Exclusive interview with David Schaub-Jones, Co-Founder, SeeSaw. He will address the water track of the African Utility Week conference in Cape Town in May on “The pros and cons of prepaid versus mobile-enabled post-paid approaches for African water utilities”.
1. What in your view are the main challenges currently to the water industry in Africa?
Dealing with ageing infrastructure and rapid urban growth remain the biggest challenges for African water utilities. Fortunately, many of these utilities are proving to be both innovative and adaptable. This helps them better deal with leaking pipes, with collecting money from hard-to-reach customers and in planning how to address the needs of rapidly mushrooming new settlements. We are happy to be part of that process.
2. Any specific project updates/success stories that you can share?
SeeSaw is working in Angola’s second largest city, Huambo, to help the government and water utility gain a better understanding of the service level that customers experience. By putting in a system where customers send in reports using basic cell phones. Utility staff can access these reports and add to them with a customised smartphone application. SeeSaw has helped improve service delivery to an area where upwards of one million people live. This is but one example of how utilities are harnessing the cell phone revolution to bring them direct benefits.
3. What is your vision for this industry?
My vision is one where managers who are willing to take risks and try new things are supported and cherished by their colleagues and peers. We see this happening now and again, but it would be better still if such attitudes became more widespread.
4. You are part of the conference programme at this year’s African Utility Week, what will be your message?
My message will be that the type of innovation that is changing how people communicate in their personal lives can easily be harnessed or adopted to radically reshape how water services are delivered in urban Africa. I will point out concrete examples where this has been the case and highlight the sorts of tools and systems that are proving effective, particularly in the southern African region.
5. Tell us more about your organisation and your activities in the utility industry?
SeeSaw operates as a social enterprise based out of Cape Town, South Africa. We provide ICT (Information and Communication Technology) solutions to the water and sanitation sectors in Africa and have recently expanded to Asia. SeeSaw advises water utilities on how to adapt ICT to deliver on their business needs, runs training course for managers and provide our own multiple customised applications (using either basic or smartphones) to collect, analyse and distribute data to water utilities, regulators and others in 15 countries around the world.
6. What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week?
As usual I look forward to the creative mix of individuals from different sectors and different countries. People are always happy to share and usually come open-minded. For me this means great conversations, good company, and lots of promising leads to follow. I am also looking forward to going beyond presenting to actually training people in the use of ICT tools that are out there and easy to adapt. Getting our hands dirty and trying things out – that should be a lot of fun!
7. Anything you would like to add?
This year for the first time we’re offering a hands-on training course for those keen to try out new ICT (Information and Communication Technology) tools and see how they could be used by water or even energy professionals.