For the third two-week module of the Water and Sanitation for Development MSc, students were given the exciting task of participating in an urban water utility simulation. WaterMan is an activity which simulates the financial planning as well as management and development decision-making processes of an urban water utility in a low to middle-income country. Divided into teams of four, we were given the task of increasing the health of our populace whilst generating an adequate return on capital invested, all through improved service coverage.

This exercise exposed us to real world processes and the consequences of corporate decision making on both the utility and the community we were serving. Basing our decisions on examples from case studies provided during morning lectures, we spent four afternoons carefully devising key performance indicators and calculating investment priorities for our respective water utilities.

There was tough competition between Wasafi City, White Gold, Hydra and Manina water companies, each keen to provide the best service while maximising profit and efficiency. Wasafi City took the lead with their ambitious investment strategy and courage to request significant loans from government and private investors to reach a maximum number of people in the community.

Charotte group

Stategy meeting between Wasafi City management

Each of the four afternoons represented a simulated ‘year’ (decision cycle) and required us to adjust our investment in hardware, software, tariff-setting and finance based on the outcome of the previous ‘year’. Pouring over our performance indicators, balance sheets and income statements, our investment decision sheets generated lively debates followed by suspense as we awaited the outcome the following day. By the next afternoon, the results were released and the cycle began again. Tensions were high in the room as each team strategized on how to make their companies most viable, competitive and equitable. The enthusiasm and emotional investment in the room made it hard to believe these weren’t ‘real’ water utilities.

When reflecting on the outcomes of the final ‘year’, the take home message for the module was clearly invest big or go home! It was most impressive to see just how much investment is needed to make a real impact in service provision.

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