Across the developing world, millions of people rely on the private sector for their daily water and sanitation needs. In the majority of cases, the providers of these essential services are not the large multinational corporations often associated with private participation in the water sector. They are local entrepreneurs operating on a small scale, who see selling water and sanitation services to the poor as market opportunities like any other.
These “base-of-the-pyramid” markets grow out of exclusion and the challenges of finding sustainable solutions for small communities and settlements. They are the markets of the unserved—people that public services have failed to provide for and for whom internationally recognized notions of improved services are out of reach.
The paradox is that this large market is dominated by small, local enterprises. Once viewed as opportunists profiting from people’s most basic needs, these private sector enterprises are now recognized as offering valuable services. Domestic private entrepreneurs are increasingly being seen as part of the solution to increasing access to water and sanitation.