Interview: Leo Nijland and Taco de Vries on ‘Bomba’ water provision services in Tanzania

In the Mara Region of Tanzania a consortium of Tanzanian and Dutch public and private parties are active to blueprint and validate a business model for delivering safe water on a sustainable basis to rural communities. In the region, village water schemes are not or barely delivering effective services. This is problematic for the local households who are dependent on safe water for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning.

The Networking WASH project (Nwash) is one of the projects supported by the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW) of the Dutch government. Nwash introduces the concept of an independent mini-network operator which will provide 230,000 people with safe water within the coming five years.

PPPLab’s Marleen Brouwer spoke to Leo Nijland (Dunea) and Taco de Nies (BoP Inc), who just arrived in Tanzania for the project management meeting of the PPP and to engage with the local team about planning and supporting activities in 2015.

Could you please explain what the Nwash project is about?

The Nwash project is started up by a consortium of seven partners. Besides our lead applicant SNV, the Dutch actors are the water operator Dunea, research organisation TNO, water company Hatenboer and the BoP Innovation Center (BoP Inc). The two Tanzanian actors in our PPP are the public water operator Muwasa and the regional secretariat of Mara Region. Before the establishment of Nwash, SNV and Dunea were already actively involved in the Mara Region and the Tanzanian water sector. They found major challenges in the sector, due to a lack of functionality of rural water facilities and high levels of fluoride in the water.

Recent reforms created the policy opportunity for separating water delivery from water consumption. The Nwash project benefits from this opportunity by starting a social business for delivery of water services, an independent mini-network operator: ‘Bomba Maji’ (Bomba is Swahili for both ‘water pipe’ as ‘excellent’, which makes it a very suitable name for this company!).

Through an innovative construction the partners have realized the financing of Bomba in which additional funding from the private sector partners in Bomba has been secured as well. Bomba is currently finalizing the contract with three districts in the Mara Region under which it will have the opportunity to  serve more than 40 villages in this region in Tanzania.

Following the original objectives of the PPP, Bomba will provide 30,000 people with water on a sustainable basis by 2016 (the end of the PPP project), serving at least one village in each contracted district. An additional 200,000 people can be provided with water within two years after the end of the project. Moreover a low-cost small-scale fluoride treatment technology will be developed and made ready for the market, under the lead of TNO in cooperation with Hatenboer. 5,000 people will be provided with treated water, reducing fluoride levels from ‘dangerous’ to ‘safe’ (based on WHO standards).

How are Tanzanian stakeholders involved in your project?

There are two public Tanzanian entities part of our PPP: the public water operator Muwasa and the regional secretariat of Mara Region. Muwasa is a water operator with operating experience in the region supports and advises the consortium in the realization and introduction of Bomba. The regional secretariat facilitates the collaboration with district authorities and the realisation of local community organisations (so-called COWSOs), that are required for Bomba to operate effectively in the villages.

The project partners SNV, DUNEA and BoP Inc have started Bomba in partnership with three private sector partners in Tanzania. Together they are the founding members of Bomba, a limited by guarantee under Tanzanian Law. Chigoto Plus is providing the CEO of Bomba and is in management contract with Bomba for supporting activities. WEDECO is providing the service delivery manager and leads the design, construction and operation of the water delivery. REAM Africa leads the supply chain management for Bomba.

Bomba works with community owned water supply organisations (COWSOs). COWSOs are legal entities at the community level who are entitled to make contracts with the private sector on behalf of the community. Given the Tanzanian and African experience in community managed water schemes, the Tanzanian government has opened the opportunity for the private sector to set up and run water schemes in strong collaboration with COWSOs. On behalf of Bomba, SNV is actively working with communities to formalize COWSOs for their new role and to be ready for contracting and working with Bomba. At the end of the project the Dutch stakeholders have the intention to pull out of the project, so the COWSOs have to feel ready to make contracts with local water operators.

How does your business affect the ‘bottom of the pyramid’?

The local communities of Mara Region are crucial stakeholders. Bomba is market-oriented, and the local population and communities are its customers. Bomba finalized a Human Centered Design initiative and consequently developed the value proposition of Bomba. This was done by a team of TU Delft with the support of BoP Inc. Through detailed insights, obtained from capturing stories from the villages, value propositions and products were prototyped and validated to guide Bomba in the implementation of all dimensions of the customer experience.

With a strong demand for so-called @home services, Bomba has developed the first prototype of the Bomba yard tab, and made this the cornerstone of their proposition. With most of the population belonging to the ‘bottom of the pyramid’, Bomba is targeting to price its services such that more than 80% of the population can afford the services consuming on average 300 liters per day. Building on the insights that most people currently spend more money on water, and spend considerable time and effort to obtain water, Bomba has a strong belief that through its excellent customer engagement people will pay for its services. Based on this, TNO is exploring how innovative treatment technology for fluoride treatment can be integrated into the Bomba yard tab.

What is the main challenge your PPP is facing at this stage?

A company like Bomba is very new for the Tanzanian water sector. Nwash is the first project that introduces such a business model. Because some things are never done before, it takes more time than expected for Bomba to start operating in the villages. For example, the contractual agreements with the districts and the COWSOs are adopting principles of BOOT contracts (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer) into arrangements that will provide incentives to Bomba for ongoing investments until the end of the contract.

However, we are very happy with the fact that we actually started a company with a diverse range of local and international stakeholders, and that even the national Tanzanian government, the districts and the COWSOs are very interested in making this a success.

What key insight(s) would you like to share with other PPP practitioners?

In a PPP, as currently defined, we have the impression that the initiatives are seen as projects with project funding. However in our case we are not a project, but we are starting a business on one hand, and on the other hand we are working on an innovation that will be adopted by a private sector company to bring to the market. Both require early-stage funding. This market driven private sector approach in partnerships involving public sector, ngo’s and others is a learning experience acknowledged by all partners. This has been underestimated in the planning of this whole initiative, created unexpected costs, and requires ongoing efforts.

In our relationship with RVO we experience strong support and collaboration. However the ‘PPP rules of the game’ might benefit if PPP initiatives have more flexibility to adopt their plans and routes to success. In a PPP like ours the world is not predictable, the original plan, results and how some results can be realized have changed along the way. Before a project kicks off, it is hard to make a detailed planning of every step in the business process. Due to changing circumstances, activities and allocated funding streams may change. Therefore we would prefer to work according to milestones, which means we have to indicate per year where the project will approximately be.

Moreover, the focus on detailed accountability from the PPPs towards DGIS is very strong.  The PPPs are not really partnerships, since the role of the Dutch government as a partner is perhaps not clear enough and therefore not leveraged. In the current mode of operation the Dutch government is a financer providing early-stage funding for our risky undertakings.  As a financier, the government is monitoring initiatives at an activity level. The Ministry could consider to adopt practices from impact investors or other more early-stage investors that monitor and manage their investments through more consolidated means. Beyond that, the role as a partner should be more elaborated upon.

Hungry for more information? Check out our project profile about Nwash. Click here to watch the brand-new video about the Nwash project. The Bomba flyer can be downloaded here: BomBa Profile