Water Operator Partnerships: Challenges and Opportunities for Improving Utility Performance and Household Access

Authors: Andrea Beck*, MIT
Topics: Development, Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: utility performance, household water access, capacity development, global partnerships, solidarity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Water and sanitation utilities are at the center of treatment and distribution networks in many urban areas. The ways in which utilities are managed, and how the infrastructure is operated, often determine which households get water in the city and which are left without. As public-private partnerships (PPPs) have fallen short of expectations as a tool for utility reform, scholars and practitioners have shifted their attention to alternative partnership modalities for improving utility performance and household access. One such alternative partnering approach consists in Water Operator Partnerships (WOPs), which aim to build the capacity of public utilities through peer-to-peer learning on a not-for-profit and solidarity basis. More than 200 WOPs have now been formed between operators around the world, and several operators and associations have emerged as leading mentors of service providers in the global South. However, challenges exist in bringing the WOP model to scale. One such challenge consists in limited understanding of the reasons why operators engage in WOPs as mentors. Why would operators agree to make their expertise available free-of-charge? Is solidarity indeed the main motivation behind knowledge sharing and capacity building in WOPs, or are more self-interested, commercial motives driving these activities? Relying on insights from development geography and emerging mentor narratives, this paper examines the manifold motivations for peer mentoring in the urban water sector. Mentor motivations are strongly linked to domestic needs and conditions, and have important implications for the scaling-up of WOPs as a tool to mitigate household water insecurity.

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