Looking back: VIA Water in 2015

Plus: what will 2016 bring?


Although already a month underway in 2016, we would like to take this opportunity to look back on 2015, the first full year of the VIA Water programme. We are happy to report that we can state with full confidence that the programme is up and running: projects are under implementation, new ones are in the pipeline, knowledge exchange is building up, and the water sector (both in the Netherlands and in Africa) knows VIA Water.

To take a closer look at what we did in 2015, let’s first look at our goals. Our goals stem from what we believe in and strive for, which is:

What we believe   
VIA Water believes that the world is changing. From exclusive property, the hoarding of knowledge, and established institutions, towards cooperation, knowledge sharing, and co-creation. VIA Water believes in these new values and finds therein the energy and the solutions that can solve the water issues in African cities.

What we strive for
VIA Water works on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 - Water in cities in Africa -, in innovative ways, together with new as well as experienced players, and with a mind-set focused on sustainability.

In practice, VIA Water has two main results we strive towards, which are to be reached by the end of 2018. These are:

  1. A lively international Community has come into being regarding the water issues in cities in various parts of Africa.
  2. 90 contracts for innovations have been agreed

General activities
Some of our general activities in 2015 that helped towards reaching our goals:

  • In 2015 we undertook introductory visits to Mali, Ghana, Rwanda and Kenya where we reached around 350 people from in and around the water sector. This has meant we were able to establish a large network of valuable contacts in the region;
  • In the beginning of 2015 the Road to VIA Water event was organised, reaching over 100 - mostly Dutch - interested parties;
  • A new website was launched which included a full-fledged Community, a knowledge hub and project information;
  • Countless talks, meetings, skype calls, presentations, 3 Steering Groups, conferences and lunch seminars have introduced the programme and kept the sector informed about VIA Water.

Result 1
So what can we say about result 1: A lively international Community has come into being regarding the water issues in cities in various parts of Africa?

In the first half year, it was expected that the members of the (online) Community would contribute a lot to the improvement of the proposals. Unfortunately, this did not happen. This has meant we needed more tailor made guidance from the VIA Water staff. Besides this, we decided to focus the learning Community primarily on knowledge exchange between project owners.  Since the first projects have started, we can see more interaction taking place on the Community as well, and the creation of a faecal sludge group helped.

Experience in 2015 shows that organising events in the VIA Water countries work best. To improve the quality of project proposals, knowledge exchange and training activities are essential. In 2015, we organised:

  • A two-month online Water Innovation Challenge for 8 promising applicants from 4 VIA Water countries that were trained in proposal preparation
  • A Water and ICT Accelerator in Rwanda for 15 young water and ICT professionals
  • A Learning Tour in Kenya to train teaser applicants in improving their project idea
  • A Knock-Out Competition in Mozambique to guide project ideas to full development
  • Two field visits to Mozambique and Kenya (conducted by Aqua for All) to assist applicants on site with their application

These have led directly to more and higher quality proposals.

Kenya Learning Tour December 2015

Some other facts of 2015:

  • The online VIA Water Community grew to 189 members;
  • 6 VIA Water Updates were published and sent out to 850 people;
  • The online knowledge hub/library grew to 35 reviews of external reports and articles;
  • A faecal sludge expert group was established;
  • A webinar on faecal sludge management was organised;
  • A paper on VIA Water will be published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Result 2
As for result 2: 90 contracts for innovations have been agreed, some numbers:

In 2015 VIA Water received 175 concept notes (‘teasers’), of which 7 reached the contract stage in 2015. This has added up to a total contract volume of € 1,269,047, of which € 830.000 is VIA Water subsidy (the rest is co-funding).

The number of contracts is behind schedule (aimed for 10 contracts in 2015) as is the total subsidy budget (€ 1,2 mln against € 2,5 mln). The ratio for co-funding is ‘better’ then the projections (35% against 20%).

Dickson Ochieng of Sanivation, a project that started in January 2016.

So which conclusions can we draw from having received 175 proposals in one year?

  • A recurrent issue is the quality of the proposals. For African start-ups the major problem is in proposal writing and incorporating a learning strategy, which is of great importance to VIA Water. This has meant we have increased our activities on knowledge exchange, proposal writing, business development and training;
  • Applicants take a long time before they respond. Often, developing the innovation is not a core activity of an applicant and is mostly an additional activity on top of the regular work. We see that there is a strong need for us to keep applicants engaged with the programme, and to encourage them with added knowledge;
  • It is also rather difficult for applicants to work without very fixed criteria, which is a core element of the programme;
  • Most of the teasers required an extra round before an eligibility decision could be taken, especially when the innovation level was not very clear or when information was missing.

Looking ahead: 2016
As might be clear after reading this report, the programme is being adjusted as we go along. We encounter difficulties such as the online Community not working the way we had envisioned, and we try to come up with solutions to keep working towards our goals. For 2016, this means a few things:

  • More focus on getting more project ideas into our ‘pipeline’: since we did not reach our goal of signing 10 contracts in 2015, we are behind schedule to reach our 90-project goal by the end of the programme. In 2016, a larger part of our work will be dedicated towards this goal;
  • To make the Community the buzzing, knowledge sharing hub we envisioned, in 2016 our focus will be on involving project owners more. Our expectation is that people that are actually working on their project already, will have more to gain through exchanging knowledge.

Other focus points for 2016 will be the support we give to (African) applicants through our accelerators and workshops; support for risky innovations, and brokering for Dutch-African consortia since those seem to be most successful in our procedure.

Overall: thanks to the flexibility we can apply in the programme, we can adapt to what is happening around us. Nothing is static, nothing is fixed, only our belief that what we have designed with VIA Water is contributing in a new innovative way to tackling urban pressing needs in 'our' VIA Water countries.

Looking back to a successful 2015, looking forward to another exciting year.