Working with leaders from Water and Sanitation Utilities has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I have never ceased to be impressed by the dedication and courage of the teams fighting – seemingly against all odds – for the fiscal space, technical solutions, managerial challenges, and the political and community support that is needed to improve how clean water and sound sanitation services get to the ever-growing populations of urban areas around the world.
These utilities are often very large organizations and typically, they are quite unique in their country or city – thus having few others to compare themselves to and learn from. But that matters! In a world in which everything is a priority, it’s hard to know what to prioritize – and one solid way to do so is to take inspiration from others who are ahead of you. So last year I began working with colleagues on a global initiative designed to connect utilities with each other. To make it practical enough for water engineers and non-engineers we work with, we decided to connect utilities through data.
We started by taking on the redesign of the IBNET, a great data tool with over 20 years of proven results, however, it was originally conceived as a large survey-based database for benchmarking utilities. Today, the NewIBNET (the redesigned IBNET), includes a new online platform that utilities can use swiftly by themselves. Simply by entering their own data, along with only 15 key performance dimensions and seven groups of critical management practices, utilities joining NewIBNET can easily figure out where their own organization “stands” in comparison to others, allowing them to make informed decisions to improve service delivery.
Does it actually work?
To help answer this question, join me in this journey. First, let’s travel across the Africa region and “visit” other utilities to “see” the level of services they provide. At a recent webinar, Castigo Cossa, Chair of the Board of the utility Aguas da Regiao de Maputo, explained why they decided to join the NewIBNET partnership. Servicing well over 1.5 million people in Maputo, the organization had already managed to improve its operational efficiency substantially over the past several years, from over 60% water losses to less than 40%. “But we still have a long way to go, and to do so, we need to know where others’ performance is and how they got there.” confirmed Cossa. By continuing to share their key performance data and management self-assessment through the NewIBNET platform, his organization is able to get access to direct comparisons from others.
The NewIBNET platform and partnership was formally launched only a few months ago, with insightful dashboards built around 2021-data from some 100 utilities, including Aguas da Regiao de Maputo. Now our task is to spread the word and invite others to join. “Right at the start, it was a bit tough – because even though we had all the data, it was all stored in different places, a true learning experience for us,” said Wendy Smith of the Jamaica National Water Commission at the same webinar that Cossa attended. “Now we are able to see where we are and where we want to be,” commented Wendy, “but we also learned about how to capture and store data as per international standards, and so now we can build on this.”
To foster learning among utilities that have joined NewIBNET, we reached out to the International Water Association (IWA), the largest global organization for water professionals dedicated to foster professional exchanges. In December, IWA is hosting the Water & Development Congress in Kigali, and we’d love to see learnings from NewIBNET utilities shared at the event. To facilitate this, we decided to set up the “Learn in Kigali” initiative together with IWA: sponsoring five Conference Participation Packages that will be allocated among those utilities that are submitting their data and management practices with NewIBNET before November 10, 2023. The IWA team will then work with these utilities to make sure that a representative from their staff can attend the Congress where, for four days, between December 10 and 14, hundreds of water professionals working in utilities and with other groups and agencies dedicated to the water agenda, will meet to learn from each other.
How can you participate in the “Learn in Kigali” initiative? It’s quite easy. If your Utility has not done so already – help them register as a NewIBNET Utility, and then work with the teams internally that look after data and strategy to provide the information needed for the 15 KPIs. For the self-assessment of management practices, the leadership team or a group in the general director’s office might need to convene, but it is quite self-evident and can be completed quickly. Utilities that have already joined NewIBNET just need to make sure that their KPI and Management Practices data is updated for 2022 to be eligible for the “Learn in Kigali” Initiative. For more details1, there is an overview in a short video: “10 Steps to Join NewIBNET.” Just be sure to complete all steps before November 10 – only then can your utility be eligible to win an invitation to the IWA Water & Development Conference in Kigali.
“We in water are lucky when it comes to data culture,” Walter Emnace, Head of Process Excellence at Maynilad Water, says. “We all work towards the same goal; we don’t have trade secrets and can easily share.” And he is right: whenever a utility improves, everyone wins.
NewIBNET is a new initiative, not even six months old, but we are already seeing how the platform can make a difference. Ahmet Aldag, from ASKI in Ankara confirmed how quickly improvements can become visible: “The NewIBNET platform helps us a lot – even in terms of management and annual reporting. It’s simple: If you have the data, you can learn about yourselves and you can manage your challenges. If you don’t [have the data,] you can’t.”
So, my appeal to anyone who works with a utility: Hurry up and join the NewIBNET platform and share your utility’s data and management practices before November 10 to be eligible for the “Learn at Kigali” initiative. But even if you don’t get selected for one of the sponsored Conference Participation Packages, you will still win – because your organization will be part of a global community of utilities dedicated to learning from each other!
 The selection will be done through a public and independent random process. You can find out who is selected live on November 13, 2023, by following the announcement on the NewIBNET website and on https://connect.newibnet.org or see the FAQ section for more details.