Building partnerships with private sector
The overall goal of the UniWASH Project was to develop new solutions to everyday water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related problems to improve the wellbeing and health of school children in Uganda. One part of the project was to incorporate private sector in the development of innovative WASH solutions and to take them to scale. The aim was to find local Ugandan small and medium size enterprises that could commercialise some of the ideas generated by student projects, to build their capacity in developing new WASH solutions, and indirectly create new jobs, boost local economy and generally contribute to poverty reduction.
UNICEF Finland entered in partnership with Biolan ltd. - a Finnish medium-sized enterprise focusing on ecological farming, green area management as well as environmental products such as eco-latrines and composters. Some of the key drivers for building the partnership were the similar values shared by both UNICEF and Biolan: sustainable development, interest in developing countries/emerging markets, interest in developing new water and sanitation solutions, and strong expertise especially in composting toilet waste and waste water purification systems.
In the beginning of the project, UNICEF created a broad understanding of the nature of collaboration with Biolan. However, there was no exact clarity on Biolan’s role in the project. The role crystallised and evolved during and after the first joint trip to Uganda in January 2015. Capacity building for the local private sector partners was deemed critical to be addressed in the project. Here Biolan’s technical expertise in the WASH sector business development would come to use.
Biolan’s role in the UniWASH project:
- Technical expertise and facilitation for training and capacity building sessions for the selected Ugandan SMEs
- Mentorship for the local SMEs
- Technical guidance to student projects/concepts
2014: Identification of SME partners
During October-December 2014, a selection exercise to identify six partner SMEs were identified through a selection exercise. This was followed by an assessment of their technology and skills development needs. After the selection exercise, further needs analysis was conducted to confirm the SMEs’ capacity building preferences. The needs analysis reaffirmed that the main motivations for the SMEs to participate in UniWASH project were: building networks and partnerships, developing new WASH products, and sharing experience with other companies especially in Finland. Three companies had experience in preparing applications to access financing. Although five out of six companies had experience in developing prototypes, all of them lacked standard or systematic ways of developing those prototypes into viable products and commercialising them.
2015: Capacity building of SME partners
In 2015, a comprehensive training and mentoring programme was developed and implemented in cooperation with Biolan. Its focus was on three main areas: product prototyping; planning and financing new products; and testing and commercialising new products. A study trip to Finland was organised in June 2015, where three of the six entrepreneurs attended in order to expose them to international ideas and partnerships. In addition to this, a joint field visit to Gulu was organised for the SMEs and the university students in October 2015. During the visit the companies learned more about the needs of the WASH sector in poor rural schools and what kinds of products should be developed to respond to those needs.
Role of the private sector in UniWASH project
The companies that participated in the project had different roles: Biolan, the Finnish private sector partner, had the role of transferring its business knowledge and technical knowhow to local Ugandan SMEs and to mentor them. Therefore, Biolan was one of the implementers of the project through its direct involvement in the development and delivery of project activities.
The Ugandan companies participated in the project through capacity building sessions. The selected companies were invited to attend the training programme tailored for them. Expectations from the local companies were two-fold:
a) Build capacity to develop and design better WASH products that would have impact on children’s wellbeing
b) Be inspired by students’ ideas and bring some of the ideas for further development and production
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