Investments in technologies and equipment for water provision, energy supply and other tangible resources may seem attractive solutions to donors and the media, in providing poor communities with access to basic needs and the struggle to alleviate poverty. Once the equipment is in place and tested, the project ends and funding for long-term monitoring and servicing may be scarce. Without resources or mechanisms for maintenance of this equipment, it seems obvious that these systems will have a limited working life and their contribution to “alleviating poverty” will be short lived.

The UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water 2012 Report, reflects that 780 million people are still without access to water. Despite Millennium Development Goals and targets that appear to be on track, disparities between countries targets are vast and only 7% of aid has gone to maintaining services. Lack of on-going data records and systematic maintenance means that it is even harder to measure the real impact and achievement under these water and sanitation goals.

Below David Damberger, from Engineers Without Borders Canada, discusses his learning from failure and the problem with traditional aid and technologies:
David suggests that long-term commitments and investment in “software” not hardware are required, and that “learning from failure” is something the aid sector must do more. Learning from failiure is also a concept that is also being explored in the private sector to seek improvements in provision of products and services.

In learning from failure “community participation” and “community ownership” concepts try to offer some solutions to long-term maintenance and sustainability of equipment. However these ideas are not always proven to create sustainable solutions either - corruption, movements of people, lack of resources, skills and financing may be some of the limitations communities face.

So what else can being done once lessons are taken from failure? Here are just a few examples I’ve seen so far where this challenge is driving innovative solutions and looking to private sector models: 

•    Sunny Money - an enterprise arm of the charity SolarAid, pride themselves in using enterprise methods to helping alleviate poverty. Sunny Money provides a range of solar lamps to customers in Africa, also training traders in repairing the lamps and supporting schools with access to the lamps. The lamps are intended to replace kerosene lamps. According to Sunny Money an “average of 20% of a household’s income each month” is spent on kerosene for lamps, and traditional lamps create “pollution” and “burns”. Sunny Money has an ambitious vision of eradicating kerosene lamps in Africa by 2020.
•    Africa Water Enterprises – is a charity that focuses on establishing enterprise models in communities and creating business moedles around the sale and maintenance of water supplies in communities. Again using private sector methods to help tackle long-term access to water, the initiative intends to stop the cycle of high costs of water, delays to maintenance of water sources and completely unused water distribution points and equipment.
•    Enterprise Developement Programme – This programme at  Oxfam links private sector investors and people to develop skills and facilitate business set-up in developing countries. This programme encourages innovation of local enterprises and resilient livelihoods.

These examples demonstrate part of the role private sector methods and approaches can play in finding sustainable solutions. Measuring the lasting impact is the next challenge, I'll see if I can find any examples where the private sector may offer some answers here as well.

Louise Bloom

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