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During a stakeholder workshop in Nepal in September 2017, IRC spoke with Anisha Karn, Marketing Manager of SmartPaani, a Nepalese private water company, about business viability, social marketing and innovation in Nepal.

“Paani means water in Nepali and since water is the most essential resource for life, together with air, it should be used properly.” That is the motto of SmartPaani, the Nepalese company offering a range of water systems such as rainwater harvesting, water recycling, water filtration, wastewater treatment, consulting services and more.

Anisha Karn talking about SmartPaani

SmartPaani, represented by Anisha Karn, joined the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage National Workshop in Nepal organised by the Nepalese government and partners of the Safe Water II Project. Safe Water is a three year initiative (2015-2018) aiming to increase access to safe water particularly for people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Focus on water quality

The focus of the workshop was on water quality – an aspect of WASH that has not received much attention in the past stakeholder fora, where the focus was mainly on water access issues. For the private sector, this is an important development; stakeholders should recognise the significance of water quality in the discussions on safe drinking water in Nepal.

Alignment and working closely with government agencies and other bodies.

The WASH sector is complex with a wide range of actors and issues. Effective private sector participation and engagement therefore call for active and interactive engagement across the partners and customers. You need to constantly investigate new needs and find the appropriate solutions, and get updates on new developments and partners.

All your customers need to know where to go, who to talk to, and what exactly the needs are of the different customers and agencies. The direct customer level is one level, but we know that we cannot keep our projects going if we do not work together with government and funding agencies.

SmartPaani has been in business for 6 years, and has positioned the company as a reliable technical partner that provides technology options, technical support, and implementation support to both NGOs and government. All WASH projects require a business model that can build on sustainability of the investment, and SmartPaani adds value here.

Anisha Karn talking to attentive audience at the workshop

Why are implementing partners important?

Everyone needs an implementing partner by law in Nepal. If you are a foreign non-profit organisation working in Nepal, you need to have a local partner and an implementing partner. Very few organisations provide technological support. We have established ourselves in the last six years as a player who can provide these solutions to everyone.

Non-profits have a focus area – they work for a number of years and need an organisation/company that will take it on from there, monitor it, and help them build a business model that is more sustainable. We believe in sustainability and that is why the WASH sector needs to include private organisations like us so that we can provide long-term solutions and services.

We are in continuous engagement with all the agencies that work in the WASH sector to make sure that we are aware of what is happening.

SmartPaani monitoring app

An innovative monitoring app

SmartPaani developed a Monitoring App that supports rural projects to monitor and report on the state of the facilities, especially in the hard-to-reach rural areas. Local entrepreneurs are trained and the App is installed on their phones. They take pictures of the system before and after maintenance. For major breakdowns such as pipe leakages, they send pictures of the situation to the company that provides the required support. The system is synchronised with the SmartPaani server and data is transmitted via internet. A report on the state of the facilities is generated automatically and shared with the development partners that are financing the projects.  The App is currently free of charge, and SmartPaani only charges for the services provided.

Community perceptions of water issues and participation of private sector

Perception has been our biggest challenge. In the urban scenario: people are worried whether they can use rainwater, if it is safe.

The community perceptions on water issues and participation of private sector are identified as constraining factors by SmartPaani. Rainwater for instance is one of the safest water sources, but communities continue to prefer the use of surface water sources such as rivers for drinking water despite information provided on the increased contamination of such sources.  The private sector is also associated with profit making activities and therefore not perceived as a reliable partner for safe water solutions. Government and partners continue to promote private sector as the driver for safe water solutions without taking on board these perceptions and attitudes. They need to create the demand for safe water solutions and the enabling environment for private sector to operate in. These remain critical aspects for partners to consider for effective engagement with the private sector and to meet the SDG WASH targets.

This article is based on an interview with Anisha Karn, Marketing Manager of SmartPaani during a stakeholder workshop in Nepal, September 2017.