Innovating through mobile to improve access to water and sanitation – our experiences at World Water Week

Innovating through mobile to improve access to water and sanitation – our experiences at World Water Week

September 6, 2017 | Mobile for Development Utilities | South Asia | Sub-Saharan Africa | Global | Phillip Ramgobin

It’s around 7.30 am on Tuesday, 29 August, in Stockholm, Sweden. I’m having my breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant. In the hour that I’ve been awake, I’ve taken advantage of what might seem like very simple, everyday things that many of us don’t really think about. Yet, in developing countries, those things – clean water and improved sanitation services – are not ubiquitous, not commonplace and not easily accessible. Something that is though – mobile technology.

To put that into perspective, approximately 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities but 1.8 billion of those are covered by mobile networks. Around 663 million people lack access to an improved drinking water source yet 289 million are covered by mobile networks. What does this tell us? Mobile technology, something that is moving, growing and developing at an incredible rate, may be the key to bringing essential services to those without. It is also uniquely placed to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Why am I in a hotel in Stockholm on a Tuesday? To attend World Water Week. Organised by SIWI – experts, industry actors, influencers, decision-makers and those in business from around the world convene in Stockholm to network, debate, discuss and foster innovation to develop solutions for the most pressing water-related challenges the world currently faces.

Our GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities team is hosting a session in the afternoon, entitled ‘Water and sanitation: Innovative mobile solutions to improve service delivery’. More on that later though.

Arriving at the venue, Salima (one of our Senior Market Engagement Managers) and I head to the nearby gardens for the first part of our day – interviewing our Innovation Fund grantees. Sanergy, Loowatt, Wonderkid, Safe Water Network and eWater (special congratulations to eWater for winning the RELX Group Environmental Sustainability Prize 2017, which was awarded the night before) were all awarded funding through this initiative to trial, test and scale various mobile enabled solutions for providing access to improved water and sanitation services. Why are we interviewing them? We want to share their work with you, which we’ll be doing over the next few weeks and months and have just started with the first blog on Safe Water Network.

Three full hours of questions, conversation, debates and updates later, our filming is complete.

Innovating through mobile to improve access to water and sanitation - World Water Week halls

Somehow it is suddenly 3.30 pm and there are delegates waiting to join us. We work on getting everything set up, with the presenters and panel already in place and absolutely prepared.

What follows at 4 pm is an informative, clear, educational and interesting 90 minutes of presentations, discussions, Q and A and panel debate. Daniel Kamiri from Wonderkid starts off the session by showcasing their results working on water utility transformation in Kenya. Lindsay Stradley from Sanergy then presented their use of mobile technology at every step of the sanitation value chain, including for their grant project. Erica Lloyd from SOIL highlighted their use of mobile for sanitation marketing while Mary Roach from Loowatt talked about their journey implementing mobile.  There were many questions from the packed and engaged audience, sharing of knowledge, discussion about topics like blockchain, mobile money uptake, analysis of data for marketing purposes, working with utility service providers, mobile network operators and even one or two moments of levity.

Innovating through mobile to improve access to water and sanitation - World Water Week session

It’s 8.15 pm and I’m about to board my flight back to the United Kingdom. What have I taken away from the day and the event? As an industry, mobile technology can and will help solve the problem of access to improved water and sanitation services. Our grantees are innovating and paving the way forward for this. Organisations from around the world are contributing to this cause, finding ways to work with utility providers, mobile network operators and other organisations, bringing the power of technology to bear. We, together, will achieve SDG 6.

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