Micro-Entrepreneurship to Provide Water Access for Poor African Households: An Abidjan Case Study
TWCF Number
Project Duration
December 15 / 2022
- December 14 / 2024
Core Funding Area
Individual Freedom and Free Markets
Amount Awarded

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Michel Kelly-Gagnon
Institution Institut économique de Montréal

A better provision of water services at the micro level is a key factor of health, productivity and growth in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Yet whether due to population growth or sometimes chaotic urbanization, or even perhaps to changes generally attributed to the climate crisis, water resources are under more pressure than ever. In many cases, the gap is widening between urban and rural areas, thus aggravating poverty and making the economic and social development of target populations more difficult. 

Governments generally favor a large distribution network managed by a company — public or private — in a monopoly position, but this has limited success in LMICs because the services provided are often ill-matched to the needs of poorer households. This inadequacy explains households turning to informal suppliers, especially small private operators (SPOs) — micro-entrepreneurs such as carters, rickshaws, standpipe managers, tanker trucks, and water resellers.

The SPOs have enormous potential to contribute to the goal of universal access to water. They provide a range of services that are local, flexible, and adapted to the specific needs of a clientele that buys small quantities of water and has limited and irregular purchasing power. But the informality of SPOs prevents the development of their full potential in facilitating access to water. Abidjan is of interest as the only city in West Africa to have initiated an attempt to formalize at least one category of SPOs, namely water resellers. 

This project from a team led by Michel Kelly-Gagnon at Institut économique de Montréal will examine strategies and models for formally integrating SPOs into the water sector ecosystem in Abidjan, promoting water entrepreneurship, especially for micro-entrepreneurs.

The study will examine the institutional changes that would allow for the full benefits of entrepreneurship through SPOs. It will aim to explain and rank the institutional determinants (property rights, contracts, administrative procedures, pricing, rules of competition, codes of investment, etc.) of the entrepreneurial behavior of SPOs. The researchers will perform a critical review of literature on related topics, and then conduct empirical research to identify the hierarchy of institutional obstacles blocking the formalization of SPOs, with a quantitative survey of SPOs, and a qualitative survey of the responsible authorities. The team will analyze these two surveys for points of convergence between the authorities and SPOs, facilitating the identification of consensual reform measures.

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