We are working on the biggest projects in our history – it’s what we’re geared up for – but the global economic situation has put a whole new slant on things
First the health crisis, then the shock of inflation and decision-making crises
The life of an industrialist can be a rocky road. When I joined this world after earning my spurs in the prime contracting sector, I was fully aware that one of the duties of an industrialist was being able to set out afresh, and that the theory of the product cycle was highly important in this regard. Yet I could never have imagined the extent to which an incalculable number of external factors could force us to permanently reconsider our situation.
In 2020, we were learning how to deal with a major pandemic.
In 2021, we learnt all about the unforeseeable, irresistible and uncontrollable consequences of a major pandemic. The economy starts to take off, the price of raw materials starts to soar, containers become harder and harder to secure: the economy is in overdrive!
Early 2021: our order book was full for at least 2 years. We organised ourselves, ready to produce better and more. Never had we been able to look ahead with more confidence. And then, wouldn’t you know it, what should have been an exceptional year for the Group turned out to be just an average year, far inferior to our expectations.
Could we have anticipated such a turnaround in situation?
Maybe our natural optimism blinded us to how our decisions for our future projects were out of step or even deficient with regard to our customers, who were affected or even brought to a standstill in 2020 by the pandemic. On this point, we may well consider ourselves somewhat to blame.
Yet our natural optimism is also our driving force. We remain keen observers of the challenges facing Africa’s future. More than this, our presence is really needed on this continent, where so much is still to be done. We do not, however, possess a crystal ball: we do not claim to know what rural Africa will be like tomorrow, with its millions of young adults. Be that as it may, we have a genuine duty to imagine what this future might look like, and project ahead in order to address future market needs.
A 15-year vision and transformations that are already making themselves felt
This is how we went about things in 2021, by dint of extremely fruitful collaborative efforts, reinventing our corporate project for the 15 years to come. Based on the macro trends that are likely to affect our lives in the near future, our new Group strategy – largely based on corporate social responsibility – was unveiled in December 2021.
This new strategy, dubbed BOUM (see above), was already being translated into actions that were launched in 2021.
In terms of CSR:
- Certification, in June, by the SOLAR IMPULSE foundation of the UDUMA solution, a new innovative and sustainable drinking water service for rural Africa.
We obtained for VERGNET HYDRO our ISO14001 certification and had our ISO9001 certification renewed in November, central to which was a new QE-CSR policy supported by the Executive Management.
In terms of Research & Development:
- The industrialisation of the automatic solar standpipe (BFA) and its management system, a new facility for accessing water that is particularly suited to crisis conditions, operating as it does using photovoltaic energy and enabling users to procure water with no pumping effort and without the need for a pump operator.
In terms of our internal organisation:
- The creation of a Supply Chain department vital for ensuring a more efficient information flow between departments in order to absorb our growth forecasts.
- The ongoing transformation of our subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, VERGNET BURKINA, and in Côte d’Ivoire, SAHER, into truly autonomous units endowed with increasingly high-quality sales and technical teams.
In terms of marketing:
- The development of the UDUMA concept to improve support for and accelerate development of rural areas by catering to the needs of their inhabitants. Even though the manual pump is still a very widespread solution, facilities using solar pumping (PEA – autonomous water distribution points) installed on pre-existing boreholes are increasingly being used in projects run by UDUMA and its subsidiary in Mali.
Launching historic projects, despite a difficult context
2021 can certainly be counted as a year of transition. That said, the year was not without some fine examples of success, the most emblematic of which were (i) the signing, with Côte d’Ivoire, of the biggest ever contract (in value terms) in the Group’s history: 1,000 water distribution points to be upgraded in the south-east of the Côte d’Ivoire, involving the installation of a mixed pumping solution combining solar and manual pumping, is no mean feat! This project, assigned to VERGNET HYDRO, also constitutes a unifying programme for the Group. SAHER is doing the on-site work while UDUMA is providing the tools for long-term management of the facilities. (ii) In Niger, despite a difficult security situation, the government authorities entrusted VERGNET HYDRO with a major construction project for three multi-village water supply networks in the Tillaberi region. This constitutes a considerable challenge, but a measured one that will significantly help the rural populations scattered along the course of the river Niger, and who suffer paradoxically from the absence of good quality water for their domestic needs.
Happy retirement, Jean-Christophe!
I cannot close my editorial without a few words for Jean-Christophe KI, Managing Director of VERGNET BURKINA, who has just taken his retirement. A long-time friend and colleague – after our student days, we started out on our careers together at the BRGM office in Ouagadougou on a research project, the subject of which was the assessment of groundwater replenishment in fractured environments (Barogo, Sanon, Kantchari will be names that bring back memories for Jean-Christophe!) – Jean-Christophe was one of the people who got me to fall in love with Africa, its people, its pleasures, its woes, its colours, its odours, its bounty, its encounters, its landscapes. As someone who has done so much for his compatriots, Jean-Christophe well deserves his retirement. I am sure that Jean-Christophe, deeply faithful to his San roots, will set himself some new challenges to make the most of this new stage in his life!
Deputy Managing Director, VERGNET HYDRO, ODIAL SOLUTIONS group
To know more :
2022 Integrated Report