SMEs need help

Issue 82 - July | August 2019

Dieter Ernst, one of the co-founders of the German Water Partnership, relies on domestic SMEs working together in their own best interests. His organization is active worldwide - and is already working on the water supply of tomorrow.

Dieter Ernst, GWP
Dieter Ernst, GWP
Why does the GWP need it?

Ernst: DGermany is a high-tech country in the water sector, we have many niche providers with interesting technologies and ideas, but no big players. The German water industry dominates their business, but that does not mean that we can bring this competence into the world, for example to Africa. If you want that, you need a platform that brings companies together to develop ideas together.

The situation is similar in Austria: strong middle class, hesitancy with regard to new markets.

Serious: The strong middle class is, as in Germany, a blessing. But if we look at France, for example, there are three large water companies that dominate the market, there are thousands in Germany - this limits the opportunities to go abroad. A Veolia (note: French water, waste management and energy company with an annual turnover of around 25 billion Euro and 169.000 employees) can do it alone. We have no Veolia, but the German Water Partnership.

This one has 350 members. How and where does it come to concrete solutions for individual companies?

Seriously: Among other things in the so-called country forums, each of which has about ten members who meet regularly. These are the force fields in which the information flows and cooperations emerge. Of course, there can not be such a dynamic in the big group.

What role does politics play?

Serious: Water doesn't work without politics. It is always a political task to provide water and guarantee disposal. And the greater the commitment of a company, the more important is the commitment of politics. At the GWP's opening event ten years ago, we had five German federal ministries at the table. This is of course of great importance for domestic SMEs: meeting state secretaries or local politicians to whom they otherwise have no access. But political support is also required in the recipient countries.

This is not always straightforward, especially in developing countries. Which projects are you currently pursuing there?

Serious: A six-year project is currently underway in Vietnam: Together with the local partners, we have set up and developed the wastewater association there and designed systems for financing - and ultimately created a structure that is now able to function independently. We have done something similar in Jordan, our companies have participated in the African Water Association conference in Kenya and we are also very active in Zambia and the Ivory Coast.

Which development policy agenda are you following?

Serious: The best development aid is the development of viable markets, entrepreneurial structures, job creation and meeting needs. That can only be the economy. We are here an instrument for the stabilization of local conditions.

The GWP has created a working group called "Water 4.0". What's this?
Serious: We live in a time of total change. Digitization offers huge opportunities, for example in the question of controlling systems, in networking. My vision is a system solution that controls water, sewage, networks, energy needs and adjacent agriculture in a digital forest. The smart pump, which turns on when needed and turns off when it is not needed, is already a step forward, but it is not a system solution or a new business model. 4.0 is often misunderstood as something that enhances the existing. But 4.0 is revolution!
Many thanks for the interview!
Photo: Ernst

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Ethiopian delegation during winter visit to the waste collection center in Wels

Together in New Markets

Industry clusters and sector partnerships may be cumbersome terms, but their job is the relief: Under their roof, SMEs in particular cooperate in the joint development of new markets.