European WOP Enablers dialogue: why and how to enable WOPs

Europe is home to thousands of water and sanitation operators with great potential to participate in WOPs as mentors. In recent years, a growing number of European public water utilities have begun to engage in Water Operators Partnerships (WOPs), sharing their expertise with peers in lower- and middle-income countries to improve their capacity to deliver safe and sustainable services to all. The EU-WOP Programme (2020-2025) is providing an unprecedented opportunity for European actors to join in this growing utility partnership practice, adding to a growing tableau of country-led WOP initiatives such as the German Utility Platform, the WaterWorX program in the Netherlands, or France’s PsEau.

Yet the number of utilities engaged in WOPs remains relatively low, despite the clear benefits of WOPs for the utility partners involved and the partnerships being low cost. Hindered by barriers ranging from lack of awareness, to availability of funds and legal frameworks, the impulse of operators, local governments, civil society, and cooperation agencies to engage in solidarity partnerships for SDG 6 are often frustrated to a halt.

What makes it possible for some locales to do WOPs and not others? What can the countries, regions and cities of Europe learn from those who have succeeded? What strategies can help overcome the obstacles and facilitate wider implementation of WOPs by European utilities?

To discuss and share challenges and successes in efforts to scale up WOPs in Europe and jointly identify potential opportunities and recommendations, the GWOPA Secretariat has initiated the European WOP Enablers Dialogues.

On 14th December, participants from different European countries, including water and wastewater utilities, governments, financial institutions, development partners, and civil society organisations, gathered to commence the series of dialogues.

An interactive hybrid workshop gathered around 40 participants. Following a welcome by the new GWOPA Head, Asa Jonsson, and an Introduction to the European WOP Enablers event by Julie Perkins and  Anne Le Strat, presented the main WOP constrains and enablers based on GWOPA’s publication on ‘Enabling WOPs: Mobilizing European Actors for Solidarity-based Water Partnerships’.  Session participants were divided into breakout rooms to discuss four thematic topics: legal and institutional issues, financial and funding issues, political and public support, and technical and staffing issues.

Each group identified the constraints faced and then discussed approaches for overcoming them, drawing on one another’s experience. The outcomes included a number of potential solutions and future recommendations.

This first European WOPs Enabler dialogue showed a clear momentum for WOPs and support from a broad range of stakeholders to work together under the umbrella of GWOPA to tap into European operators’ potential to support global development objectives in solidarity with their peers. The next dialogue of the European WOP Enablers series will offer a further exchange on frameworks and approaches to make WOPs more doable, effective and scalable.

Access the published report here.