Isle Utilities Builds a Global Water Action Platform

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020, Isle Utilities knew the water industry would have a critical role to play in the world’s response and recovery.

“To protect public health and safety, clean water and sanitation are essential,” says Isle Chairman Piers Clark. “Utilities have to ensure consistent services, even during unprecedented times. Unfortunately, not every utility has the resources to manage through a global crisis.”

Building strong relationships and sharing knowledge are at the core of Isle’s mandate. Through its global innovation forum (known as the Technology Approval Group – or TAG), Isle works with stakeholders and utilities to accelerate technology uptake.

It didn’t take long for Clark and his team to see how they could put this valuable experience – and their reputation as trusted advisors – to task.

Responding to a clear need

Clark considered ways to support Isle’s clients during the pandemic. “We wanted to meaningfully support utilities and help minimize the impacts,” he says. In March, the team decided to launch an informal WhatsApp chat to bring together a handful of Isle’s clients. Within three or four days, the group had ballooned to more than 70 members.

“The need to connect and share was clear – that was undeniable,” he says. As new members joined the chat, however, they couldn’t see the conversation history. “Demand was growing. We needed a more efficient approach to capturing and sharing the discussion.”

The concept evolved rapidly. Over the next few months, the Isle team opened new sub-chats and closely monitored the conversations. They identified popular themes, such as implementing health protection measures, supporting customers during economic uncertainty, building “pandemic resilient” water safety plans, and using wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to monitor sewage for spread of the virus. Clark began hosting a virtual news brief to share the top findings every other week. The industry took note – trade journals published the findings to their networks, prompting even more new members to join the initiative.

The enthusiastic response to Isle’s efforts resulted in a permanent presence: the Water Action Platform. As of September, the platform has welcomed more than 1,200 members representing 88 countries. A website now hosts breakout knowledge hubs, a news brief archive, and related content, including videos and interviews.

Additionally, the Water Action Platform has attracted sponsorship from leading water industry partners, such as UNICEF, World Water Innovation Fund, Aqualia, and fellow XPV Water Partners portfolio company LuminUltra Technologies. While the platform’s members consist mainly of water utilities, technology companies, global industry groups, governments, and financial and academic institutions, the conversation remains open (and free) to all.

The Isle Utilities team continues to build up the Water Action Platform, and Clark still produces the bi-weekly news brief. Drawing upon Isle’s main area of expertise, he regularly highlights innovative water technologies that are relevant to the themes. More often than not, members connect to learn more and request introductions. Some utilities have been able to move quickly and implement these technologies in response to the COVID-19 challenges in their regions.

Next steps

“It’s been exciting to watch our idea thrive,” says Clark. “Members are actively sharing knowledge and insights, learning from their peers, and applying new approaches to common challenges. It’s a global extension of Isle’s work.”

The Water Action Platform is just the beginning, he adds. “What started as a response to the pandemic now encompasses a much wider range of topics. We’ve also got a platform to mobilize the water industry to respond to crises and protect lives and livelihoods.” Following the Beirut port disaster in August, Clark took inspiration from the industry’s willingness to step up and share. In response, Isle launched the Crisis Response Register, a growing list of water sector professionals who have offered to share their knowledge with disaster relief agencies in the event of future crises.

Says Clark: “Our members want to collaborate and protect people. They’re the heart of this group; they’re the reason it’s working. Both the Water Action Platform and the Crisis Response Register provide safe spaces for them to do this work together.”