Solving Water for Africa Through Supply Chain Innovation

“We are constantly looking for ways to move faster, with more efficiency and agility to create value for our customers and help them meet their water needs.”

Tariro Shuro joined Xylem Africa in 2019, taking up the critical role of Operations Manager in Johannesburg, South Africa.

When you solve water, you change everything. Every day at Xylem, we work with our customers to bring water solutions across Africa. In a region with intense water challenges, we are partnering with water operators throughout the continent to make a difference for people and communities. To me, that makes my work more than a job or a career. It is a calling.

For example, in 2019 Cyclone Edi ravaged my home country, Zimbabwe. Towns ended up with no fresh water. I remember Xylem putting water treatment solutions into communities there, helping our customers supply fresh water to people so they were able to rebuild. That made me really proud.

Similarly, when droughts hit Africa, and water is in short supply, the impact can be catastrophic. When there isn’t enough water, our food supply is put at grave risk. When there isn’t enough water, the economy stalls, and more people suffer the devastating impacts of poverty. Reliable sanitation is also critically important. When there isn’t safe sanitation, disease can spread, threatening the lives and well-being of entire communities.

These challenges also disproportionately impact women. For many women, fetching water from a well or water source is their number one task every day. Many don’t go to work or to school if they haven’t fetched water – which can mean walking for kilometres, wasting precious time and energy that could be used instead for education or earning a salary.

How can we better address challenges that can seem so vast? One key way is innovation – to help local water managers find new ways to make water more accessible and affordable, and communities more resilient. In many instances, innovation means developing and implementing product or technology enhancements. But there are many other ways to innovate to drive progress, and help Africa go further, faster to solve water.

One way we are doing this at Xylem is by embracing integrated business planning, where our global innovation and technology teams work to enhance our existing product lines and bring affordable new offerings to the market. Close collaboration with our customers captures the demand for our product and service portfolio into our future planning processes so that we can reliably supply according to expectations. This holistic approach creates insight that we can act upon to become smarter – and to not just solve, but to anticipate our customers’ needs.

In Africa, supply chain innovation is critically important, because there are so many geographic and logistical issues to navigate. It’s not just identifying and sourcing water equipment and solutions, it’s delivering them with speed and as cost-efficiently as possible. I love looking at the whole value stream, trying to find ways to add, tweak, stop or improve our processes.

We are constantly looking for ways to move faster, with more efficiency and agility to create value for our customers and help them meet their communities’ water needs, including advancing sustainability. We do this by practicing continuous improvement, studying our processes through value stream mapping and root case analysis to identify innovative ways to solve problems. We leave no stone unturned.

In addition to processes, we also focus on having the right technology and the right people. One key aspect is to acknowledge national, regional and local circumstances – the local knowledge of our people on the ground and our customers is critically important. So is trust. You have to build relationships before you introduce new processes and understand what works where. For instance, if you’re going to ship a pump to Blantyre in Malawi, you need to know that it might not fit the airfreight capacity of local planes, so you have to allow for a road trip from Lilongwe to Blantyre.

You also have to educate people outside the continent about the many complexities. You think about shipping goods up the Congo to Kinshasa, before realising there’s no road link to get them to our distributor in Likasi. So you look for a way to go via South Africa and Zambia, via Zimbabwe or Botswana. Each option involves a border and its own complications. You have to find a way that works, is as fast as possible and overcomes any bureaucracy, to get the job done. That’s what my team does!

There is so much opportunity to solve water at scale here, and we are so excited to work with our customers to find new ways to meet their needs – and meet this moment.

For instance, we provide water for agriculture – still the heart of most communities in most countries. Every time I see one of our big orange pumps, my heart lifts. It’s about to make a huge difference – for good! And I’m so proud to be a part of it.

Our power to make things better is truly motivating. That’s why I joined Xylem. I wanted to have a job that adds value – economic and social value. Xylem does both. Working with our customers, we’re changing communities. And we’re changing lives.

by Tariro Shuro