Social Water and Sanitation Entrepreneurship – a complementary approach to achieving SDG 6

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Social Water and Sanitation Entrepreneurship – a complementary approach to achieving SDG 6

Dear colleagues,

It is with great pleasure that I present the second edition of the RésEAU Brief series, a medium to share the SDC's learnings from water related projects and programmes at the global level. This second edition focuses on Social Water Entrepreneurship and presents the key findings and analysis of a review of the SDC's engagement in Social Water Entrepreneurship over the last decade. 

Social Water and Sanitation Entrepreneurship – a complementary approach to achieving SDG 6

The SDC defines Social Water Entrepreneurship (SWE) to include formal or informal entities delivering market-based activities in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), irrigation, climate protection and adaptation, and hydroelectricity. Social Water Entrepreneurship complements other approaches to achieving SDG 6 while focusing on closing the access gaps for the most marginalised and underserved communities. The SDC through its Global Programme Water (GPW) has been among the first development agencies to help social water and sanitation entrepreneurs contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2021, the SDC commissioned an external review of its engagement in Social Water Entrepreneurship over the last decade through a number of different projects. 

This RésEAU Brief introduces the six projects reviewed, the different approaches pursued, how they have been implemented, and what they have achieved. It also outlines the successes, failures and challenges along the road. While there are outstanding examples of social water and sanitation entrepreneurs, the overall promise or hope put into water entrepreneurship turns out to be more challenging than anticipated about 10 to 15 years ago when the SDC started framing and advancing the agenda of promoting social entrepreneurship in WASH. The project results are mixed, and some of the projects show rather limited long-term effects for SWE and for the development of a thriving SWE environment. While some projects have provided WASH solutions for large numbers of beneficiaries, raised follow-on investments and created numerous quality job opportunities, only a few are sustainable or are showing large-scale social or environmental impact. A more tangible result has been the creation of self-employment opportunities and building capacities of entrepreneurs and other ecosystem actors. The projects supported by the SDC have mainly focused on ideation and incubation efforts, which take continuous efforts to develop an effective pipeline of successful entrepreneurs, a long time for the enterprises to mature, and in consequence significant resources.

The results and analysis outlined in this RésEAU Brief serve as basis for discussion of the future strategic and operational focus of the GPW and its future involvement in the field of SWE, and propose a concrete contribution to the principles of engagement of the SDC with private and investment actors.

I would like to thank the review team from Sagana and EBP Schweiz for the comprehensive assessment, the SDC colleagues involved in this capitalization exercise, the designers from Zoï Environment Network, and everybody else who contributed to this second edition of the RésEAU Brief dedicated to SWE. I wish you happy reading!

Andreas Steiner

Editor RésEAU Brief on Social Water Entrepreneurship
Programme Officer, SDC Global Programme Water​