Focusing on Suppliers Rather than Customers Is Improving Water Services in the Philippines

Updated: Sep 14

Masy Consultants shifted its focus from educating customers to educating water districts, and that has made the difference in improving water supplies in the Philippines. This is how a step back took us forward.

In the Philippines, Water Districts are local entities that operate and maintain water supply systems in cities or municipalities and have the agency to scale solutions. Nearly 30 percent of Water District services are non-operational, substantially limiting the number of people with access to safe water and sanitation services. These populations, mainly comprised of low-income households, rely on utility providers for access to reliable water and wastewater services. Technical and financial capacity at the district level remains lacking, and the problem requires innovative approaches to utility management.

These water containers photographed in Bacolod City, Philippines, will be used for washing in areas with disrupted water supply. Photo by Brian Evans (CC BY-ND 2.0)

To address these needs, the team at Masy Consultants is working to improve Filipino Water District capabilities and creditworthiness, with the end goal being a self-sustainable and reliable delivery of water supply, water distribution, and wastewater treatment services with access to financing. We believe this will catalyse economic and social change in the water sector across the Philippines.


Education at the water utility level is fundamental to bringing about sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure. Over the past few years, Masy has learned a lot on its social responsibility journey, working towards the day when everyone in the Philippines has access to clean water and sanitation, and can live in health, dignity, and prosperity.


OUR FOCUS IN THE BEGINNING

In 2017, the team’s original focus was on delivering capacity-building workshops to households in rural communities. While this yielded positive results in the form of increased awareness and understanding among participants in how they can improve the livelihoods of their families, it did not necessarily translate to tangible outputs (e.g. increased water and wastewater connections).


Additionally, Masy was drowning in a market oversaturated with civil society and grassroots organisations competing for limited funding, duplicating efforts and functioning in an ecosystem that often lacked coordinated responses between stakeholders. This is reflected by the alarming percentage of the population that still struggle on a daily basis without proper water, sanitation and hygiene systems in place. One in eight people lack access to a safe water supply and seven in 10 people lack access to sewerage collection and system services, according to the 2019 report from the National Economic Development Authority.


This prompted Masy to take a step back and reflect on whether they were tackling issues in the "right" way.

The Masy Consultants team carries out capacity-building workshops and field investigations in Palawan province, Philippines. Photo courtesy of the author, Thomas Da Jose

SELF-REFLECTION: THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP

Critically reviewing the work and results in raising awareness of water, sanitation and hygiene in households, Masy found it to be less effective than intended. The decision to shift away from the original strategy is by no means a dismissal of the importance of community engagement. After all, a needs analysis for households to promote local support is fundamental for the successful implementation of any public service. However, the team needed to re-evaluate the role Masy Consultants needed to play. Some important questions asked during self-reflection included:

  • How do we want to deliver economic and social change in the water sector across the Philippines?

  • How can we create a sustainable and scalable difference to reach thousands of households in an accelerated amount of time?

  • Are there other organisations undertaking similar work?

  • What are the barriers limiting social impact investments to water infrastructure?

  • What are the short-term and long-term benefits we want to achieve, and how do we measure success?

Global Development Engineering practitioners need to continually ask themselves these types of questions for the benefit of their projects and the communities they serve. Taking a step back to periodically reflect on one’s performance and how it measures up to their vision and goals is arguably the most important step for any team.


REDEFINING OUR PURPOSE


This critical self-reflection helped Masy Consultants realise that its time and energy was not being directed in the right areas. Most Filipino households are exposed to some sort of sanitation marketing initiatives, especially with the rise of digital media in the home. Yet, the underlying challenge was not disinterest in improving their conditions, but rather the lack of services available to better household sanitation. This issue is especially prevalent in low-income communities within already lower-class municipalities based on average annual income.

Thomas Da Jose (right) shares the vision of Masy Consultants with H.E. Ms. Jane Duke, Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN (left). Photo courtesy of Thomas Da Jose

In 2020, Masy Consultants shifted its resources from educating households to designing large-scale projects aimed at educating Filipino Water Districts. They require additional guidance to improve their capabilities and creditworthiness.


In redefining Masy's purpose, there is a greater clarity in its social impact and each project's execution, in the months and years ahead.


A CONSORTIUM FOR BETTER WATER SERVICE

Masy Consultants established and is leading a consortium with water.org, a global not-for-profit organisation, and the Australian Water Association (AWA), Australia’s leading membership association for water professionals and organisations. The consortium will act as a Portfolio Delivery Services Partner (PDSP) to the Philippines Association of Water Districts (PAWD) and Water Districts to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation.


The consortium’s objective is to build the capabilities and creditworthiness of Water Districts in the Philippines, so that they provide sustainable and reliable water and wastewater services to all served communities, including low-income communities. This will also build the general public's understanding of proper water, sanitation, and hygiene.

For information, please see Portfolio Delivery Services Partner at masyconsultants.com.



Original article on Engineering For Change, LLC's Website: https://www.engineeringforchange.org/news/focusing-suppliers-rather-customers-improving-water-services-philippines/

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