Examining the role of enterprise in rural water supply sustainability in Cambodia


ISF has commenced a new research initiative looking at the role of enterprise in strengthening rural water service delivery in Cambodia. The initial phase of the project will appraise how local private sector actors are supporting service delivery in Kampot Province, and the opportunities and challenges they face in doing so. The work will specifically focus on handpump water supplies, with enterprise playing a central role in provision of maintenance services, both in terms of the supply of hardware (e.g. selling spare parts) and technical skills to ensure breakdowns are promptly repaired. Over the next 18 months a range of research methods will be employed, including in-depth interviews with service providers and water users as well as comprehensive water point functionality assessments. Government and civil society organisations are key project partners, collaborating on both the research design and implementation.


Researching business support services for sanitation enterprises in Cambodia, February 2017


We have entered the second phase of Enterprise in WASH and earlier in the year in February, the team went to Cambodia for  research focused on business support mechanisms for sanitation enterprises in Cambodia. This included a one-day workshop and interviews with multiple stakeholders (development agencies, government and sanitation enterprises).


Phase one of ‘Enterprise in WASH’ research demonstrated both the potential and criticality of intermediate level support organisations or functions to water and sanitation enterprises. However, where they existed, such organisations were found often to be fragile, with limited potential for sustainability without strengthened business models. In Cambodia there have been ongoing sector discussions on intermediary level support to facilitate the participation of entrepreneurs in sanitation service provision and build their capacity. However, shared understanding and consensus has not been reached within the sector regarding appropriate ways to provide such support. This research aims to contribute to building shared understanding of the spectrum of possible mechanisms and models for providing this support as well the key principles by which such support should be provided.


Enterprise in WASH featured at the CS WASH Fund East Asia Regional Learning Event, 12-15 July 2016, Hanoi, Vietnam


The East Asia Regional Learning Event (EARLE) was a four-day program focused on the theme of ‘Bridging private and public spheres for improved sanitation’.

Drawing on Enterprise in WASH experience, Professor Juliet Willetts, who co-facilitated the event, delivered a keynote address on ‘Market-based sanitation approaches in South-East Asia’ and a presentation on ‘sanitation and the private sector’.

The event gathered over 85 participants from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Vietnam where
 CS WASH Fund Projects are being implemented. Lessons and reflections from the event have been captured in the Synthesis Report and learning briefs: ‘Financing sanitation’ and ‘Engaging government in market-based sanitation’.

As part of the lead-up to this event, Professor Juliet Willetts also facilitated an e-discussion and a webinar. The e-discussion which took over three weeks during April and May 2016, explored the roles that CSOs are playing in facilitating sanitation markets, access to financing and the roles of both the private and public sectors. The webinar built on the conversation started in the e-discussion and addressed the question of ‘How can CSOs also work with local government or other local actors to facilitate market-based approaches?’


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Learning and Policy Briefs are now available


A series of six Enterprise in WASH Learning Briefs and four Policy Briefs are now available on the website in the research outputs section. They are available in English, Indonesian and Vietnamese. A huge thanks to all partners who provided input into the development of these briefs which are drawn from three years of research conducted with Enterprise in WASH partners. The learning briefs are written specifically for civil society organisations (non-government organisations) working with water and sanitation enterprises.

The series of 6 learning briefs cover the following topics:

  • Learning brief 1: CSO roles
  • Learning brief 2: Know your private sector
  • Learning brief 3: Working with governments
  • Learning brief 4: Driving equality
  • Learning brief 5: Private and social enterprise business models
  • Learning brief 6: Working with motivations and incentives

If you would like some printed copies of these briefs and the A3 poster, please email Melita  –

Enterprise in WASH featured at the WASH Futures 2016 conference, May 2016


Our project featured at the WASH Futures conference through a training session and a presentation.


The training session titled ‘Private Sector and Marketing Exchange Approaches for Equitable WASH Outcomes’ was designed and delivered in collaboration with Monash University, International WaterCentre, The University of North Carolina, and iDE. This drew on research conducted by each organisation and included findings from different stages of our project.


The presentation titled ‘Are Poor Households Connecting? Private Water Enterprises in Rural Vietnam’ drew on findings from the third stage of our research. This questioned what private sector involvement means for equitable service delivery, and to identify mechanisms to ensure poor and disadvantaged groups are reached.



Developing guidance materials for CSOs (Feb – Jun 2016)


In February 2016 we entered the translation phase of our project, where we have been turning our research findings into meaningful guidance material for CSOs, including six guidance notes, a policy briefing, a video and a poster.


The guidance notes are currently being reviewed by the Project CSO partners. These provide principles, processes, examples, and triggering questions aimed at assisting CSOs to identify appropriate roles and strategies for enterprise engagement in WASH, and cover the following topics:


  • CSO roles
  • Know your private sector
  • Business models
  • Working with government
  • Driving equality in water and sanitation services delivered by enterprises
  • Working with incentives


The format and design of these guidance materials has been informed by a survey targeted at CSOs about their preferred formats of communication we ran earlier in the year.


We are really looking forward to receiving the partners’ inputs and feedback to take these materials to the “next level” of relevance and usability for CSOs.

National Workshop on Management of Rural Water Supply Systems and the role of the private sector (November 2015)


“It is very important research… so you should use it in your policies and actions at local level. I very much agree all findings and the recommendations of this research” The Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development Vice Minister Hoàng Văn Thắng, Viet Nam.


In November 2015, Dr. Juliet Willetts, Dr. Đoàn Thế Lợi (IWEM) Per Ljung (EMWF) delivered key recommendations for policy development and implementation concerning Decree 15 in the rural water sector, to ensure effective and equitable service provision in the long-term. These recommendations were based on research examining the policy and regulatory environment in targeted provinces, and comparison of the operation, customer satisfaction and equity outcomes of private enterprises compared with other management models (which include cooperative, commune people’s committee, state-owner enterprises and community). The workshop attracted representatives from all 63 provinces in Viet Nam, including approximately 300 Government representatives. The workshop was combined with a closing workshop for National Target Program (NTP) and was opened by Hugh Borrowman, former Ambassador to Vietnam. It also included presentations from private sector companies managing rural water supply systems and members of provincial government. The workshop was designed to:

  • Promote stakeholder engagement with the findings of joint ISF-UTS, IWEM,   EMWF, CRES-VNU research with government and sector stakeholders; and
  • Consider and discuss implications of the research findings for rural water supply tariffs, incentives and regulation in the context of the Rural Development Program which will replace the National Target Program in supporting improvements in access to rural water supply.

The workshop resulted in a recommendation that a Taskforce was required to advance the recommendations made in the Policy Report.


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Enterprise in WASH: In-country research, August 2015


The team recently returned from Vietnam where data was collected for Targeted Study 3, which aims to address a knowledge gap concerning equity outcomes of enterprise engagement in water services. In particular, the research examined equity outcomes for private enterprises and for other management models in place for rural water supply in in Vietnam.


Researchers collected data which will help to determine the extent to which poor people in the case study sites are excluded, or not, from connecting to piped systems provided by a range of service provider types including small scale water entrepreneurs. Interviews were held with Commune Leaders, water service providers and low-income householders. The research took place in three communes in northern Vietnam, and three communes in southern Vietnam. In addition to collecting data on water connections and supply sources, the team is doing spatial GIS analysis to explore any relationship between the locations of water services and low-income households.   Findings from this research will inform governments and service providers about how to best ensure equity outcomes in water service delivery.


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Enterprise in WASH featured at WEDC International Conference (July 2015) and Stockholm World Water Week (August 2015)


Juliet Willetts presented at the WEDC International on the ‘political economy influences on enterprise engagement in Indonesia, Vietnam and Timor-Leste’. The paper and presentation for this conference drew on findings from the second stage of our research.


Our project also featured at the 2015 Stockholm World Water Week where we presented on a combination of findings across different stages of our research, reflecting on perspectives of small-scale water enterprises, their motivations, drivers and barriers. See the presentation here.


Juliet at wwweek Aug 2015

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Private sector roles in Timor-Leste


The team recently completed data collection in Timor-Leste for Targeted Study 2, which looked at the motivations and levels of entrepreneurship within existing private sector actors, and the potential for them to play additional roles to support water and sanitation service delivery. Interviews were held with water contractors, private companies that build water systems, and also with district supply shops that sell toilet components. Analysis is underway!

Current research in Vietnam – equity outcomes for the poor


Targeted Study 3, which explores equity outcomes of private water service provision in rural areas in Vietnam, has been extended beyond looking only at the equity outcomes of the poor served by private water enterprises, to looking at outcomes of those served by other types of water service providers as well (e.g. government, community). Data collection is currently underway with partners EMWF and CRES, and the approach will use spatial analysis using GIS.  This research component also involves partnership with the Government of Vietnam – the National Centre for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (NCERWASS) and Integrated Water resources and Economics and Management (IWEM) in Vietnam.


Research team (ISF, EMWF and CRES) with a private water enterprise in the Mekong Delta, September 2014

Research team (ISF, EMWF and CRES) with a private water enterprise in the Mekong Delta, September 2014

In-country dissemination workshop, Jakarta, March 2015


In partnership with Indonesian CSO and university partners, Plan and UGM, the Enterprise in WASH team launched two major reports in Jakarta on 19 March 2015. The studies were on the sanitation value chain in Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) and on motivators, barriers and drivers to entry for enterprises. Organised by Plan Indonesia, the event was opened by Pak Nugroho Tri Utomo, Director of Housings and Settlements, National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) and DFAT representative Anne Joselin, and presented findings from the report to a diverse audience. The summary report was also translated into Bahasa.




Key findings from the value chain study included:

• Areas of high poverty and remoteness also experienced high costs to build a durable toilet, hence ways to increase affordability for the poor to ensure equitable outcomes must be developed by governments and other agencies
• The toilet pan was a very minor cost component of the toilet (2-4%) and hence should not be the sole focus of sanitation business development, but rather ways to reduce the price and weight of superstructures requires additional attention for remote rural areas.
• Variability of cost in different locations was due to two main factors. Firstly, the increasing costs along the supply chain (due to transport costs and profit margins of intermediaries) of toilet pans, cement, zinc sheets and reinforcing iron. Secondly, wide variation in the costs of locally collected materials (sand, gravel, bricks etc.) which in some locations comprised the highest cost components.


Key findings from the motivators, barriers and drivers to entry study included:
• More successful entrepreneurs demonstrated a larger number of entrepreneurial traits, especially a proactive approach, innovativeness and risk-taking traits.
• Sanitation entrepreneurs and leaders of water enterprises generally demonstrated a strong sense of social responsibility and commitment to serve the poor, however sludge removal businesses did not exhibit this trait.
• Enterprises located in urban and sub-urban areas were consistently more successful than those in rural areas, likely due to economies of scale.
• In terms of challenges, entrepreneurs emphasised operational aspects to be the most challenging, including high cost of raw materials and high fixed expenses, which likely relates to the way businesses price their services. A consciousness and commitment to maintain affordable pricing for the social services they offer means they struggle to cover operational costs.