The Akvo elevator is working. But stepping out at the second floor is premature. The next level needs a much bigger construction team – one which includes you.
What a difference a month makes. Four weeks ago we were busy working on the Akvo prototype and refining our marketing programme to engage the water ‘establishment’. Now, a month later, we are close to securing significant funds, enough to take the next steps in continuing to build the core Akvo system.
We’d like to thank those who have committed to taking the project forward with us and look forward to welcoming others who are still thinking about it.
Aside from raising funds, we learnt a great deal in August through intense discussions with many kinds of people. The biggest revelation to us (well, some of us) 1 was that a huge financing gap exists in relation to water and sanitation. Those who want to lend money to programmes cannot afford to manage projects once budgets go below $1m – scaling down to this level leads to exponential increases in transaction costs. The situation becomes impossible once you get down to $100,000 projects – so you get this gap, best summed up by this graph, taken from The Camdessus Report 2.
The financing gap we are talking about is marked “EXPOSED SEGMENT” in the above graph. It may not look so big, but consider that this part of the financial market (risk band BB to C) most likely covers the majority of the people who need water and sanitation. Additionally, I would argue that ODA-development funds available above micro-loans in this graph are not available in sufficient volume or accessible enough to fill the space it shows to cover.
It is quite clear that Akvo’s sweet spot is its potential to help scale projects up from the bottom, taking micro-loan style processes and scaling them up through better knowledge structures and sharing, community collaboration and reporting tools and partnerships with those keen to roll out micro-loans. It’s what Paul Faeth, executive director at Global Water Challenge, neatly describes as “supersizing microfinance”.
After all this excitement, containing expectations is now, of course, a big challenge for us. We have several priorities over the next six months:
1. Build an eco-system of partners and contributors that will help us populate, refine and extend the Akvopedia, collating, structuring, publishing and then improving the world’s key knowledge about basic water and sanitation tools, processes and projects.
2. Focus on building out the core system, particularly its functionality in the area of what I call “projects and funds match-making” or you may have heard it described by me as the Prospecting, Match-making, Reporting and Monitoring system. More about that in a later blog.
3. Establish processes to organise and empower our wide community of supporters and potential partners, so people who come to us find a place to engage and contribute.
The temptation now exists to turn ourselves into a tight hierarchy that loads individuals with responsibility for key performance areas, including the above. That, after all, is the way most of us have been educated to work. Running Akvo on command and control principles has an immediate appeal – it devolves responsibility and feels like the easiest way to make things happen fast. But I believe that doing so would be a serious mistake – instead we must cultivate a wide network of participants and give you the ability to coordinate your activity. But, as the best open source projects have discovered, you have to get people to focus on what they want to do, not what they think they ought to do. While in the short term this makes life harder, in the long run it changes everything for the better.
At a practical level we are keen to get our wide network of supporters and future contributors more involved. There are currently three ways to do so.
One is via our Facebook group (search for Akvo), and here I want to encourage people to more actively share with us, rather than wait to be instructed. Tell us what you think we should be doing, help us connect into events, projects, developments. Suggest content we should include in Akvopedia or tell us about people who would like to be Akvoeditors.
A second way, which I like, as it is a more open forum, is to interact via our Akvo forums. You need to register just once and then you can participate, suggest ideas, etc. For example, you will find the questions that were asked during our Stockholm World Water Week panel debate, along with the answers provided on stage. Of course, these are not the end of the debate – we encourage you to extend these discussions, suggest additional answers, that will no doubt prompt new questions.
A third way – and probably today the most important way – is to volunteer to become an Akvoeditor. We need these quickly – people who can help us develop and refine the structure of Akvopedia and quickly help us build out the network of contributors so Akvo grows without the need for drum-banging at the centre.
If I have one request it is that you participate right away – we have no time to lose.
Thomas Bjelkeman is the founder of Akvo.
- Of course, the water and sanitation experts in the team have been pointing this out to the rest of us for the last year, but it didn’t really hit home for me until I sat down with the bankers and financiers among you. Thanks Paul Faeth, GWC, and Kajetan Hetzer, SNS Bank, for showing me this. ↩
- Financing water for all, [PDF] Report of the World Panel on Financing Water Infrastructure, 2003. Chaired by Michel Camdessus. Report written by James Winpenny. ↩