Much of the benchmarking that takes place in the water sector today focuses on financial and technical performance, making it difficult for water operators to pursue broader social, political and environmental objectives. As an alternative this paper introduces the concept of ‘social efficiency’ to widen the scope of performance evaluation by adding new evaluation criteria that emphasize equity and promote ‘publicness’, informed by extensive field research in Africa and Latin America. We argue that advancing social efficiency could be the most important contribution the Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) makes to knowledge transfer in the water sector, given the relatively small budgets it can leverage. WOPs may be the proverbial drop in the bucket when it comes to improving water and sanitation services around the world, but they could be a significant ‘social’ drop in that bucket.
The paper examines two WOPs. The first is between Morocco’s Office National de l’Électricité et de l'Eau Potable (ONEE) and Burkina Faso’s Office National de l’Eau et de l’Assainissement (ONEA). The second is between Uruguay’s Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) and Porto Alegre’s Departamento Municipal de Água e Esgotos (DMAE) in Brazil. The research shows that both of these partnerships reflect the general trend of prioritizing technical and financial efficiency. Despite having innovative social programs at home, neither WOP has formal pro-poor objectives or evaluation mechanisms to assess pro-poor outcomes, highlighting the untapped potential for knowledge sharing on this type of expertise. Platforms such as GWOPA could provide the necessary guidance and incentives to match water operators interested in pro-poor initiatives and prioritize social efficiency in partnership activities.
Occasional Paper No. 29