DHV: ‘Continuous innovation’ for sustainable development

In the Saturday School Initiative by DHV's South African company SSI, employees tutor disadvantaged children in technical subjects. Photo by: SSI

DHV was selected as a Devex Top 40 Development Innovator based on a poll of thousands of global development professionals who are part of Devex, the largest network of aid and relief workers in the world.

Announced on April 18, Devex Top 40 Development Innovators is an impressive listing of the world’s leading donor agencies & foundations, development consulting companies, implementing NGOs, and advocacy groups.

We asked each of the Innovators four questions to learn how they stay ahead to the curve and tackle old development challenges in new ways. Here’s how Vic Prins, DHV corporate director of business development, responded:

‘Continuous innovation is prerequisite to the sustainable development of our living environment’

If you had to condense it to just one or two sentences, overall, what is it that makes your organization innovative?

What makes our company innovative is our close relation with our clients, in combination with our ability to utilize the knowledge and experience of our experts worldwide. We understand the challenges our clients are facing and are able to approach these challenges from different points of view and from a different vantage point – that of sustainability.

Can you provide a specific example of something your organization has done that is particularly innovative?

Together with South Africa’s Rhodes University, DHV and its South African sister company SSI will build a large demonstration plant for Makana municipality near Grahamstown to treat wastewater using algae. This sustainable low-tech, low-cost system is suitable for areas with lots of sun and space but little water and electricity. Besides providing clean water suitable for irrigation, the technology produces algae sludge immediately usable as fertilizer. Moreover, the captured methane and the fermentation of the biomass are alternative sources of energy for local use.

Dutch partners in the project are the Hollands Noorderkwartier Water Board and Genap, a Dutch manufacturer of plastic foil that will be used in the construction of the plant. This will be the first large algae-based wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 2,500 population equivalents.

Another example: Through six Saturday schools, 180 disadvantaged students are coached by SSI employees towards their university entrance exam, enabling them to pursue a technical career. The schools are run from Woodmead, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Pretoria offices.

The 2010 class of the Soshanguve Saturday School near Pretoria achieved a 96 percent university entrance pass rate and 18 distinctions in maths, science and engineering, graphics & design.

Looking ahead 10 years, what are some of the innovations in international development that your organization wants to be a part of?

On a global scale, DHV will focus its innovation and development efforts on water treatment, water management and transportation. How to be more sustainable in all these areas is our point of departure. Besides, we will have to find new and innovative business models to stay ahead in a changing market environment.

The global challenges in water treatment and water management are enormous, including sanitation, the delivery of clean drinking water and climate adaptation to name a few. We continuously look for nature friendly solutions, working closely with clients and partners to address special needs within the local context.

As for transportation, society has become more mobile than ever before, as can be seen daily on our roads and public transport systems. Transporters of goods, commuters and holiday traffic all jostle for the “right of way.” There are no simple solutions.

DHV’s vision can be summed up in three words: “more with less.” We seek innovative concepts for increasing capacity and safety, while requiring less space, energy, cost and project lead time. We focus our efforts on intelligent transport systems – utilizing technology to making transportation better and more efficient. This is a prime tool by which to ensure that better use is being made of existing infrastructure to reduce cost and increase efficiency.

On the other hand, we see a major shift in the way we do business. Knowledge and experience is no longer exclusively available within the company, and new and innovative contracts will be needed to cope with changing market conditions. We will have to turn our organization outside-in and focus on being a reliable partner and attractive employer in order to keep collaborating and developing innovative solutions.

One factor in driving innovation at any organization is the talent you hire and the partnerships you make. How does your organization take into account innovation when it comes to cultivating talent and partners?

DHV is a knowledge-driven organization, where innovation is part of our daily business. We as a company are focused on providing innovative but sustainable solutions to clients. Our employees are working closely together with our clients and partners in pursuing new and innovative solutions. Our talent programs focus not only on developing skills and knowledge, but also on sharing knowledge and collaborating with our clients and partners.

Check out the full listing of all Devex Top 40 Development Innovators on Facebook.

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