Unilever, FCDO, EY and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partner with African utilities for sanitation solutions

Two public utility companies are taking on the TRANSFORM Utilities Challenge. Malindi Water & Sewerage Company (MAWASCO) in Kenya and Southern Water & Sanitation Company (SWSC) in Zambia have been selected from over 100 applicants to develop equitable, safe, and sustainable sanitation services for underserved urban communities.

The challenge set by TRANSFORM founding organizations; Unilever, FCDO and EY; and the BMGF, will see MAWASCO and SWSC each receive grant funding and in-kind support worth £250,000 to develop solutions that could serve as a blueprint to be rolled out to millions across Africa and beyond.

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The TRANSFORM Utilities Challenge will combine MAWASCO and SWSC’s local know-how with the capabilities and networks of multinational partners, the expertise of impact enterprise Sanivation, and NGO Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) who bring their experience of working in six countries and 26 cities. The ambition is to test and validate the behavioral change routes, commercial viability and potential for scale and replication of the models that will be developed through the partnership.

The need for city-wide inclusive sanitation services

In dense urban communities, conventional sewers and wastewater treatments are not always effective or suitable for a population’s sanitation needs. Limited access and inability to pay for services in poor communities causes a reliance on informal pit-emptiers and the use of crude methods of disposal, often contaminating the food and water consumed locally.

Many cities around the world are growing rapidly and lack the resources to keep up with the sanitation needs of their citizens. If cities are to grow into productive, sustainable communities, everyone needs a safe place to go to the toilet and waste must be managed safely. When it’s not, illnesses like cholera and dysentery can emerge and spread, many children can’t go to school, and people are unable to work.

Utilities possess the necessary mandates, relationships, organizational capabilities, and infrastructure to ensure access to equitable sanitation services. Utilities are well-placed to innovate and lead to creating a range of commercial sanitation solutions that people will use, leading to cleaner, healthier communities.

‘We are very excited to see governments and utilities across the continent beginning to take on inclusive sanitation service provision as part of clear and well-resourced utility mandates,’ says Danielle Pedi from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ‘By rethinking urban sanitation as a utility service, utilities and private sector partners can deliver safe, equitable, sustainable, resilient services, while growing their business.’

Innovating for scale

MAWASCO plans to provide Kenya’s Malindi town with the safe removal of waste from pit latrines and septic tanks. In Zambia, SWSC aims to provide safe and portable waste removal services to Livingstone’s low-income communities.

MAWASCO’s model has the potential to be replicated by 59 other utilities in Kenya and could reach the entire Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation region, impacting up to 30 million urban sanitation residents. Similarly, SWSC will reach 2,500 people in its initial stages, and is due to impact a further 500,000 people in subsequent areas.

Through the Utilities Challenge, TRANSFORM aims to help tackle the global urban sanitation crisis and help to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. This collaborative effort between public and private partners will apply the same rigorous and tested behavior change model used by Unilever globally to develop scalable solutions that can act as a blueprint for sustainable future delivery mechanisms.

“We are striving to improve access to sanitation in Malindi” says Gerald Mwambire, Managing Director of Malindi Water and Sewerage Company Ltd., “the TRANSFORM Utilities Project is crucial to synergizing our ongoing sanitation improvement plans and investments. Our ambition is to transform Malindi into the cleanest coastal town in Kenya and improve the lives of the residents by growing tourism and creating greater opportunities for the people of the wider Kilifi County.”

“Through the TRANSFORM Utilities Challenge we are re-shaping our approach by changing our mandate from sewerage to sanitation,” says Eng. Gift Monde, Managing Director of Southern Water and Sanitation Company Ltd, “through this collaboration we will develop and improve on sanitation solutions that are both affordable and sustainable.”

“The Utilities Sanitation Challenge is a testament to the power of partnerships, combining the expertise and know-how of the utilities with the capabilities and networks of multinational organizations,” says Richard Wright, Behavioural Science Director at Unilever, “with the help of TRANSFORM’s flexible and pragmatic approach, the utilities will be able to provide innovative solutions at a lower-risk and experiment with new ideas at scale, playing an active role in solving this key development challenge.”

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