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AWWA to train water professionals in India, Africa on utility management

Water utilities in India and parts of Africa will soon have access to training on utility management practices through a new grant-funded project of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). 

Hands at an outdoor water faucetAWWA was selected to develop a series of virtual and in-person workshops based on its 14 utility management standards as part of a greater international initiative sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). (Photo courtesy of ROCKBlue)

AWWA and its partners will develop and deliver training in at least two locations in India beginning later this year through 2022, and in the African countries of Malawi, Zambia and Lesotho beginning in 2022 through 2023.

“Our workshops will focus on the standards that help establish the practices and management procedures that well-run utilities should have in place to operate efficiently and provide reliable service to customers,” said Paul Olson, AWWA’s senior manager of standards programs. 

USAID and ANSI have worked together over the past decade to support educational projects that promote the use of standards in developing countries. The goal is to increase the self-reliance and resilience of utilities in these countries, as well as their capacity to provide better services and infrastructure for their citizens.

USAID is awarding a total of $5 million in grants to organizations supporting education, the use of standards, and support of gender inclusivity across the globe, including to AWWA. ANSI is facilitating the effort. 

Utility Management Standards

Chi Ho Sham“The Utility Management Standards build on the successful consensus development process that AWWA has used for more than 100 years but differ from other AWWA/ANSI standards by addressing management practices rather than products, processes or services,” said Chi Ho Sham (pictured right), AWWA’s incoming president and a participant in the grant project. 

“The AWWA standards were developed with utilities in North America in mind, so what would be considered as requirement elements will differ from those in India and the three African countries,” he added. 

The Utility Management Standards are built on the following principles:

  • Encourage voluntary self-assessment by utility personnel
  • Establish achievable criteria that go beyond current regulations
  • Apply to all sizes and types of utilities
  • Implement without major capital investment
  • Enhance public health and environment protection 

International collaborations

Because of AWWA’s ongoing work with India’s water community through AWWAIndia, that country is the natural starting point for AWWA to conduct a training needs assessment, develop a training curriculum and recruit utility participants. 

Nilaksh KothariIn addition, Nilaksh Kothari (pictured right), Past President of AWWA and a long-time Wisconsin utility general manager, will oversee AWWAIndia’s technical programs, including these workshops. 

“The utilities in India provide services under extremely difficult conditions, with water scarcity resulting in intermittent supply to customers, water loss and limited financial resources to properly maintain systems,” Kothari said.

“The introduction of the AWWA management standards should assist the utilities in establishing a continuous improvement and establish sustainable practices,” he added.

To support its efforts in Africa, AWWA will draw on ties with nonprofit ROCKBlue, a water, sanitation and hygiene nonprofit that operates in developing countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa. ROCKBlue partners with water and sanitation utilities in the poorest cities and towns to grow and optimize their operations. The nonprofit has worked with AWWA’s International Council.

In both programs, training will be provided by AWWA staff, other water experts and associates of AWWAIndia and ROCKBlue.

Sustainable practices and improvements

In India and the African countries, the end goal is to go beyond the initial workshops to establish user groups of water professionals who will continue to implement standards and maintain an ongoing quality improvement process, while sharing best practices, publishing articles and presenting at future training events. Each participating utility will receive a print copy of AWWA’s 14 utility management standards.

“Our intention is to meet utility participants where they are and help them move forward,” Olson said. “Our training will be adapted to the local needs, environment and situations they’re dealing with.”

In addition, AWWA hopes to increase its presence in developing countries and maintain its relationships with participating utilities. This could extend to their participation at the Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE), as well as their engagement with AWWA membership, committees and other activities.