two examples of countries that achieved SDG6 –South Korea and Singapore — had one thing in common –political will. South Korea started in 1965, and now has virtually universal water and wastewater services. This was a priority of president Park Chung-hee. GDP grew over 1000X. Yes — 1000x! Per capita income went from $100 to $25,000. $25,000! Life expectancy increased 50%. Water had a key role to play in this transformation. Political will made it happen.

Park Chung-hee and Lee Kwan Yew

Lee Kwan Yew declared in the 1970s that Singapore would become water independent. GDP and life expectancy had significant growth over this time. We all know that Singapore is now a global leader in water. I am sure there are people from Singapore here that witnessed this incredible change.

There are national leaders today that have water and sanitation top of mind — President Afuko-Addo of Ghana has appointed a Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources to his cabinet.

Pres. Afuko-Addo, PM Modi, and Pres. Kuczynski

Prime Minister Modi of India is well known for his Clean India Mission — and goal of toilets for all by 2019. And Peru’s president PPK is pro-water. He said that by 2021 all Peruvians should have potable water.

We need more Presidents that lead with water to pick up the pace. At the rate we are going globally, and the rate people are being born, it will take us another 50 years to get safe water for everyone and 170 years to get proper sanitation. 170 years! We won’t be around then to see it! Moving 2X as fast for water, and 5X as fast for sanitation is required!

You would think that all presidents would “get it” since water and sanitation are key to sustainable development, gender equality, economic productivity, growth of the middle class, reduction of poverty, increase in life expectancy… The list goes on. These are notable, laudable outcomes that everyone desires. What is stopping them?

2. Money —The Second Aspect of Innovative Leadership

New, non-traditional financing methods are going to make the jump from $40B to $114B a year. Over time investment shifts from capital to O&M. Blue goes down, green goes up.

The current funding gap for SDG6-level services is about $75B a year

Financing for South Korea was government, World Bank, and private sector. Singapore -tariffs, government, and bonds. Blended financing: mixing public & private funds, tariffs, taxes, loans, and bonds — is a new, nontraditional approach.

The majority of financing needed through 2030 is for capital funding of new infrastructure

All these investments must grow to reach SDG6 level. And once we get the missing infrastructure built, we’ll shift from the capital to the operations and maintenance (O&M) phase, and tariffs will become the primary source of funding.

By 2030 the majority of system costs will be for O&M

What about countries that have financial challenges? Projects don’t appear to be bankable yet they are getting built, stretching public capital. Borrowing initial capital from the private sector is one method. Public-private partnerships are being tested too, often in urban water supply & treatment.

Let’s consider rural areas in low income countries, where the majority of the world’s population lives. There is also progress. Infrastructure is often decentralized to be affordable and reliable — less intermittent service. Some of the best solutions are coming from the epicenter of the need. The global south. There is greater use of mobile technology and many innovations are developed in-country. Small businesses– like water and sanitation entrepreneurs -are growing. These businesses seek loans from $10,000 to $100,000 to get started. We refer to this as the missing middle of financing.

Here is innovative example of blended financing that addresses this missing middle. Kiva, a global nonprofit lender, made an unlikely partnership with US Overseas Private Invesment Corporation (OPIC), the Skoll Foundation, and crowd funding to create $120M in available loans for small businesses (mostly women-owned). Repayment rate: 92%. 92% I love this example — who would have thought the US government would have partnered with crowdfunding via the internet to give loans to small businesses in 30 countries around the world? Amazing.

And let’s not forget microfinancing for the bottom of the pyramid, for toilet loans, water connections, and small water systems — typically $100 to $500 loans. There are many microfinance institutions that offer water and sanitation loans.

One clear lesson we have learned at Water For People is that people will pay for service if they value it, even those living on $2/day. $2/day. The point is — where there is a will there is a way. This entire range of innovative financing options — billions of dollars to hundreds — is necessary to fill the financing gap.

And innovative leadership also requires…

3. Human capital — the third aspect of innovative leadership

Doña Luisa is on a quest to make sure Everyone in El Negrito, Honduras, has access to safe water, Forever.

Doña Luisa, President of El Negrito’s Water Board Association

Doña Luisa went door to door and convinced her community to install water meters and only pay for the water they use. She also introduced sanitation loans (a first for Honduras). I know Dona Luisa. She is driven and passionate. Unstoppable! We want more Dona Luisas!

One country undergoing systems change is Rwanda. President Kagame has water and sanitation clearly in his Vision 2020 that integrates all infrastructure development.

President Kagame

At Water For People, we have been working in Rwanda since 2008. We know how to develop sustainable services at the district level and we are helping replicate the model across the country together with the Ministry of Infrastructure, the national water and sanitation company (WASAC), and mayors. This includes helping develop feasibility studies, investment plans, monitoring frameworks, water resources management plans, regulations, policies, water rate models, etc. Kagame has the will, Water For People and our government and private sector partners have the way. We are working hand-in-hand. We call this collaboration the Agenda For Change. Using collective impact to leverage knowledge and skills to affect systems change.

Let’s not forget how influential mayors are in affecting change. Think of the mayor of your community and what they do. Our impact model at Water For People, Everyone Forever, was co-created in 2011 with former Mayor Justus and the Rulindo Challenge. Many people doubted it could be done.

Former Mayor of Rulindo, Justus Kangwagye

And next year we will, together, celebrate getting to coverage for Everyone in Rulindo— close to 300,000 people. Vice-Mayor Prosper Mulindwa is making it happen. It was difficult, and we did it! This is a big deal for Rwanda - for any country.

Dunia Rojas is another mayor that is pushing for sustainable services. And it is working. In 2017, Everyone in Arani, Bolivia, had water for the first time! Dunia is a force. She is about 5 feet tall and she drives her vision hard.

Mayor Dunia Rojas

Some people didn’t believe that an indigenous woman could be an effective mayor and leader. She is the first one. And she is proving them wrong.

Building more infrastructure requires more water professionals! Remember my numbers? Twice as many by 2030! I know many of you have challenges finding talent today. This is only going to increase. And exporting professionals from one country to another doesn’t solve the problem ultimately. Each nation has to provide the education and training to develop their own workforce. The human capital is there now! It can be developed in-country.

Perpetue is an example of a young water professional turned into a national leader.

Water For People’s Rwanda Country Director, Perpetue Kamuyumbu

She started working for Water For People nine years ago as a planner and today leads our country program in Rwanda. Perpetues all over the world are critical role models for the future workforce of water!

Yanine, is another great example — she is the first female leader of a district water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) office that Water For People works with in Bolivia.

San Pedro District WASH Officer, Yanine Gutierrez

Chrispin is the District Water Development Officer in Chikwawa, Malawi. Chrispin’s role makes him one of the key players in establishing service authorities to keep water flowing — Forever.

Chikwawa District Water Development Officer, Chrispin Songola

Chrispin said to me “I see the future bright, because I see sustainability.”

Perpetue, Yanine, and Chrispin are all role models in their countries. They are in careers that, until recently, didn’t exist. They are plowing ground for the next generation of water professionals. The IWA members of the future are in Rwanda, Bolivia, Malawi, and many more countries.

Political will and tone at the top are essential to our future success along with new financing methods and greater human capital. Together, this is innovative leadership!

What role do we, as water professionals, play in this movement? We can help influence our national leaders. We know the challenge. We know the solution. And we know we have to do things differently to develop replicable approaches that will work at massive scale to deliver reliable water and sanitation services. Technology is an enabler of change — and people make change happen. Can we also be innovative leaders? Can we exert sufficient influence at the national govt levels to make the tides turn to our favor? To the world’s favor, to move faster towards developing sustainable services for Everyone Forever?

Yes. We can. Be audacious. Be courageous. Challenge the status quo to shift the equilibrium. Lead the change. I am ready and willing. Are you?