In celebration of our 5th year anniversary, SWFF hosted the annual innovator convening during World Water Week. Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), World Water Week is the largest global event focusing on water sector and development-related challenges.
The celebratory week included a 70+ person delegation that included the Founding Partners, SWFF innovators, current, graduate, and alumni cohorts, members of the Innovation Investment Advisory Committee (IIAC), TA Facility Staff members, and other distinguished guests.
The celebration was kicked off by the annual SWFF Unconference — a half day of conversation hubs led by innovators or a member of the IIAC, and a time for the delegation to network and reconnect with the broader SWFF family. Many exciting activities happened during the Week including: Pratap Thapa, Co-Founder of aQysta, had a prominent speaking role at the Opening Plenary in the Youth Panel; the SWFF program presented five years of results and lessons learned at the showcase “Hype or Groundbreaking: Has Securing Water for Food Delivered?”; innovators had insightful meetings with members of the SWFF TA Facility for acceleration support, USAID for grants and finance assistance, and with members of the IIAC for coaching and broader support; SWFF hosted an informational booth; and finally, the entire SWFF family came together over food at the celebratory SWFF Dinner.
The purpose of failing is to look at why you failed and understand how to fix it.
The innovator-led “Unconference” included nine formal discussions where innovators shared their experiences with various entrepreneurial processes and lessons learned through both successes and failures. The sessions — including “The Importance of Building Lean and Efficient Teams,” “Financing Your Company to Sustainable Operations,” and “Benefits and Challenges of Standardizing Operations” — were filled with lively discussions and questions that sparked continuous conversations and connections throughout the week. At the conclusion of the day, SWFF Round 1 Graduates gathered on stage to share their experiences during and after the SWFF program and to offer words of wisdom to their fellow peers. Claire Reid, Chief Impact Officer and Founder of Reel Gardening, shared: “the biggest thing I’m grateful for is learning to not be scared or afraid to say that you’ve failed. The purpose of failing is to look at why you failed and understand how to fix it.” Khanjan Mehta, World Hope International Affordable Green Houses innovator, advised that “You can’t romanticize everyone being an entrepreneur. You have to be practical. It has been a difficult journey with lots of ups and downs, but we benefited tremendously from the SWFF program and Ku’s hard questions.” [referring to Dr. Ku McMahan, the SWFF Team Lead]
Most other accelerators work from one metric: how much funding their startups can raise. With SWFF, that is not the case.
The highlighted event was the SWFF showcase, “Hype or Groundbreaking: Has Securing Water for Food Delivered?” The session included a diverse panel comprised of SWFF innovators, customers/end-users, external evaluators, and partners. It was moderated by Johan Kuylenstierna, the Vice Chair of the Swedish Climate Policy Council. The session delivered insights and explored innovator growth through acceleration, how metrics and milestones inspire action and help the program tell its groundbreaking story, why gender and poverty reduction matters, how pivots drive excellence, and substantiate the importance of lessons learned documentation.
On why SWFF is different, Jatin Yadav, SWFF Service Provider & Independent Consultant, said, “Working with SWFF is different when compared to other accelerators. Most other accelerators often work from one metric, which is how much funding their startups can raise. With SWFF, that is not the case.” Jatin added, “The way we work allows the TA Facility to be more flexible in our approach and try different ideas and models along with the innovators. It gives them flexibility to test and try, as they are not only after raising funds but also towards creating impact.”
Panelists also discussed the effectiveness of milestones. Aisha Nalwoga, Fisheries Officer at Water Governance Institute, and Lan Anh, Chief Operating Officer of MimosaTEK, both expressed that milestones have given their organizations the push to move ahead beyond the results they would have reached otherwise. One key lesson learned from 5 years of data has shown that milestone-based funding, paired with acceleration support services, delivers greater program and individual innovator impact than development dollars alone.
On gender, Nompendulo Mgwali, EcoRangers Trainer at Meat Naturally, shared that “SWFF and the technical support helped us to unlock the potential and opportunity for communal female farmers to get involved in livestock farming, It is a challenge, as livestock farming is traditionally associated to men only.” In some countries, women are 70 percent of smallholder farmers. SWFF has found that practical and actionable gender recommendations can create gender champions and facilitate gender-inclusive programming. That lays the foundation for strategies that promote the participation of these women.
Unlocking capital is very difficult, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, and our innovators are looking for outside investment.
At the showcase, panelists shared recommendations for the future. Dr. McMahan stated that “connections to investment in the private sector can be done better. Unlocking capital is very difficult, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, and our innovators are looking for outside investment. We have not done this so well in the current iteration of SWFF.” Inga Jacobs Mata, Principal Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research added that “a lot of the innovations are new and disruptive in some economies, and regulations are usually a barrier. Many face challenges navigating the governance space because it hasn’t been done before. A recommendation is perhaps a program that works with and through government to ensure that the governance structures are enabling.”
At the end of the session, a new extended phase of the SWFF program, Water and Energy for Food, was announced in a message from Sida’s Director-General, Carin Jämtin. The extended phase will capitalize on the vast resources and learnings from SWFF to take innovations to the next level of scaling.
View the SWFF / SIWI video here.