Empowering Burkina Faso's water and sanitation enterprises through networking and capacity building - Aqua for All

Empowering Burkina Faso’s water and sanitation enterprises through networking and capacity building

Published: 25th January 2024

Burkina Faso is home to many promising water and sanitation small and medium enterprises (SMEs), yet they face significant challenges to become sustainable. Since 2020, Aqua for All and ForthInvestment have joined forces to support local entrepreneurs through two business acceleration programmes. These programmes enhance capacity, foster networking, and facilitate access to finance. Massa Balima, ForthInvestment’s Managing Director, explains how these initiatives empower local entrepreneurs to transform the sector. 


Can you tell us a bit about your role and Forthinvestment? 

ForthInvestment had its beginnings in Paris back in 2015, founded by a group of Burkinabé diaspora members committed to supporting and financing African entrepreneurs. Our partners bring diverse experiences from various sectors in Africa, Europe, and the Americas.  

Since 2018, I have been appointed as Managing Director of ForthInvestment. In this role, I oversee day-to-day operations and collaborate with the Management Committee on shaping our strategic direction. 

Massa Balima, Managing Director of ForthInvestment (on the right)

How does ForthInvestment support the growth of water and sanitation SMEs in Burkina Faso? 

ForthInvestment supports water and sanitation SMEs through business acceleration and financing programmes – known as ‘PME Performants’ (Performing SMEs) -, which are funded by donors. Local entrepreneurs improve their skills to align their products and services with market demands and develop effective marketing and sales strategies. They also get expertise in financial management and in providing reliable financial information to secure commercial funding. Many SMEs lack these capacities due to limited financial resources and cannot afford to hire consultants for business, commercial, or financial support.

Currently, these programmes are offered only in Burkina Faso. They last from nine to eighteen months depending on the programme’s goals and the industry. Looking ahead, we want to expand them to other West African countries like Ivory Coast and Mali. 


What kind of methodology does ForthInvestment use? 

Our methodology is based on three pillars: 

  • Tailor-made approach. The acceleration programme starts with an organisational diagnosis. This diagnosis is the basis for developing a tailor-made support plan for each enterprise. SMEs receive joint support on issues shared with other participants and individual assistance for their specific situations. 
  • Selecting the correct tools is determined by the needs and realities of the SMEs. Based on the organisational diagnosis, SMEs receive technical support, coaching sessions, training and/or subsidies during the programme. 
  • A diverse team, consisting of experts from ForthInvestment and its partners in implementation, provides support to SMEs. 


What are the challenges and opportunities for WASH SMEs in Burkina Faso? 

In Burkina Faso, a significant amount of the population lacks access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation services. Public efforts are insufficient to meet the essential service needs of the people. This underserved market presents many opportunities bridge the gaps in demand while generating revenue for private providers, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas. However, many of these SMEs face structural challenges and struggle to secure necessary financing. 

Access to financing is a critical obstacle delaying the growth and strengthening of these SMEs. Financial institutions have limited knowledge about the sector and therefore, are hesitant to target these enterprises. Additionally, the low-margin cost-profit model poses another challenge because water and sanitation SMEs primarily serve low-income populations. 


Can you tell us about “PME Performantes WASH Programme”?

The PME Performantes WASH Programme supported ten SMEs providing water, sanitation and solid human water management services from Ouagadougou. This 12-month acceleration programme was launched in February 2021 and ended at the beginning of 2022. It prepared the SMEs to meet the criteria of financial institutions (better structuring, reliability of financial data) and made financial institutions aware of the market potential of the WASH sector. SMEs also received grant funding to support their development, which was financed by Aqua for All. 

Besides funding, Aqua for All also provided implementation support. Technical support was offered by IRC WASH and the 2IE institute, Sinergi Burkina and Société Générale were the financial sector partners.  

The added value of this partnership was its pragmatic approach in the process, providing training and coaching support, and grant funding. Implementing partners contribute with technical and organisational expertise to improving the SME’s business model while remaining economically viable. 


Can you share the key outcomes achieved through the PME Performantes WASH Programme? 

In a broad sense, the programme not only met but often exceeded its intended objectives. Impressively, the participating 10 SMEs reported an overall satisfaction rate of 80%. 

Some achievements include: 

  • 1,794 individuals enjoys improved access to safe water, sanitation, and integrated water resources management (IWRM) services and products.
  • The programme contributed to creating or consolidating 47 jobs, surpassing the target of 40 jobs.
  • It was a pivotal role in raising awareness among financial institutions about WASH SMEs; thereby fostering understanding and support.

The PME Performantes WASH Programme left a lasting positive impact on the Burkinabe WASH sector by enhancing the supply and quality of products and services offered by the participating SMEs. In the water sector, it facilitated improved access to safe drinking water, and it directly contributed to the reduction of open defecation and the removal of sludge.


Which critical elements drove the success of the PME Performantes WASH Programme? 

The programme’s success can be attributed to several important factors: 

  • The programme’s well-structured design, specifically tailored to the unique needs of the SMEs.
  • Effective tools and resources, including technical and organisational support, as well as grant funding.
  • The collaborative strength of a multidisciplinary team composed of ForthInvestment and its implementing partners.


What improvements were implemented in the PME Performantes WASH-Climate 2.0 Acceleration Programme launched in November 2022?

The PME Performantes WASH-Climate 2.0 acceleration programme builds on the experience gained from the PME Performantes WASH programme. Therefore, the new programme will support ten WASH enterprises and scale up their activities by strengthening their organisational and technical skills. The new programme features are:  

  • Extended duration: The programme spans 18 months. 
  • Refined selection criteria: The new programme includes SMEs’ sales history as an eligibility criterion due to profitability challenges. 
  • Geographical diversity: The current programme includes 7 enterprises are based in Ouagadougou, while 3 are from Bobo-Dioulasso. The first programme only included SMEs based in Ouagadougou. 
  •  Enhanced training: The current programme offers training on key topics like the WASH sector, entrepreneurial leadership, startup
  •  failure causes, organizational skills, time management, and business management. 

  • Fundraising support: A three-month period is dedicated to helping SMEs identify funding opportunities. Before starting any fundraising efforts, a preparation phase is implemented. Furthermore, participants will undergo training in pitching and receive assistance in establishing fundraising connections with financial institutions like banks and microfinance entities, as well as donors, upon program completion. 
  • Networking and advocacy focus: Networking and advocacy initiatives involve creating synergies among SMEs from both programmes. In addition, the SMEs actively engage in networking events with WASH NGOs, the public sector and financial institutions. 
  • Introduction of Investment Readiness Tool: A diagnostic tool assessing the company’s situation has been incorporated to provide a baseline for measuring the SMEs development at the end of the programme. 


What was the experience like to partner with Aqua for All? 

The collaboration with Aqua for All has been a resounding success, and we are delighted to continue this partnership.  

Aqua for All’ capacity and flexibility to adapt its support to the reality and needs of the WASH sector in Burkina Faso was critical to the programme’s success.  The PERFORMING SME WASH Programme is a first-of-its-kind for the WASH sector in Burkina Faso in terms of its form and content. This shows Aqua for All’s readiness to explore new innovative ways to support local entrepreneurship to accelerate access to water and sanitation for all. 

 Aqua for All is known for its pragmatic approach, eagerly seeking fresh avenues to make water accessible to all. This commitment was evident in the daily interactions between our project teams and theirs. When challenges surfaced, we jointly looked for solutions, even if they weren’t initially part of the program’s plan. 

Additionally, Aqua for All team has an excellent database and extensive knowledge of the WASH sector. This has been critical for improving the programme, developing expertise within ForthInvestment on accelerating WASH businesses as well as measuring SDG 6 impact indicator.