My experience setting up a resource centre for rural water professionals

This year we are celebrating 30 years since the Rural Water Supply Network was formally founded. From very technical beginnings as a group of (mostly male) experts – the Handpump Technology Network- we have evolved to be a diverse and vibrant network of over 13,000 people and 100 organisations working on a wide range of topics. Along the way, we have earned a reputation for impartiality, and become a global convener in the rural water sector.

RWSN would not be what it is today without the contributions and tireless efforts of many our members, organisations and people. As part of RWSN’s 30th anniversary celebration, we are running a blog series on rwsn.blog, inviting our friends and experts in the sector to share their thoughts and experiences in the rural water sector.

This is a guest blog by RWSN Young Professional Justine Olweny, based in Uganda.

How I’ve ended up working in the rural water sector:

I’ve often wanted to add value to a situation. When encountered a challenge, I actively got involved and explore ways to provide solutions in reducing suffering and/or increasing performance as a team and celebrating alongside. I grew up in a drilling camp in Uganda and saw my Dad (who was a Water Engineer) drill boreholes in the early 1990s but later noticed how the services they were providing were raw. I convinced myself that if I could, I would like to improve the way my Dad provided access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

I have a background in information technology and management. In 2017 I set up my own start-up in the water sector in Uganda, Water Access Consulting. Since then my team has grown from three to eleven people across three offices. We are involved in various activities in the water sector in Uganda: groundwater exploration, water well drilling supervision, water quality testing, hygiene promotion, and plastic waste recycling. We also have a water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) resource centre in Kitgum to share knowledge and skills to water supply practitioners across Northern Uganda and South Sudan; you can read more about it here.

Today, I feel satisfied and at my best in the business of enhancing the delivery of safe water supply using inexpensive technologies to the low-income persons living in the remote part of the country to improve their lives in a meaningful way.

Water Access Consulting team doing water quality testing

The main challenges I have encountered in my work:

  1. Getting along with my engineering colleagues: with my managerial and information system background, I prefer to approach a problem from the customer’s perspective and this doesn’t always go smoothly with my engineering colleagues since they already have a specific predetermined set of standards in addressing a similar situation; this can cause emotional and physical issues with the project team.
  2. Making Mistakes: in my consultancy roles I always try new ideas and some end up in the south; I admit and apologize, but it takes a lot of courage. Sometimes offering a quick solution and fixing the mess on my own takes a lot of time, and I need to convince myself that it’s okay to move on.
  3. Time Management: with the new normal after the COVID19 disruption, the level of uncertainties has increased and today it is extremely difficult to manage time when I’m settling into a new role and adjusting my updated responsibilities.

What I like the most about RWSN:

Two things stand out for me as:

  1. Multicultural interaction of best practices and shared experiences by water supply practitioners across the globe on how they tackle water crises in their own region, and
  2. The RWSN mentoring program for young professionals, through which my mentor Diana Keesiga relentlessly encouraged, inspired, and guided me into my full growth and development potential.

Where I see myself and the rural water sector in my country in the next 5 years:

I was privileged to follow closely the Ugandan Government’s rural water supply reform trends from the end of the 1990s up to now including the revised Strategic Sector Investment Plan that was completed in 2009. All these efforts together with other numerous campaigns by the relevant Authorities under the Ministry of water and environment demonstrate the goodwill and commitments of the Ugandan government to enact appropriate policies that promote private-public partnerships and a rural water supply market-based approach. This would transform traditional right-based approach beneficiaries into customers by challenging the low-income population in the remote parts of the country to embrace their rights and responsibilities to pay for water services.

This huge milestone has opened doors for local entrepreneurs to thrive by supporting the government’s mandate and initiatives of promoting access to safe water as a business that is replicated with little to no government subsidies. I believe that by 2027-2030 rural water supply will be transformed from a stand-alone hand pump installed borehole located approximately 2 kilometers away from a household with a long queue of yellow 20 liter jerrican waiting to be carried over a woman’s head, into an in house water tap that is operated and maintained by private businesses creating employment, reducing ill health and increasing productivity through time-saving that stabilize our economy.

As for myself: my company, Water Access Consulting, has been shortlisted among the 110 participants for the Bayer Social Innovation Award. The next step will be public voting which will start from the 10th of August up to the 16th of August 2022. You can support us by voting here:
https://getinthering.co/bayer-public-voting-africa-middle-east/
With the funding from this award and the coaching and mentoring provided, I would expand my company and my resource and learning centre so that it can benefit more rural water professionals and Uganda and beyond.

About the author:

Justine Olweny is a Program Director and co-founder of Water Access Consulting, with experience managing diverse water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) professionals. Justine Olweny graduated with a bachelor degree in information system and Technology with bias in Water supply. You can connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/justine-olweny-0064496b/

He has co-founded an organisation Water Access Consulting that has directly impacted 144,578 lives in Uganda including children, youth, women and persons with disabilities with access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. As of today, Justine’s company has surveyed and help drilled up to 372 water wells across Sub Saharan Africa.

Do you have a story to share with other RWSN members, about the rural water sector, your work, and your passions? We are encouraging members to contribute to our 30th anniversary blog series. Please see the guidelines for contributions here – we will select the best blogs for publications before November 2022.

Photo credit: Justine Olweny/ Water Access Consulting

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit https://www.rural-water-supply.net/ to find out more

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