MECS at World Water Week 2014: Mobile and Information Technology for Water and Energy Services

Friday 26 Sep 2014 |

The record number of attendees at World Water Week, and this year’s focus on water and energy, was a great opportunity for the MECS programme’s World Water Week debut. MECS co-hosted the seminar, “Bridging Water and Energy Service Delivery with Mobiles and Information Technology”. Our partners included IRC international Water and Sanitation Centre, the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) of the World Bank and CGAP’s Digital Finance + programme.

The seminar brought together a range of actors – from large civil society organisations and government, to new enterprises – each leveraging mobile differently for promising new models of service delivery. A highly engaged audience posed questions that illuminated key opportunities for more evidence, and the continued demand for these new service models. The most debated themes were around the pathway to scaling and the time and resources required to demonstrate the impact of mobile enabled services.

The following key insights emerged from three panels. The presentations are available for review here.

Panel 1: Monitoring and Operational Data to Improve Services

Impressively, the range of actors on this panel were all focussed on scaling and institutionalising monitoring programmes, if not already achieving this. Dr Evan Thomas of Portland State University (a MECS grantee) presented on the power of remote monitoring (i.e. machine-to-machine technology) to monitor functionality of hand pumps and therefore drive lasting service delivery and push donors to thinking about the long-term costs of providing services. Their work in Rwanda is closely linked with government for their eventual role in this model.

Mr Benedict Kubabom from Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency and Mr Rezaul Karim from BRAC in Bangladesh shared experiences using mobile applications to collect field data about water point functionality and management, as well as household behaviour. It was encouraging to see two similar models presented by different actors with a key implementing role: from Ghana, a government agency, and from Bangladesh, a large NGO.

The key issue that emerged was the challenge to secure sufficient funding to prove the benefits of such initiatives over a realistic timeframe. Although we are seeing what appear to be good monitoring programmes, there’s still a need to present clear evidence of the service delivery improvements that can be gained from investments in monitoring.

Panel 2: Innovating finance and billing using mobile channels

Mr Camilo Tellez of CGAP’s Digital Finance + initiative framed the second panel on innovative financing. The opportunity lies in the 1.9 billion people in the world with access to a mobile but no bank account, paired with the increasing growth of mobile financial services. He highlighted the financing gaps in the water service supply chain that lead to poor services, and the opportunities for mobile payments, and pay-as-you-go models to address these.

There was great curiosity and enthusiasm about Engineer Philip Gichuki’s presentation. He shared Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company’s self-meter-reading and incremental payment programme for the poor, which uses SMS reporting and mobile payments. The aim is more inclusive service delivery models, and better service levels. Although this “Jisomee Mita” programme, supported by the WSP, is in its early days, Nairobi Water demonstrated impressive responses to initial challenges. For example, they introduced “Community Development Assistants” to support users with mobile meter readings and payments, and they already have a strong vision for scaling this programme.

A salient point was that mobile operators have continued to improve mobile money deployments, but as the demand for last mile services grow, mobile money ecosystems are still weak in rural areas. Those who want to incorporate mobile money for energy and water services in the last mile, need to be aware of this and ready to work with operators and end users to build out the mobile money ecosystems.

Panel 3: Professionalising Service Delivery

The final panel brought to light how mobile is enabling holistic business models for professionalised service delivery for the underserved. Mr Par Almqvist from OMC power in India shared how their solar stations for off-grid mobile towers are creating new energy economies for the surrounding communities, including water pumping and treatment. The promise of this new business model has them on target to go from 20 to 200 stations in a few years, bringing energy services to 3 million people.

Dr Robert Hope from Oxford University presented impressive data advocating for a business model in which high-level service delivery is ensured through transmitters on hand pumps that report functionality to a private maintenance company. Improved service levels were met with increased willingness to pay, with repairs made between 2-3 days compared to nearly a month previously. As the frequency and costs of breakages vary for hand-pumps, a viable maintenance model could group an entire area of hand pumps into a maintenance scheme to pool the costs of repairs.


Mr Sylvain Adokpo Migan from the World Bank WSP shared their work to support small water service providers in Benin adopt Manobi’s mWater platform. Prompted by calls from the Benin government for more accountability of private service providers, the platform enables better asset management and service analysis. Impressive scaling has been achieved through balancing a focus on water service providers’ needs, with standardising reporting, implementing each component of the platform in a modular manner, and a public/private cost sharing business model for a financially sustainable service.

The panellists and discussions painted a promising picture for the use of mobile to improve water services, with high expectations for consideration of scaling at the outset. A remaining challenge is in the time it takes to demonstrate return on investment, i.e. the actual improvement in service delivery, through mobile enabled services. Mobile only speeds up one step- the collecting, disseminating and analysing of data, or remote payments. Yet the institutional changes required for new processes take time to develop and implement. There is a need for a longer-term view on financing the implementation of mobile enabled models and evidence of improved water and energy services to demonstrate the value of investing in the different options available.