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Collaboration on Water Challenges: What’s Working and What’s Missing?

  • Date: 07 October 2013
  • Author: Greg Koch, The Coca-Cola Company
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Greg Koch is Global Water Stewardship Director for The Coca-Cola Company

At 2013 Stockholm World Water Week (September 1 - 6), we joined World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in posing provocative questions and asked conference attendees to respond on a large, canvas board. Here’s what we asked:

  1. We say water, you say…?
  2. The biggest water challenge is…?
  3. Without fresh water…
  4. How do you value H2O?

As we read through the different responses, we came to a clear conclusion -- the same conclusion that inspired our partnership with WWF  -- through innovative collaborations, we can create new opportunities to tackle the world’s water challenges.

 A decade ago, when we started to strategically engage on water issues outside the walls of our bottling plants, we realized that we needed to do so in partnership with others. These partners included local communities and governments as well as organizations that understood the challenges and had expertise, credibility and the willingness to partner.

WWF was one of our first partners. After a successful seven years of work together on freshwater conservation and improvements to the sustainability in our production facilities and agricultural ingredient supply chain, we recently announced another eight years of planned work, through 2020. But before we launched this exciting next phase, we took time to reflect on our experience and document learnings -- both in conservation as well as business/NGO partnerships . You can learn more by going to our Freshwater Conservation website

Gregwater

Sierras de las Minas watershed in Guatemala where we are working with local communities and governments, CARE, USAID, and WWF to reduce deforestation needed for agriculture through innovative water funds and livelihood enhancement.

Of our biggest learnings is that in many places, a lack of coordination between different government agencies responsible for natural resource management (particularly water) results in inconsistent messages, conflict over resource use (such as from opposing regulations and policies) and the waste of limited financial and staff resources. It’s clear to us that involving government agencies in the leadership of the project can give them greater ownership of the process and sustain collaboration. That completes the ‘Golden Triangle’ of our partnership with WWF -- bringing “.gov” together with “.org” and “.com.”

But even this isn’t enough to address the serious challenges we all face with water. We realize that deeper triangles, so to speak, are needed with more than one corporation in partnership with more than one NGO, all in coordination with governments, as well as aid/development agencies (such as USAID) that are assisting governments.

That’s why we are working to bring our safe water access, sanitation and hygiene education (WASH) projects into the watersheds we are working to help sustain. That’s also why we engaged others in Stockholm on our partnership with WWF (as well as our partnerships with UNDP and WaterHealth International); – to invite others, across the triangle, to join us.

The actions of one corporation, or one NGO, will not be enough. What’s missing to really solve critical problems are deep partnerships, involving multiple players – each contributing their voice and resources in concert.

Following this blog, throughout this week, you’ll see posts by several of our partners on this critical theme. I hope you will read and engage.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of WWF.

You can also read this blog post on Coca-Cola’s Unbottled.

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