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Interview: Securing developing country water tech success

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‘Innovation is taking knowledge to the market,’ says Dr Tomás Michel, president of the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform and moderator of a workshop on technology and developing countries during the Amsterdam International Water Week conference.

For Michel, this simple yet broad definition of innovation includes changes that may be needed in society and in governance models, if innovation has to take place. It involves all stakeholders, including citizens, government administrations, technology centres, and regulators. His workshop targets these stakeholders, reflecting for Michel one of the main contributions of the wider AIWW. ‘One of the important things AIWW does is provide the platform where these different stakeholders can come together and initiate a process of collaboration and sharing experiences,’ he says.

The workshop Michel is moderating is entitled ‘New tech ventures and upscaling’. ‘For me, tech venture makes reference to the technical part of entrepreneurship,’ he says. It relates to issues such as validation, viability, and the capacity to replicate and grow a technology.

The upscaling part of the title relates to the scope and technical size of a project, progressing from laboratory and pilot scale to practical application. ‘It is also about being able to deploy the innovation more broadly,’ says Michel.

"The circular economy cannot be implemented by single actors"

These are all areas that can be crucial in terms of whether innovation can occur, and is why they will be the focus of the workshop. ‘The technical venture part as I defined it might eventually define the success or failure of a project or of the technology itself,’ adds Michel.

The aim for the workshop is to identify success factors that allow use of a technology to be replicated in different locations, including ensuring the right skills are developed through capacity building. ‘It’s important that, for innovation to happen, there is this environment of collaboration, partnership and capacity building. I think what we can achieve at AIWW with this workshop is precisely to take one more little, but important, step forward in that direction,’ says Michel.

Michel, who works for Suez, is also a member of this year’s AIWW Programme Advisory Committee. ‘We have a huge problem with water, and with the sustainability of the planet,’ he says. AIWW’s twin themes of resilience and the circular economy offer a response. ‘The circular economy is essentially one of the few possible solutions,’ he adds. It definitely includes a need to reuse water, but goes well beyond this. ‘It demands a complete change of mindset on how we consume, produce, grow food, etc.,’ he says.

Michel notes that the circular economy cannot be implemented by single actors. ‘It is very important to have a place where this concept can be showcased and discussed, and AIWW provides again an opportunity for different stakeholders to come together and do precisely this,’ he adds.

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