Clean Water and Sanitation for All: Global Water Challenge
Derek Vollmer,1Kathleen McAllister,1and Jacqueline Coté2
1The National Academies
2International Chamber of Commerce, Geneva
The Global Water Challenge (GWC) grew out of a series of discussions convened between various stakeholders in the water sector including major corporations, international NGOs, foundations and academia in 2005 and early 2006. Despite their different worldviews, the participants in these discussions reached convergence on a number of topics, chiefly that they believed that water and sanitation problems had solutions, but that identifying, implementing, and then scaling up those solutions would require cooperation across sectors, better coordination among funders, and more communication and learning between projects in the field. Recognizing that there would be value in continuing this multi-stakeholder dialogue, The Coca Cola Company provided startup funding for the GWC in 2006 and was later joined by The Dow Chemical Company , Cargill, and Wallace Genetic Foundation as funders. With over 1.1 billion people lacking access to clean water sources, GWC’s mission is to create a dynamic global movement to advance the safe water/sanitation agenda, by seeking sustainable, demand-driven, and scalable solutions.
Although GWC is one partnership among many globally which are focused on water and sanitation issues, GWC partners believe that it offers some unique attributes. First, it bills itself as a learning organization/forum where members from the private, public, and NGO sectors come together, share knowledge and engage in a dialogue about successes and failures in water and sanitation projects. This is significant in that these dialogues across sectors rarely happen, particularly with leadership from the private
for-profit sector; also, many of the NGO partners are in some respects ‘competitors’ in the field and thus not always likely to or able to share experiences. Second, GWC is structured to be a financing institution where funds are generally used as leverage and sometimes put towards building local monitoring and evaluation capacity in connection with ongoing projects. Finally GWC also functions as a vehicle for identifying projects and initiatives where sponsors, who may or may not also be partners, may then fund separately. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several other organizations not formally aligned with the partnership have participated in GWC meetings and are supporting aspects of projects which were originally identified by the GWC.
Currently the GWC lists 22 partners from the private sector, foundations and NGO community. For many partners clean water access/sanitation are important issues within their individual organizations’ missions and business models, but their individual incentives for joining the GWC are more nuanced. The number and level of commitment of private sector partners in the GWC is one of its distinctive characteristics. Private sector partners have been motivated by the opportunity to learn from other partners how to effectively develop water and sanitation projects which reduce risk to their facilities. They have been and continue to invest in water and sanitation projects in the communities in which they operate, both to reduce risks to their own business and as part of their corporate social responsibility. Several partners expressed interest in being able to address the root of systemic problems, such as the lack of access to clean water and sanitation practices, which has required that they engage more and more stakeholders. The private sector partners, all major water consumers with several hundred plants worldwide, are also quite aware of the reputational benefits they derive from being visibly engaged in addressing a global problem. For the NGO partners, which are also diverse in terms of their strategic niches and worldviews, the GWC provides an opportunity to learn, innovate, leverage corporate partners’ resources, and collaborate in on-the-ground work and applied research. Although NGO partners do not contribute funds directly to the GWC as core support, they do contribute funds to individual projects, thus their funds then leverage additional funds from the GWC and potentially the private sector and foundation partners.
The GWC focuses its activities in three main areas: (1) Innovative Community-Based Financing, (2) Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene for Schools, and (3) Communications and outreach. In an effort to work towards the organization’s mission of triggering a global movement to ensure universal access to safe water and sanitation, the GWC prioritizes community-based creative financing and works with entrepreneurs, financial institutions, governments, and community-based organizations to identify barriers and opportunities for making sustainable investments at the local level. To date,
it appears that the GWC has been more opportunistic than strategic in its project planning. This is not unreasonable given the young age of the partnership or its emphasis on identifying successful approaches. The relationship between the partners of GWC is not formalized through a partnership agreement, but GWC has a mission which underpins its existence. Likewise, the structure of partner accountability within GWC is very loose. Partners noted that the secretariat has been effective in moderating dialogue between private sector and NGO partners, but that partners have been enabled to hold one another accountable through this dialogue. Given the open forum, and the large number of diverse partners, this method of reporting back has been identified as being more constructive than a linear report from implementer to funder.
GWC may face obstacles in the future if incentives for private sector partners are not maintained; this is vital to the financial security of GWC due to the partnership’s reliance on funding from the private sector. Another challenge is that partners believe that water and sanitation still need to be higher on political agendas, especially in developing countries where capacity and political will to change water management practices is not prevalent. Interestingly, the GWC does not have developing country partners, and its only governmental partner, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, is narrowly focused and not well positioned to engage other government partners. Various partners also expressed concerns with the different worldviews present in the partnership, which may potentially lead to strategic breakdowns in project/initiative development and implementation, though to date this has not been the case. Among the NGO partners there is an internal challenge in collaborating with private sector partners that have previously been seen as part of the water scarcity/pollution problem in many regions of the world.
With only two years of operation, it is too early to assess GWC’s sustainability impact. However, it has thrived so far despite the diverging background and views of its large membership. Based on this evaluation, it appears that GWC can make future contributions in monitoring and evaluation of its various projects. If carried out correctly, this partnership has the ability to serve as a replicable model for other partnerships, demonstrating the long-term value of devoting substantial resources to project monitoring and evaluation. GWC also has the potential to connect numerous on the ground projects and map a landscape for future work in this area.