From 19 to 30 October, our Kenya team gathered in Nairobi. We met with several partner organisations and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) financed by Aqua for All directly or through the COVID-19 WASH Loan Facility established with Sidian Bank. Among others, we discussed their upcoming plans and how they are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Staying in touch with our local partners is more important than ever to identify challenges and look for solutions to overcome them. Private service providers are critical to keep the supply for essential services in the country up and running, especially for families on low incomes and living in rural areas.
During the trip, we talked to local microfinance institutions and banks to discuss possibilities to facilitate access to finance for a wider group of SMEs and households. The collective impact of water and sanitation SMEs is huge in countries like Kenya, where the majority of the population relies on private service providers.
Progress despite the adverse circumstances
Our programme included meetings with several water and sanitation private and public service providers, such as Geoseismic, NAWASSCOAL, Citytaps, Spring Valley and many more. The entrepreneurs provided us with valuable insights on how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted their operations and what measures were taken to ensure a continuous, safe service provision that meets the current high demand.
The COVID-19 crisis resulted in many unanticipated problems for enterprises. Many enterprises reported that they ran into cash flow issues and fail to pay their own power bills because the customers are facing difficulties in paying their bills. Due to power shortages, they ran into supply shortage and had to install additional water tanks, some of which were financed through Aqua for All’s support. We have also funded health protection equipment (masks, gloves, disinfectants), especially for sanitation enterprises. Several enterprises took loans from the COVID-19 WASH Loan Facility to install solar panels and generate their own electricity for their water pumps. Others used the loans to repair pipelines and expand their operations.
Supporting small water entrepreneurs to survive the COVID-19 crisis: Meet Peter Wairegi Githaiga from Spring Valley
In August 2020, Aqua for All and Sidian Bank launched the COVID-19 WASH Loan Facility to support struggling SMEs with short-time loans. Peter Wairegi Githaiga owns Spring Valley which has three purified water kiosks and is gradually expanding. Peter took a loan from the COVID-19 WASH Loan Facility to install a water ATM with 24-hour access and to buy trucks to expand his business and serve more people in peri-urban, residential settings in Mombasa, where the water kiosks are located. While a water ATM should typically eliminate the need for an operator, Peter insists on having an operator to ensure that people have enough assistance while using the ATM. At all levels, Peter also pays close attention to details to ensure Spring Valley delivers its promise of high–quality services and customer satisfaction.
For entrepreneurs like Peter, access to loans is limited because community-based organisations are not considered credit-worthy by most commercial banks. However, this is not the case with Sidian Bank. Thanks to these loans, small water entrepreneurs can expand their services to more households, create jobs and bring a better quality of life to the surrounding communities.
Smart water meters help manage household budgets
City Taps and the Malindi Water Sewage Company have introduced smart water meters that allow people to prepay their water usage instead of monthly post-paid bills. Thanks to this innovative payment model, customers can get a better idea of their water expenditure in advance and prevent unplanned expenses. The smart water meters allow the companies to keep track of the actual water consumption, detect leakages and close the supply for non-paying customers easier.
Aqua for All has partnered with City Taps under the iW+ partnership in a project funded by P4G (since August 2020) to collect lessons learned from lease finance of smart water meters with other utilities.
Our impressions of the water and sanitation economy in Kenya
In Kenya, our work focuses on scaling existing solutions, as there are many innovations that are beyond the pilot stage. Our cooperation with Sidian Bank made it clear that financial institutions are in contact with other water and sanitation service providers than those known to us. We, therefore, had conversations with other local banks to develop bespoke water and sanitation financial products and services and reach more SMEs and households. This will complement our efforts to support enterprises directly.
We would like to thank all the people and organisations that hosted us during this mission. We are grateful for their hospitality and openness to discuss diverse topics. They were very helpful to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and progress of the water and sanitation economy in Kenya. We were also highly impressed by the resilience shown by the water and sanitation enterprises during these times of crisis. We remain committed to supporting them and to and our partner organisations to achieve the biggest impact and create more scale than ever.