Report: Unpacking collective action in water stewardship

Alliance for Water Stewardship / Report: Unpacking collective action in water stewardship

Report: Unpacking collective action in water stewardship


If you’re reading this, then you’re likely a professional working to solve the shared water challenges facing our planet. Every one of us has a story (or two) of why we are passionate advocates of helping to ensure sufficient water for people and nature. We all want to see things improve and we’ve given our lives to making that happen. Over the past decade, many of those in this group have written reports, pushed commitments, and indeed developed incredible programs that HAVE made a difference.

Despite our passion and some wonderful efforts, on aggregate, we are, collectively, losing the fight. Freshwater biodiversity continues to fall – down some 83% since 1970. Access to clean water and sanitation remains dire or non-existent for hundreds of millions of people, especially for vulnerable people. Climate instability only continues to grow, further exacerbating freshwater challenges.

When you’re already working nights and weekends, working harder isn’t the solution. We need new ways of working together to achieve scale and pace. While each of our organisations, and the diversity that comes with it, is useful, powerful (indeed needed), our models of operating are getting in the way of scaling and linking up to something different and more powerful.

Few of us would question the need for greater collaboration – indeed, working on freshwater as a common pool resource, has trained us all to think in systems and work with others.

That is what this paper is all about: setting the basis for a new way of working together as an ecosystem of freshwater solution providers.

The concept of collective action is a powerful one – rooted in the notion that by working together, we can deliver more. As a shared resource, collective action is critical to achieve the scale, scope and speed required to address shared water challenges in catchments. Few of us would question the need for greater collaboration – indeed, working on freshwater as a common pool resource, has trained us all to think in systems and work with others.

Moreover, the shared challenges facing our freshwater systems require us to scale up our solutions – as the title indicates, shared water challenges require shared water solutions, and that means figuring out new ways to work together, collectively.

Yet despite this, our own efforts on collective action have remained fractured, and so this paper seeks to initiate a process, starting with us, to bring us together. It is rooted in each of us as individuals, with a view to bringing our organisations along with us, and in turn, bringing along other actors – companies, public sector agencies, other civil society groups.

This paper outlines, in four sections, a series of frameworks, our shared experiences, opportunity mapping and a proposed pathway forward for collective action on freshwater in order to better deliver impact at scale.

We have been on a long journey together, but hopefully the dialogues that this paper can initiate will spark the beginning of bending the curve on freshwater biodiversity, a framework for climate change adaptation on water for people, and help us all live up to the vision we set out for ourselves when we committed ourselves to water. Looking towards 2024 and beyond, we are seeking to forge a tangible implementation pathway to tackling shared water challenges through collective action.

This report offers ideas, built on our experiences, but the success or failure as we test models on the ground is down to us all – including you. Reach out and join us – together we can change freshwater for the better.


The Authors

Unpacking collective action in water stewardship

The discussion paper has been developed by a series of individuals, drawn together from key organizations in the water stewardship sphere, and while we have given recognition to two companies that helped to sponsor the report, in terms of authorship, it is intentionally “non-branded” as the concept is intended to represent a broader need – not the push of a singular NGO.

Specifically, organisations that have contributed to this paper include: WWF, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), WaterAid, IDH – Sustainability Initiative, Fruit and Vegetables (SIFAV), Global Water Partnership, Alliance for Water Stewardship, CEO Water Mandate, Good Stuff International, SHARE Sustainability, Oxford Earth Observation, Water Integrity Network, AstraZeneca, The Rivers Trust, WRAP and Water Witness International.

Publication of this paper was made possible thanks to contributions from ABInBev and AstraZeneca. A huge thanks to all – without your shared effort, we would not be the community that we are and this paper, which is the foundation for something quite different in the conservation world, would not have happened.