Water Operators Partnerships
The Water Operators Partnerships (WOPs) initiative is a water utility twinning program designed to promote knowledge sharing and build the capacity of water utilities. The program brings together an experienced, efficient utility (known as the mentor) and a utility needing help to improve its services (known as the recipient).
Twinning utilities for better services
Across Asia and the Pacific, water utilities are struggling to provide safe water and sanitation for a region of more than 4 billion people. Apart from lack of coverage, many utilities face a whole series of problems. Water losses are substantial; nonrevenue water (NRW) can run as high as 70%. Supplied water is usually unmetered. Even when metered, typically there are billing and collection difficulties. Water quality is generally poor and rarely supplied on a reliable, 24-hour basis. Such problems result in poor service for customers and are typical of utilities with suboptimal financial and operational performance. Many of the region’s water utilities need help so they can deliver sustained, world-class services.
A proven way for these utilities to improve their services is to obtain help from more efficient and experienced operators.
The WOPs approach is to find a good match between willing mentors and recipients. The goal is to enable the recipient to improve its service coverage and delivery, financial stability, and other critical aspects of its operations by adopting best practices of the mentor.
The twinning program supports ADB investments in water and sanitation projects by providing cost-effective capacity building to enable utilities to sustainably operate, maintain, and manage their assets, and deliver continuous improvements in their service.
Facing common challenges together
Despite different circumstances, utilities in a partnership share many concerns and challenges. They are concerned about reliable access to sufficient and sustainable water supplies, or whether their distribution networks can reach all those in need of water. They are looking for ways to improve service delivery, increase water quality, and reduce water losses.
Recipients welcome the opportunity to tap the experiences and insights of a mentor utility on these issues. Although not all issues faced by utilities can be the target of partnerships, mentors and recipients can set priorities to make the best use of available resources and cutting-edge skills.
How and why twinning works
There are many factors in the success of partnerships; the most prominent are:
Willingness of both partners to commit. Both mentors and recipients contribute time, knowledge, and their best people to ensure that their partnership works. Mentors commit to share best practices for free, not for profit. Recipients commit to implement the mentor’s recommendations.
Tangible, realistic outcomes agreed. During the first diagnostic visit, a program facilitator assists the partners to work through a short, systematic diagnostic process with the specific aim of preparing an agreement, work plan, targets, and budget before the visit ends. The main goal is to focus on one or two tangible, realistic outcomes to ensure that a practical work plan is produced.
Seeing is believing. During the partnership, regular visits and a series of workshops are incorporated into the work plan to identify improvement opportunities, introduce change, and set targets for better results. The presence of an experienced mentor is a valuable asset because it imparts security and confidence to the recipient utility.
Six steps to improve utility performance
- Identify. ADB identifies and profiles recipient partners among its clients.
- Match. ADB finds appropriate mentors and matches the partners.
- Agree. ADB facilitates diagnostic visit by mentor; partners agree on work plan.
- Implement. Partners carry out work plan through series of exchange visits.
- Adopt. Recipient adopts best practices to improve performance.
- Replicate. ADB supports replication and scale-up.
Both partners benefit
Twinning provides recipient utilities with immediate and tangible performance improvements in specific areas of their operations. Their mentors have invested skilled resources in them, resources that could have been devoted to their own service needs.
Mentors give various reasons for wanting to be involved. Many are proud of their achievements and want to share their knowledge in a different country and under different conditions. Others see the partnership as a means to provide greater job scope and satisfaction to their best and brightest staff. Some consider partnering as a way to deliver on their corporate social responsibility. Still others want to understand the practices of their recipients that might also help to improve their own operations.
On average, mentors make three to five on-site visits to their counterparts over a period of 12 to 18 months.
Building strategic partnerships: WaterLinks
With the program already in its second phase, there is growing evidence that twinning is effective in building utility capacity and improving the performance of recipient water utilities. Since it began in 2007, over 40 utility partnerships have been established. Reducing nonrevenue water is the top priority.
In 2008, ADB, the International Water Association, and US Agency for International Development collaborated on the establishment of WaterLinks, a regional network of water services operators, practitioners and development partners that supports WOPs in the Asia-Pacific region and catalyzes efficiency improvements to enhance and expand access to urban water and sanitation services.
In December 2011, during the annual WaterLinks Partners Meeting in Malaysia, WaterLinks, Inc. was introduced as a not-for-profit organization that will take on promotion, coordination, and facilitation functions for WaterLinks partners.
WaterLinks aims to promote the benefits and impacts of water operators partnerships in the Asia-Pacific and build the capacity of water and wastewater utilities to help increase and improve access to safe water and basic