My five takeaways from #Innovate for Water Kisumu

1. High time we move beyond piloting: A large number of innovation pilots are out there in Kenya but how many of those will be able to scale-up their innovations/companies. We have no answer. It is a complicated terrain/ecosystem that innovators/water & sanitation entrepreneurs operate in with varying levels of risks. Are the innovators getting the right support to bridge their capacity gaps (business insightfulness) and to deal with these risks? Are they exploring the right/multiple revenue streams to run their businesses and are not putting all their eggs in one basket? Question for enablers-donors: How can we support this journey of innovators from piloting to scaling-up better? How can we design grants smartly and make sure we work closely with the future financiers/investors of these innovations?

2. Need for aggregating solutions across sanitation value chain: Huge opportunities to aggregate sanitation solutions and work on the entire value chain. Different actors can pick different roles (based on experience, expertise & ambition) and make it a win-win for themselves and address the 'circular' economy in an efficient manner. There are opportunities for engaging and collaborating with different actors and learning from what has been already done (experiment with sanitation circular economy).

3. Engage financiers and investors from the start: Yes, we have heard this before but how many of us are actually doing it? There were not many examples of it at the forum as well. One that stood out was of the FINISH program that is using micro-financing from local banks to enable households to have a sanitation system. The micro-financing was also used to enable entrepreneurs to gain some working capital. The program has achieved some great numbers and the model seems promising. Something to apply for enabling access to decentralized water systems?

4. Create larger value for utilities to adopt innovations: A number of ICT driven innovations for reducing non-revenue water or to improve billing system of the utilities were pitched. The key question here is: how do utilities make choices about which innovations to choose from (esp in Kenya where multiple innovations offer similar added benefit)? Something to also consider: do utilities actually have money to buy these innovative solutions to improve their operational efficiency? Are innovators able to demonstrate their value? Can different innovators partner up and create a larger value for utilities (by pooling their solutions, expertise, networks, experience) and also engage financiers that enable access to financing for the utilities?

5. Don't bash the government: Innovators expressed their difficulties of working with utilities and governments. It was highlighted multiple times that innovators/start-ups/private initiatives cannot do it all on their own and need to invest in building relations with public actors. Government role is key to ensure right enabling environment (policies, regulations, tariff mechanisms etc.) is in place to maximize the benefits of private knowledge, expertise and innovation. Somebody from the audience said 'Don't bash the government, work with them!'. Yes, fact of life we cannot ignore.

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