The East African–Swedish portal is designed to match and deliver the best-in-class technology, knowledge and financial resources for circular infrastructures and energy systems to stakeholders and projects in the East African region.
Through our established network, processes and artificial intelligence (AI) based search tool, we are creating a strengthened structure for significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, promotion of circular economy principles, trade and inclusive growth.
With the portal as a driver, we support the growth of the East African economy with easier access to global technology, knowledge and partners for sustainable infrastructure, energy systems and investments.
East Africa with the countries Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda offers a market close to 250 million consumers for Swedish goods and services. As the economies are growing, the need for sustainable infrastructure, energy systems and financial tools are growing at speed. Swedish knowledge, technology and financing could meet these demands.
The Portal has a special focus to be the platform that individual small-scale companies do not have the opportunity to establish themselves, e.g. to increase the access to deal flows, financing and local partnership, mitigate the financial risk that exists at the beginning of business process, project, build and hand-over.
This report by Umeå University generates insights into the processes and determinants of the scaling up of relief start-up solutions from a business administration perspective. Drawing on the literature on international business, strategic alliances and entrepreneurship, we identify partner portfolio reconfiguration at various stages of the new product diffusion process as a prerequisite for growth and scalability. The very nature of the relief operations in emerging markets makes it necessary to expand the considered set of partners beyond the conventional vertical alliance of customers and suppliers to include relief organizations, universities, consultants, local governmental and international governmental agencies. In particular, we expand on how inward‐facing compliance‐based activities are needed to align business processes with external partner and regulatory demands.
It further suggests that the start-ups should avoid over-reliance on either homogenous partner portfolio that limits a firm’s ability to capture and create valuable opportunities, or over-diversified partner portfolios, for which there are limited capabilities to manage, and which can put economic strain on the firm. Water supply and remediation firms specifically require both stronger networking capabilities and international orientation to achieve higher growth and performance. The report shows that underlying business model transformation of the innovative start-up occurs within the international context and exhibits patterns theoretically similar to those of born-global enterprises – and that it is partner-generated opportunities that result in a fluctuating business model portfolio.
2.2 million people currently lack access to safe drinking water and half of the world’s population lacks access to safely managed sanitation, according to UNICEF. Most of these people live in low- and middle-income countries. Access to water, sanitation and electricity is an income matter. It decreases as income decreases (see Table below).
Adequate water and sanitation solutions are essential to childhood survival, development and education. Lacking access to adequate water and sanitation solutions in schools can affect attendance as it complicates menstrual hygiene, potentially leading to dropping out of school, and increases absences due to illness. In conflict areas, diarrhoeal diseases are almost 20 times more likely to cause a child’s death than the actual conflicts themselves.
Improving the conditions for circular and sustainable off-grid solutions contributes to achieving the Global Goals and Agenda 2030
As infrastructure, or access to existing infrastructure, is often limited in poorer areas or increasingly fragile even in areas with existing services, the need for innovative solutions to provide access to water and sanitation (SDG 6) and electricity (SDG 7) prevails. Increased access to appropriate, inclusive and circular solutions can also contribute to achieving other Global Goals, including health (SDG 3), education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5) and food security (SDG 2). Despite the apparent need, deploying and scaling solutions for water and sanitation often fails in the long-term and beyond initial pilots. How can this basic need be fulfilled?
The two-year sWASH&grow project, which held its final seminar recently, has developed tools to improve opportunities for innovators and aid organizations to bring more circular, inclusive and sustainable innovations to vulnerable populations in humanitarian crises and areas without access to critical utilities and services.
The sWASH&grow project is showing impressive results solving development challenges. We know that the Official Development Assistance (ODA) won’t be enough to reach the development goals and the private and public actors need to work together. Circular, inclusive and sustainable innovations are more crucial than ever in fighting poverty.
Carolina von Schantz, Senior Advisor, Private Sector Collaboration at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Engaging in private-public collaboration is important since the private sector can offer different perspectives in the development and scaling of innovative solutions. To achieve long-term solutions, there is a need for a systems-based approach and collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders. To address the lack of capital and enhance innovation, Sida uses several strategies, including the development of the Public Private Development Partnership method. It also channels funds through challenges and issues guarantees to encourage investments.
Developing appropriate products and services
To provide a more contextual understanding of the product development process, a framework was developed and investigated in sWASH&grow. The framework builds on stakeholder input from workshops and interviews with innovators and:
identifies connections between different stages of the product development process, such as the requirement to design products that are easy to operate and maintain
maps finance and governance structures supporting or inhibiting different stages in the product development process
accounts for socioeconomic differences between humanitarian, poor and emerging markets commonly grouped as the “bottom of the pyramid”.
In humanitarian and development contexts, we find that products and services are often designed without sufficient consideration of the conditions in which they are going to be deployed and the users receiving or purchasing the product or service.
Karina Barquet, Senior Research Fellow at SEI.
Results show how the financial and governance structures matches the valley of death theory, where pilot projects often fail to attain long-term sustainability with local ownership over operation and maintenance and scale up and become widespread solutions.
“We see both lack of finance and lack of regulations when it comes to maintenance,” said Barquet.
This demonstrates the importance of having a low-cost and localization approach to innovation considering user needs and wants, as well as including post-deployment strategies and financing for maintenance and transfer in the early stages of the product development process.
Project outcomes and future aid
As current practices fail to meet the Global Goals, there is a need for innovative products and services. However, without collaboration, knowledge exchange and funding, the scaling of products and services, as well as their economic viability, is limited.
Lessons from the sWASH&grow project can provide information for stakeholders developing products for humanitarian and development contexts through the challenges and enabling factors for scaling innovations identified from literature and in the project. Tools for matchmaking innovations, collaboration platforms, testbeds and the Malmö University course module “Global product development” developed during the sWASH&grow project, can contribute to the future development and design of appropriate and inclusive innovations, context adapted business models, knowledge development and exchanges that can also contribute to bringing solutions closer to the intended users.
Examples of off-grid innovations established and tested in sWASH&grow
The SaniC – closing the loop of sanitation and agriculture
SaniC is a modular and scalable wastewater treatment system with a water and energy-saving technique that eliminates disease-causing bacteria in wastewater, saving lives and recycling valuable nutrients in arable land. The system is designed for latrines, blackwater or sludge. No chemicals are used. The outcome is a fully sanitized liquid with all valuable nutrients called “BIO fertilizer” that is ready for use on arable land and replaces expensive imported mineral fertilizers. It is scalable and easily adaptable to local conditions. A2T has set up two plants in Sweden and a pilot plant has been in Bolivia since 2019.
The TreeWell – nature-based wastewater system
A thermal way of treating and reusing wastewater, the Treewell solution leverages natural aquatic ecosystem processes for on-site treatment of sewage and heavily contaminated waters. This small and scalable solution purifies water safely and effectively for a variety of uses. Purified water can enrich local freshwater resources and improve local water security or be reused for household needs, irrigation, small retention and green infrastructure development. It is a circular system that can be decentralized to small villages. It currently has testbeds in South Africa and Lebanon.
The Biomweb IoT – monitoring system for on-site wastewater treatment plants
A platform for remotely monitoring and operating wastewater treatment systems, The Biomweb IoT uses multiple Internet of Things-enabled sensors, sending all the data through a web portal to a cloud-based data collecting system. Its main function is to control wastewater entering the system. It registers the outflow of the system to know exactly how much overflow can be reused for irrigation. The IoT system helps to lower the energy-usage system by controlling the air pump. It improves efficiency and operations as less manpower is needed on-site. The collected data can be used to design more effective systems. The testbed is currently set up by Mruna in Lebanon.
The (H)unit – disinfection and water purification
Using only air as a “raw material” and locally produced electricity, the (H)unit can clean and disinfect water, air and materials for over 10 years. It is a robust high-quality ozone generator adapted for humid and harsh environments. The (H)unit kit developed by PBS generation, is compact and can operate anywhere with two mobile containers: one with purification and one with a power supply. One (H)unit can clean and disinfect drinking water for 1000 people in 24 hours.
The MDD Titan – desalination and water purification
The “water-in-a-box” can both desalinate and purify water from bacteria in the same machine. It uses renewable energy and is sustainable, using titanium to guarantee a long-life span in harsh climatic conditions. It is environmentally friendly as there is no water loss in the process of producing clean drinking water. It is suitable for developing markets and disaster-stricken areas as it is easy to service since many of the machine parts are easy to replace. The “water-in-a-box” developed by IngesonWater is compact, mobile and scalable. The off-grid container solution can provide disaster areas around the world with desalinated and bacteria-free water. Depending on the need, it can be scalable to produce a greater output of clean water. It can be installed and ready to use within eight hours after delivery. The testbed is in Ekeby, Sweden.
ECOBARGE is a private company that provides mobile sustainable infrastructure solutions integrated on a vessel or barge. Ecobarges are scalable and suitable for any area with inadequate solutions, with or without existing energy infrastructure.
The company works together with locals to gain expert knowledge on what is needed in their communities. Through the ECOBARGE concept, local communities can present their needs as visualized valid business cases to investors. Any function meeting end user requirements as defined through mutual feasibilities can be incorporated into an Ecobarge.
ECOBARGE currently has pilot projects in Zanzibar, Tanzania and Baraka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In Zanzibar, ECOBARGE provides drinking water for communities and fish cooling for use by local fishermen. In the DRC, the pilot aims to provide water and electricity supply, as well as drying and fish cooling at a later stage. The concept is a win-win for both the companies and communities and has several mutual benefits such as job creation, off-grid production, scalability and sustainability, and no environmental impact as it is a plug and play solution. It also provides rapid organic growth, positive cash flow and access to testbeds and operational pilots globally.
ParlaLink – The Parlametric tool for online matchmaking
This intuitive and scalable tool developed in the sWASH&grow project is used for matchmaking and simplified search engine optimization for product specifications. The tool focuses on matching keywords to procurement and ongoing projects within the humanitarian and development space. It provides relevant results based on a database of 250 000 procurements and projects where a similar search on Google would result in 1000s of mostly non-relevant results. It seeks to analyze and optimize time-consuming and resource-demanding processes for projects and products and has the potential to improve and simplify business development.
The tool can be used to:
match products or projects with local suppliers
match startups or innovations with partners
match job applications with job descriptions
match sustainability requirements with suppliers
test procurement in a live setting
analyze input descriptions of relevant company or product information
match search words with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
generate suggestions on themes and product development that could be added to reach more available procurements
search for relevant ongoing humanitarian and development projects worldwide
search for relevant procurements within the EU and UN worldwide and calculate the likelihood of winning.
The sWASH&grow project symbolizes Challenge-driven Innovation (UDI) values well, as has been demonstrated through several interesting off-grid innovations, business model learnings, infrastructure and production systems, policy and regulations, culture and values. I am very pleased about the clear focus on matching and scaling. Phase 3 in UDI is about implementation and creating conditions for the innovations to deliver on their potential and create benefits of different kinds and this is completely dependent on matching and scaling up support. In this project, that has been integrated in a way that we would love to see in many others.
Experiences from the sWASH&grow project suggest that future aid programs should increasingly support private-public-research collaboration, find local partners and collaborations with local actors such as suppliers, politicians and decision-makers, develop post-deployment strategies for maintenance and transfer of innovations, learn from previous experiences, perform project evaluations and increasingly finance the development and scaling of new innovative products and services needed to achieve the Global Goals.
There are several challenges for companies that want to reach the market with their WASH innovations. In product development, acquiring information on market opportunities and how products can be adjusted to address challenges with their solutions is time consuming and costly. Additionally, reaching the market demands proof of concept. Without these resources, products cannot compete in public procurement. At the commercialisation stage, procurement processes are challenging, thus understanding when to compete creates an additional burden. These factors explain why very few new innovations reach those in need.
To lower barriers for sustainable WASH companies, Parlametric AB and RISE have joined forces to develop an AI-based tool. The tool provides companies with relevant data from sources such as development projects, funding, research, etc., using open data sources that can be used to understand the market demand and specific conditions of low- and middle-income countries for product development. The solution will also allow companies to match their product with procurement opportunities, find those that fit the criteria and check if the product is competitive.
The aim is to ensure off-grid WASH innovations are relevant, sustainable and able to compete in humanitarian and development aid procurements to reach those in need. Results from our test sites in Bolivia, Cuba, Lebanon, South Africa and Tanzania will be integrated into the software tool, which will be completed in June 2022.
The tool builds on Parlametric’s patented Customer DNA platform and RISE expertise on the target market as well as standards, and data structuring. By creating a common solution that covers both product development and commercialization, innovators can benchmark their product during all phases in product development. We use advanced language-based AI. This allows users to only provide descriptions of products that can then be automatically codified and matched against opportunities, to benchmark a product against sustainability criteria or to find funding or a testbed.
A beta-version where innovators can match their solutions to actual needs in development projects or to find documents and data, is available below. It is also possible to benchmark a solution against the global goals. This version is currently used by students in the Malmö University course, Global Product Development.
A second beta where innovators can assess their products’ relevance and competitiveness against ongoing UN and EU procurement opportunities will be released in the first trimester of 2022. The tool will continuously be updated during the project with a final version released by the end of the project. Potential scaling opportunities are organisation-specific interfaces that allow procurers to design more sustainable procurement calls or for companies to get tailor-made matching for funding.
The sWASH&grow project held its final seminar on 20 October, 2022. sWASH&grow aims to improve the conditions for innovators to meet relief organizations’ demands and enable sustainable and circular innovations in the WASH sector to reach vulnerable populations in humanitarian crises as well as areas without access to critical utilities and services.
The hybrid event gathered key stakeholders from the NGO, private and public sectors; and discussed innovative solutions that meet global demands to facilitate more circular solutions in the WASH sector.
The project has, through testbeds in cooperation with buyers and users, tested innovative sustainable solutions and designed tools for development, scaling and export. This event summarized the project’s two-yearachievements, challenges and next steps.
The sWASH&grow project has formed a successful platform for developing competences and knowledge sharing between public and private entities. It has also enhanced the opportunities for ECOBARGE, a private concept initiated prior to- and independently in the project, bridging the gaps between innovations, end users and investors internationally.
ECOBARGE is an inclusive concept that any stakeholder may form a part of, be a partner in and contribute to. It is a sustainable platform for making a difference covering the gap between supply of bits and pieces and local needs of services provided. End users’ dreams and opportunities, technologies and project financing are identified through local feasibilities. Project financed companies are then formed for mutual ownership, operation, maintenance, and education. The concept also allows for final transfer of means of production between shareholders and from project financiers to local communities and entrepreneurs. Based on the Ecobarge provided services, local entrepreneurs are empowered to develop their own businesses. Ecobarge acts as a shipyard turning suppliers’ solutions into supplied services – continually developing functions and capacity as per end users’ needs and new technologies available. If it’s no longer needed, the Ecobarge can be moved to other end users.
No matter the scale, function or application, if as a temporary or permanent solution, within a modern urbanized area, in a developing country or a disaster zone, the Ecobarge concept represents an attractive, inclusive and sustainable alternative.
The local end user is the expert on what is needed. Through the ECOBARGE Concept, local communities can present their needs as visualized valid business cases to investors. Any function meeting end user requirements as defined through mutual feasibilities can be incorporated into an Ecobarge.
Learn more about the Ecobarge concept in the report below.
On 5 July 2022, sWASH&grow partners: SEI, RISE and LM International organized a session at the Almedalen week in Visby, Sweden. The event titled: ‘Innovation for Resilience and Inclusive Development’, focused on building resilience in cooperation with the private sector for developing inclusive off-grid solutions. Below are key insights from the seminar.
More than 700 million people globally still lack access to electricity, according to the UN. In addition, 2.5 billion people lack access to clean cooking methods, 2 billion lack access to safely managed drinking water, and 3.5 billion lack access to safe sanitation. Meeting these needs in the near future by relying only on traditional grid-based systems is impossible and costly. Fortunately, promising solutions are taking shape.
The increasing demand for humanitarian assistance and the impacts of climate change, globally – whether in Nyköping or in Nairobi – further underscore the growing need for fast solutions, off-grid. And in an era of ageing infrastructure, these solutions are likely to fill the demand for massive and rapid investments in the coming decade. One example is in the energy sector, where changes are increasingly favouring “building more” and smaller units rather than “building larger”.
Until now, water and other sectors have not been as amenable to these solutions – though they should be. An increasingly unpredictable climate will lead to more extreme floods and droughts, power lines affected by storms and fires, combined with last-century infrastructure and increased demand – all of which demand resilient solutions.
Infrastructure diversification, including the role of the private sector in system decentralization, will be increasingly relevant in both humanitarian contexts as well as globally, as discussed at the seminar on “Innovation for Resilience and Inclusive Development”. Panelists discussed how the Swedish private sector supports public and research initiatives in water and sanitation, among other development arenas, in innovative ways and with global implications.
Getting solutions in place will require innovation from the private sector, in collaboration with public sector, development organizations, and academia. So far, the pace of change is too slow. While more people than ever use offsite sanitation solutions today, the World Health Organization foresees the need for a fourfold increase in adopting solutions for water and sanitation globally, and ninefold for so-called fragile settings.
Generally, the expectation has been that private companies will close the investment gap needed for achieving the global goals, almost exclusively in low- and middle-income countries. Major aid and humanitarian organizations now expect private companies to be inclusive.
For innovation to be considered inclusive, the following must take place, according to Josephine Sundqvist, Secretary-General at the global foundation LM International (Läkarmissionen), who spoke at the panel discussion in June:
Give more influence to local initiatives to develop their solutions.Those facing humanitarian crises and poverty know best what type of products they need. They have more innovative power than we think.
Build innovation ecosystems that involve different types of actors.Innovation should not just be driven by large-scale investors and companies but should include local actors such as religious leaders, innovators, tech companies, etc. An actor’s relevance to an innovation or solution is what should matter most.
Being adaptive and contextual. The same innovations may not work in all countries. One must consider social norms and more.
Consider scale. Thinking small-scale fit and at the same time how to scale up from the beginning builds capacity to transfer geographically or demographically an innovation.
Focus on demand-driven innovation. Solutions should respond to a need; and needs differ from context to context.
How Sweden’s private sector works with development and humanitarian operations
Ecobarge, working in Zanzibar and South Sudan, is one of sWASH&grow‘s pilot projects and an example of collaboration between private, public and humanitarian and development actors. The company was founded by Mårten Björk, an innovator and entrepreneur within the supplier network of companies “ElectriCity” and their commercial arm for international project developments, “Urban Tech Sweden”. He described at the panel in June how the organizations develop innovative sustainable and circular solutions for communities and cities, including off-grid solutions.
The Ecobarge concept started by building on an idea of a floating barge that supplied a local community with fresh desalinated water and cold rooms for fish. The “Urban Tech Sweden” network realized they had an entrepreneur within the network with this solution that could be developed in Zanzibar. The idea did not need significant government capital investment; the local community could pay for the services, enabling private investment.
“Ecobarge provides fully operational and sustainable off-grid mobile solutions for communities globally,” Björk said during the panel discussion. The product is “a modular, scalable and floating platform integrating sustainable technologies for meeting the needs defined by its users. We operate plants and deliver electricity, energy storage, grid frequency balancing, portable water, fish cooling and processing.”
Ecobarge is mobile, thus mitigating risk if we need to move them in case of a climate or geopolitical risk. This also reduces the risk for investors. To facilitate these kinds of projects, the private sector needs to create “build-own-operate” business models that transfer assets to the end users.
Working and engaging with the local community from the start to define their own hurdles and needs is key. “From that, we can build everything. Through feasibility studies, we show that they are financially sustainable. Local communities are the best experts at their own needs”, Björk said.
Matthew Saus, a managing partner of the Manta Resort in Zanzibar added that they collaborate with Zanzibar’s recently inaugurated Ministry of Blue Economy, on what they call “the blue economy corridor”. The blue economy is important to local communities and rural coastal communities because it looks at the actual economies on the ground and focuses on profitability and sustainability of these local business and economies, including tourism and fishing. Ecobarge provides essential infrastructure that is off-grid.
The Swedish East African Chamber of Commerce (SWEACC), which facilitates matchmaking of key stakeholders for project development in East Africa, fostered contacts between the Embassy of Tanzania, entrepreneurs in Tanzania, investors in Sweden and the entrepreneurs and suppliers within Urban Tech Sweden for the Ecobarge feasibility study for Zanzibar in Tanzania, according to panelist Jan Furuvald, chairman of SWEACC.
“Choosing the right partners to work with is important,” said panelist Patrik Stålgren of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Stålgren, head of the Unit for Strategic Partnerships, Private Sector, Innovation and New Methods, added, “We apply a systems-based approach where we work on governance, finance, sharing risk to work long-term – helping different actors to share their risk exposure. We build institutions that foster a more favourable environment for investors. We aim to listen and learn more about the real needs of the private sector to engage, innovate and solve relevant problems towards achieving the SDGs.”
On the global scale, according to Ulrika Modeer, the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Development Program (UNDP), at the panel discussion, “we support the building of institutions needed to drive sustainable investments. We also work in many conflict-ridden countries, and we need to see how to drive investments to these countries,” whether for Covid-19 response, humanitarian and development fallout from the recent invasion of Ukraine, or other ongoing issues such as climate change. “There are a lot of great ideas out there, we just need to find an ecosystem that supports them in the best way,” she said.
Watch the event recording below.
Recording of the “Innovation for resilience and inclusive development” seminar hosted by SEI, RISE and LM International on 5 July 2022 at Sweden’s political week, Almedalen. Video: Sverige i världen / YouTube.
Written by: Karina Barquet, Olle Olsson & Brenda Ochola (SEI).
IngesonWater has developed a water desalination machine – “MDD Titan” – from a prototype to a first demo-product tested and validated in Hässleholm, Sweden. Thanks to sWASH&grow, the products can now be scaled for pilot clients and later to more emerging markets in need of off-grid sanitation systems.
The report below is written in English, with a technical section in Swedish.
Carex of Sweden has developed a Nature Based Solution (NBS) for waste water called “TreeWell”; which has been tested and validated in Sweden, Lebanon and South Africa as part of the project. Mruna is the local agent for the TreeWell in Lebanon.
This report describes the validation of the TreeWell tested in Lebanon as well as the development of an Internet of Things platform for management and operations of decentralized sanitation systems in cooperation with RISE.