Manila Water Company - Water for the Poor Program

The Unilever Global Development Award, supported by Business Fights Poverty, Winner, 2016

The Manila Water Company is helping people in poor urban communities to access clean, safe, affordable water, while improving the quality of the water supply and growing a new customer base.

What the judges said

  • The Manila Water Company’s ‘Water for the Poor’ programme is inspiring. The programme addresses both a clear business issue and major health risks including water-borne diseases and personal and community sanitation, whilst at the same time reducing the cost of water for the local community.
  • The company has been working closely with the local government in a very challenging environment for almost 20 years. It is impressive to see a private sector company addressing the issue of ‘water for the poor’ with such long term commitment, tenacity and scale.
  • The Manila Water Company are tackling the issue of water wastage, contamination and illegal connections to the system, in the East Zone of Metro Manila and Rizal Province in the Philippines, an area that has seen no new water source since the 1980’s. Moving individuals from an illegal free market to a paid for connection is challenging and it is impressive to see how successfully The Manila Water Company have been in achieving this.

Good for society and for business

  • Manila Water are providing 24/7 access to clean, safe, affordable water for people in poor urban communities.
  • Families are using money saved on water costs to buy other basic necessities as food and school supplies.
  • Manila Water is developing a new customer base among poor urban communities by supporting people to access the water supply.
  • The company is reducing the number of illegal water connections in the area, reducing wastage and lowering the risk of contamination.

Overview

Poor access to water leads to major health risks such as diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases, poor personal and community sanitation, expense from private water delivery and time wasted queuing for water.

Urban families on low incomes in the East Zone of Metro Manila and Rizal Province do not have access to a safe water supply due to stringent requirements applying for a service connection, such as proof of property ownership. The cost of individual water service connection is far beyond the earning capacity of many families.

Manila Water aims to supply water to marginalized communities to ensure that everyone has access to clean, drinkable, and affordable water. Before laying pipes and installing meters the Manila Water team conducts consultation with the community members and local government officials. Issues such as right-of-way, narrow roads, and clustered dwelling spaces are addressed. Through the support of Manila Water's financial partners beneficiaries of the programme pay just a third of the cost of the regular connection in instalments.

More than 700 projects have been completed through the programme, resulting in greater access to a clean, safe water supply 24/7 for more than 1.8 million people. The programme is now being replicated in Manila Water’s subsidiaries in other key cities in the Philippines and there is now a parallel focus on sewerage and sanitation programmes as well as a community education programme about river water pollution.

Developing custom solutions

When water and wastewater services in Metro Manila were privatised in 1997, companies including Manila Water were faced with large system losses through leaks and illegal connections.

After investigating the problem, the company realised that it could only be solved by working with marginalized urban communities in the area and delivering technical and economic solutions tailored to the community.

  • Technical solutions include customised logistics and schemes to address issues such as right-of-way, narrow carriageways, clustered homes, and the presence or absence of organized neighbourhood associations.

  • Economic solutions include partnerships with financial organisations to help cover connection fees and payment by instalments to enable poorer customers to pay the charges over time.

Working with the community

Throughout the cycle of the project, territory managers and customer service managers work closely with the project beneficiaries, from initial assessment, consultation, implementation and beyond. Manila Water has worked to engage local residents as partners and co-owners of the project. Since they are consulted with regards to the solution to their water problems, their sense of ownership and responsibility of the water connections is heightened, ensuring their help in maintaining the facilities and connection.

In this way the programme has enabled Manila Water to develop stronger ties with their customer communities, giving rise to a new customer relations initiative called Kasangga, which loosely translates as “Partners or Advocates”.

What the Chair of the Judges said:

"The Manila Water Company’s ‘Water for the Poor Programme’ is impressive and one to which the company has been committed for almost 20 years. Addressing major health risks including water-borne diseases, personal and community sanitation, this programme is also reducing the cost of water for the unserved and underserved in the local community. This is a great example of a business issue and a significant community need being addressed by a sustainable, systematic, purpose driven solution, with clear health and economic benefits. The commitment and scale of this programme, working closely with the local government in a challenging environment, is exceptional and a great example from which many can learn." - Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever

What Manila Water's CEO said:

“The Tubig Para Sa Barangay (Water for the Poor) Program enabled us in the last 17 years to add 3.2 million customers to the base that we had at the start of the concession. More than half of which are from the lower income group. If that did not happen, then I don’t think we could sustain our business both from an economic point of view, as well as from a social, community and regulatory point of view. So it’s triple bottomline.” - Gerardo C. Ablaza, Jr,  President and CEO