How can partnerships with business increase access to safe, clean water for all?

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In many countries both the quantity and quality of water are in decline as populations – and associated demand from agriculture, energy generation, industry and households – grow. The Water Resources Group (WRG) estimates that the shortfall between freshwater supply and global demand could reach 40% by 2030, an average that conceals even more acute shortfalls in certain water-stressed countries.   Goal 6 of the proposed SDGs calls for the “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

 

All those whose demand for water puts pressure on supply, and all those who feel the impact when supply falls short, share the same risks. It is now recognised that this interdependency requires a collaborative response.

 

As a result, partnerships are becoming increasingly central to strategies for delivering Goal 6 and securing shared water resources for business, local communities, and ecosystems.  Companies, governments, donors, and civil society organisations, often in multi-stakeholder alliances, are joining forces to increase water use efficiency, to improve water management and governance, and address the root causes of water risk. 

 

Questions:

  1. What are the most promising partnership models designed to tackle shared water risks, and what impacts are we starting to see on the ground?
  2. What are we learning about how to develop and sustain successful water partnerships on the ground, particularly the role of governments, and what are the greatest barriers to progress?
  3.  How can we build, strengthen and scale up partnerships that aim to tackle shared water risks?

 

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The nutrition sector is doing interesting work here. The Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network is providing support to country governments to effectively engage their own private sector in developing national nutrition strategies. So sometimes country ownership needs to be supported and facilitated - it may not happen just because government is invited to the table.

Katherine Rostkowski said:

I agree with David.  Host country ownership to strengthen local and regional capacity and align with country priorities is an operational principle of the USAID Water and Development Strategy.  The Strategy emphasizes the importance of working at the level where relevant decisions are made, with attention to the lowest and most local levels of government.  It is critical for all partnerships to include local ownership as a core value.  Projects must be unique and customized to respond to local needs and priorities, while engaging all relevant stakeholders and taking advantage of partner strengths, from before program design to long after project close-out.



David Grant said:

I think that any partnership that is hoping to achieve success needs to engage with government for long term sustainability. I say this due to the fact that whatever is being considered on the ground will invariably have some relationship with government (for example national, local, catchment management agencies) policy, strategy, action plans, projects etc and to not include them does place the partnership in jeopardy. Ultimately government is the custodian of the water resources in a given country.

Excellent points.  Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is an example of a global partnership of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organizations and other development partners working together to catalyze political leadership and action, improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively. Partners work towards a common vision of universal access to safe water and adequate sanitation, including national level sector planning and monitoring.


Nathaniel Mason said:

I'd highlight transparency from that list. It can be in tension with building trust within the partnership, But for long term success it's key to address external concerns about capture of the resource or the policy influence that controls the resource, from getting the businesses involved in managing water. Need for transparency applies to everyone, not just those in business – people in governments, NGOs and donor agencies have their own interests. Ultimately transparency means not just sharing with partners, but incrementally opening up to wider scrutiny and sharing information and decisions with the public.

Lucy Lee said:

There are a number of lessons that WWF has learnt from our water stewardship work about the ways to develop and maintain successful partnerships to support sustainable water management including the need to:

  • Identify water risks hotspots and target actions at these key locations

  • Include all stakeholders in a collective action process, not just a small number of organisations in partnership
  • Collectively identify the drivers of risks with key stakeholders in the catchment

  • Raise awareness of the risks and the potential impact on the local economy

  • Develop a shared vision of how to address them

  • Respecting the different motivations of stakeholders

  • Compromise on timescales to ensure work can be delivered to meet the needs of different stakeholders

  • Be transparent about actions taken

  • Develop simple clear communication, harmonising language across the value chain

Sometimes the "local" levels of government are the local witch doctor when addressing the needs of those living at the last mile. We favor a strategy through community development where we can reach people in need, empower them by teaching them how to create small business enterprises and supporting their every need. It is all about relationship and creating hope through business. Business Connect is now in 34 countries around the world and growing. We would love to see more engagement with governments to empower people out of poverty but right now to help people in need, we need to engage those at the highest risk.

Katherine Rostkowski said:

I agree with David.  Host country ownership to strengthen local and regional capacity and align with country priorities is an operational principle of the USAID Water and Development Strategy.  The Strategy emphasizes the importance of working at the level where relevant decisions are made, with attention to the lowest and most local levels of government.  It is critical for all partnerships to include local ownership as a core value.  Projects must be unique and customized to respond to local needs and priorities, while engaging all relevant stakeholders and taking advantage of partner strengths, from before program design to long after project close-out.



David Grant said:

I think that any partnership that is hoping to achieve success needs to engage with government for long term sustainability. I say this due to the fact that whatever is being considered on the ground will invariably have some relationship with government (for example national, local, catchment management agencies) policy, strategy, action plans, projects etc and to not include them does place the partnership in jeopardy. Ultimately government is the custodian of the water resources in a given country.

On the question of barriers, I think its also worth highlighting the difficulties of cross-sector collaboration which is so critical in the water resources sector.  Getting different government departments (water and ag, water and mining, water and energy, etc) to work together is very difficult in all countries and especially where capacities are weaker.  In our experience, we have found it is often much easier to coordination stakeholder groups (government, private sector, civil society) than to foster genuine coordination between different branches of government.

Let's move to our next question:

How can we build, strengthen and scale up partnerships that aim to tackle shared water risks?

It's also worth noting here that WASH development efforts and freshwater conservation reinforce each other and are mutually dependent on each other to succeed. Well-planned sanitation programmes ensure wastewater is treated and disposed of properly which protects freshwater and coastal ecosystems downstream, as well as safeguarding the local communities’ health. Freshwater conservation measures ensure a continued supply of good quality water that communities can access.

It's great to see that the SDG Goal 6 recognises the interconnected nature of these issues.



Katherine Rostkowski said:

Excellent points.  Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is an example of a global partnership of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organizations and other development partners working together to catalyze political leadership and action, improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively. Partners work towards a common vision of universal access to safe water and adequate sanitation, including national level sector planning and monitoring.


Nathaniel Mason said:

I'd highlight transparency from that list. It can be in tension with building trust within the partnership, But for long term success it's key to address external concerns about capture of the resource or the policy influence that controls the resource, from getting the businesses involved in managing water. Need for transparency applies to everyone, not just those in business – people in governments, NGOs and donor agencies have their own interests. Ultimately transparency means not just sharing with partners, but incrementally opening up to wider scrutiny and sharing information and decisions with the public.

Lucy Lee said:

There are a number of lessons that WWF has learnt from our water stewardship work about the ways to develop and maintain successful partnerships to support sustainable water management including the need to:

  • Identify water risks hotspots and target actions at these key locations

  • Include all stakeholders in a collective action process, not just a small number of organisations in partnership
  • Collectively identify the drivers of risks with key stakeholders in the catchment

  • Raise awareness of the risks and the potential impact on the local economy

  • Develop a shared vision of how to address them

  • Respecting the different motivations of stakeholders

  • Compromise on timescales to ensure work can be delivered to meet the needs of different stakeholders

  • Be transparent about actions taken

  • Develop simple clear communication, harmonising language across the value chain

The role of government is exceptionally important in promoting and strengthening the 'institutional framework' in which other actors can build and advance successful partnerships. Governments ameliorate opportunities, reduce barriers and can strengthen particular partners; additionally they are able to ( and should be encouraged to) take a long term perspective, thus promoting learning and best practice and encouraging innovation in the process of building new partnerships.

One good example of this is the work WSUP Advisory is developing in India, within the broad context of the Clean India initiative (championed by the Indian and other governments) and with the vital support and collaboration of USAID, to understand how learning from the building of partnerships to deliver of water services to low income consumers can be best transferred into the Indian urban context.

 

Working in collaboration governments can assist others to  
 
Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Great discussion!  Let's move on to the second question:

What are we learning about how to develop and sustain successful water partnerships on the ground, particularly the role of governments, and what are the greatest barriers to progress?


USAID has created a practical guide for business on partnering with USAID that includes motivation to partner (with case studies), investment strategies, and logistics information.  Partnering with USAID: A Guide for Companies can be found here: http://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1880/Partnering_...


Will Davies said:

I think there are two parts to this: the pre-conditions that increase the chances of the partnership succeeding, and then the more practical (and difficult) process of making it work over the longer term. 

On pre-conditions, we already discussed motivations, which are key. Water scarcity needs to be high on the political, business and/or social agenda in the first place.  And not just for a small cross section of stakeholders - to really build and sustain coalitions, you need a critical mass.  Then you also need champions, leaders that are willing to stand up and put their name to the partnership, to draw others in.  And you need a common vision - a common understanding of what the partnership is for, and what it aims to achieve.

On the process side, I think the factors are more general - getting people with the right skill sets in to manage the partnerships, demonstrating results, etc.

Coming back to the SWPN example, we recently produced a case study looking at the this question of what drove the success of the partnership and many of these factors came up.  Those interested can get a copy at:

http://www.2030wrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/SWPN-Case-Study_May2015.pdf

Absolutely agree with this point. There is the tendency to focus on one or the other when in fact the entire system needs to be taken into consideration in order to function properly. 

Lucy Lee said:

It's also worth noting here that WASH development efforts and freshwater conservation reinforce each other and are mutually dependent on each other to succeed. Well-planned sanitation programmes ensure wastewater is treated and disposed of properly which protects freshwater and coastal ecosystems downstream, as well as safeguarding the local communities’ health. Freshwater conservation measures ensure a continued supply of good quality water that communities can access.

It's great to see that the SDG Goal 6 recognises the interconnected nature of these issues.



Katherine Rostkowski said:

Excellent points.  Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is an example of a global partnership of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organizations and other development partners working together to catalyze political leadership and action, improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively. Partners work towards a common vision of universal access to safe water and adequate sanitation, including national level sector planning and monitoring.


Nathaniel Mason said:

I'd highlight transparency from that list. It can be in tension with building trust within the partnership, But for long term success it's key to address external concerns about capture of the resource or the policy influence that controls the resource, from getting the businesses involved in managing water. Need for transparency applies to everyone, not just those in business – people in governments, NGOs and donor agencies have their own interests. Ultimately transparency means not just sharing with partners, but incrementally opening up to wider scrutiny and sharing information and decisions with the public.

Lucy Lee said:

There are a number of lessons that WWF has learnt from our water stewardship work about the ways to develop and maintain successful partnerships to support sustainable water management including the need to:

  • Identify water risks hotspots and target actions at these key locations

  • Include all stakeholders in a collective action process, not just a small number of organisations in partnership
  • Collectively identify the drivers of risks with key stakeholders in the catchment

  • Raise awareness of the risks and the potential impact on the local economy

  • Develop a shared vision of how to address them

  • Respecting the different motivations of stakeholders

  • Compromise on timescales to ensure work can be delivered to meet the needs of different stakeholders

  • Be transparent about actions taken

  • Develop simple clear communication, harmonising language across the value chain

For me the key word in this question is scale. We have seen many water partnerships develop over the past few years which have been very successful in their own right but a lot are, at best, pilot scale. I don’t want to underplay this, as it is important to develop a proof of concept, but it only tackles part of a broader problem.

Talking from a private sector perspective, it should be recognised that some companies have a bigger picture vision related to water stewardship (including WASH) and are prepared to engage and partner with the public sector and civil society to undertake these activities.  Most, however, do not and need to be brought on board through more short-term projects that can show quick and visible results.

This does not mean losing sight of the bigger picture, but accepting that achieving a broader scale is a slow process and has to be undertaken in phases at the pace of the slowest partner.  It can take a few years to get to the stage of implementing a multi-stakeholder initiative on a scale significant enough to make an impact.  However, it is also important to have quick-wins along the way to maintain interest. 



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's move to our next question:

How can we build, strengthen and scale up partnerships that aim to tackle shared water risks?

Bilateral partnerships are unlikely to be able to deliver a significant reduction in water risks, collective action will be required. Like-minded organisations can help catalyse a critical mass of stakeholders to come together to identify shared water risks and develop integrated solutions to address them. Ultimately though to scale up we need to intervene at a governance and policy level.

As part of our water stewardship work we have been working in a number of river basins demonstrating that by working with local government, the private sector and other stakeholders vital improvements in water resource management can be made. We recognise that more needs to be done to act on a scale and at a speed necessary to meet growing water related risks and have therefore developed ‘Water Stewardship Basins Strategies’ for 16 global river basins.

Our vision is for freshwater resources to be managed sustainably and equitably in each of these river basins to enable thriving communities, businesses and healthy ecosystems. In each we have carried out detailed analysis including mapping company supply chains, operations, donor investments and well as identifying existing platforms and forums.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's move to our next question:

How can we build, strengthen and scale up partnerships that aim to tackle shared water risks?

Thanks Neil, Will, Katherine, Nathaniel and Lucy,

Once the drive is established (with the help of some advocacy), then Lead partners bringing in a neutral broker, finding shared value and building trust sounds key.  Are you generally finding that the lead partners can come from any of the key stakeholder groups (NGO/CSO, government, business or funder), or is this tending to be led by NGOs?  How can we help catalyse some of these processes in the early stages?

Thanks again for the great discussion and ace examples.

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