Clean Water Challenge Inspires Sustainable Solution at UN Event

Brian Shell has a plan to improve access to clean water and hopes to one day unleash it in places where water resources are scarce.

Shell, an associate consultant and engineer for WSP USA advisory services, developed that plan at UNLEASH LAB 2017, an annual event to meet United Nations (UN) sustainable development goals by 2030. The UN is a global partner of the event.

During the 11-day program in Denmark, Shell was part of a team that proposed AquaMatch, an online water platform that facilitates public-private partnerships (P3s) to facilitate the convergence of financing, need and expertise to address water access problems in India.

“India has an acute shortage of clean water and lack of financing to address the problem,” Shell said. “Innovative solutions exist, but access to capital, high project risk, and geographic silos limits implementation at the local level.”

He believes that tide is turning, as India’s government has launched several programs to attract industry experts and address the clean water problem.

“There is heightened interest among impact investors and international water companies to enter this market,” Shell said. “Unfortunately, social impact investment and financing in the water sector is negligible due to the risk profile associated with procurement, project costs, regulatory, legal and economic frameworks, and lack of connection to local partners. While there are several water social enterprises with relevant local solutions, they lack the technical and financial capacity to scale their solutions to business.”

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The international AquaMatch team, which included (from left to right) Jasdeep Randhawa, Yo Nishimura, Brian Shell and Samantha Simpson, prepare for the pitch event at the folk high school, where local members of the community came by to hear about the solutions.

A Perfect Match

Shell and his collaborators – Yo Nishimura of France, Jasdeep Randhawa of India, and Samantha Simpson of Canada – developed a plan they call AquaMatch.while living at Nørgaards Højskole, a traditional Danish folk high school in the town of Bjerringbro.

“AquaMatch would create an online platform to provide profiles of local social enterprises in India working on water,” Shell said. “It would connect investors looking for lowered project risk with social entrepreneurs who have local water solutions but are in need of financing and/or capacity building.”

By bringing those entities together, AquaMatch would facilitate P3s between these stakeholders, and enable risk sharing by administering projects and lowering transaction costs.

“AquaMatch would also provide capacity building modules to social enterprises that build trust and credibility with potential investors through a risk assessment process, and generate data to measure the social impact of water projects,” he said.

The team presented its proposal to several industry experts who were supportive of the concept. Shell is encouraged that the work his team did at UNLEASH could lay the foundation for future clean water initiatives.

“Ultimately, the focus of the program is not on what happens during those days in Denmark, but what occurs afterward,” Shell said. “UNLEASH will publish a directory of all of the ideas presented to better connect the teams with potential investors and other forms of support.”

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Brian Shell and his team used the windows at Nørgaards Højskole, the Danish folk high school where they worked out elements of their solution to the water scarcity problem.

Bringing P3 to Water Projects

UNLEASH LAB 2017 incorporated seven themes, including water, food, energy, sustainable production and consumption, education and information communication technologies, urban sustainability and health. With his background in water infrastructure services at WSP, Shell was a natural fit to address clean water scarcity.

“Water is my passion,” he said. “For most of us here in the U.S., clean water is something we don’t think about very often. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that by 2030, nearly 2 billion people around the planet will experience absolute water scarcity.”

Shell has been a leader in WSP's efforts to incorporate the firm’s successful P3 advisory services into the water and wastewater market, collaborating on pursuits, planning outreach at conferences and developing a network of partners. He is involved with alternate project delivery as part of the investor advisor and analytics team, helping owners and investors structure alternative delivery transactions, such as P3 and design-build.

“Through the use of innovative contract packaging and the engagement of private financing, we are able to help our clients complete more projects and add value while decreasing their risk profiles,” Shell said.

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Brian Shell and his team collaborated to create AquaMatch, an online platform to connect resources and financing to help local water enterprises in India.

Lasting Impact

Shell is also involved with the Maryland Purple Line light rail P3 project, initially with the procurement advisory team and currently in support of contract administration. He is also working with the Washington, D.C. Office of Public-Private Partnerships to remodel the Henry J. Daly Building, which is the headquarters of the city’s police department.

He is a member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure (AIAI), the Chesapeake Water Environment Association and the Construction Management Association of America. He serves on committees for WEF and AIAI. He was recently named U.S. sub-chair for WEF’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) committee.

“SJWP means a lot to me because I participated in the program and was selected to represent my state, presenting my research when I was a junior in high school,” Shell said. He said SJWP opened his eyes to the possibility of a career in water and led to a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.

“I appreciate the opportunity afforded to me by WSP and WEF to attend UNLEASH,” Shell added. “I found it valuable to gain an international perspective and learn how to work – and live – together with people from many different cultures.”

He said the experience will have a lasting impact on his career.

“Many of the obstacles that our clients face in approaching projects – risk profiles, access to funding, and the public communication issues surrounding the value of water – are all relevant in both the developing and developed world,” he said.

Advances made in areas as diverse as manufacturing, health care, transportation, and textiles can all be enhanced by technologies and progress in water quality.

“Water is an amazing resource,” he added. “I believe access to clean and safe water is the most important element needed to make progress on the other sustainable development goals.”

[Editor’s Note: Visit our website to learn more about WSP’s advisory services and projects.]

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Brian Shell prepares for an UNLEASH meeting at City Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Frank Jensen, lord mayor of Copenhagen, addressed the participants.

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