You work for the Lukanga Water & Sanitation Company in Zambia. What challenges does this company face?
Michaela Karolina Braun: Our technical systems are all very old and have reached the end of their technical service life. In addition, we have no redundancies in the system, there are no backup systems. This means that various supply networks are only connected to a single pump, which can fail at any time. In this case, the supply for certain parts of the supply area would collapse. For Lukanga WSC, this means that we are very much driven by emergency strategies, we can mostly only react instead of having time to strategically plan our operations.
We also face the challenge of a rapidly growing population, especially in the informal settlement areas. This is a big challenge for us as urban planners because we have to make sure that everyone has access to drinking water and sanitation. However, there is often an increased level of vandalism in these areas. Our infrastructure is damaged or tapped illegally, i.e. without authorisation.
In addition, there are deficits both in training and in the automation of work processes. Since my arrival in Kabwe, I have learnt to appreciate the great dual training system and the highly qualified skilled workers we have in Germany. Here in Zambia, on the other hand, our tradespeople only complete a theoretical examination and the first time they are asked to repair damage in the plants is also the first time they hold a tool in their hands. It is difficult to find qualified specialists because they simply lack experience.
What does the utility partnership with Gelsenwasser AG, the Emschergenossenschaft and the Lippeverband look like in this situation? What role do you play as a specialist?
Michaela Karolina Braun: The partnership between the Zambian and German partners promoted by the utility platform aims to improve the capacities for the operation and maintenance of the Lukanga WSC. The utility partnership has been in place since 2019. In the initial phase, an analysis of the Lukanga WSC was carried out jointly and a performance improvement plan was drawn up. The focus is on data management and technical asset management. Thw water companies are now working together in various working groups.
My involvement in the partnership is based on my expertise as an engineer in the field of technical asset management. On the one hand, I provide technical support to the partners and contribute my own experience in Kabwe at the utility, and on the other hand, I am a cultural facilitator in the partnership. Although both sides often have the same vision, they have difficulties communicating with each other. In this role, I summarise the issues more clearly and build trust between the two sides. My job is to bring the ideas of the water utilities together and ensure that they can make a joint decision. This brings together the different Zambian and German approaches to work.
Can you give us a simple example?
Michaela Karolina Braun: We Germans tend to get straight to the point in business meetings. In Zambia, on the other hand, the personal level is very, very important in business relationships - and trust takes time. That's why the German side sometimes gets impatient and in Zambia they think the Germans are too direct, and then I sit in between. Once a common understanding has been established, there is a high level of trust, and we have achieved that in our partnership.