At almost every session of World Water Week, we hear about the need for new partnerships dedicated to creating a more water-secure world. This call to action is almost always followed by the same question: How do we build better partnerships?
The answer lies not in the business world, but in a much more personal domain. A healthy partnership is like a healthy marriage. It starts with the courtship.
When we meet prospective partners, we spend time really getting to know each other. We feel the butterflies of excitement, we talk openly about our hopes and concerns, and we look closely to uncover conflicts that would undermine our success together (especially deal-breakers around corporate ethics).
Of course, we dream about a beautiful future together. Almost every partnership I’ve started has been based on plans that were, with hindsight, too ambitious. On reflection, this isn’t surprising. WWF is one of the world’s leading conservation organizations and we partner with some of the largest multi-national brands. We both want to achieve great things together, and while we may agree on merging business sustainability with natural resource management, it’s complicated.
Sometimes we agree to disagree. Just because we have a strong common interest in one issue – improving water management, say – this doesn’t mean that we must agree about everything else. Difficulties also come about because progress in delivering partnership outcomes and impacts can be slow.
Through thick and thin, our mutual understanding keeps us going. Our corporate partners see improving their water management as a business imperative; we see it as essential to securing water for people and nature. Despite our different motivators, we have committed to each other to make it happen, and we are happy to work together to achieve the common goal.
Here during Water Week, I’m proud to stand beside our partners and share best practices and lessons learned. We have a breadth of experience represented. For more than a decade, we’ve collaborated with HSBC to address the twin challenges of climate change and water management in countries such as China, India and Brazil.
Together, we successfully reduced flood risk and pollution that affected millions of people while restoring river health and biodiversity. We’ve worked with SABMiller and Marks & Spencer for several years to address water risks in their supply chain for the mutual benefit of the businesses, local communities, farmers and fresh water.
Our partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, renewed last year through to 2020, has expanded beyond just freshwater conservation to measurably improving environmental performance across the company’s value chain, integrating the value of nature into public and private decision-making processes, and convening influential partners to solve global environmental challenges. All of these friends—and more—are here.
While we celebrate the successes of existing partnerships, we also look forward to the future. We hope to seed new relationships and inspire other organizations to work together to conserve one our most precious, shared, natural resources: fresh water.
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