Water Security - Enhancing Collaborative Competencies to Overcome Water Challenges
Current water challenges in Africa, Asia and Latin America are complex. Much has been written and countless expert meetings have been held to reflect on technologies and approaches for wisely managing scarce water resources and efficiently meeting increasing water demand for people and economic development. When facing the impact of climate change and considering persistent inadequate management practices, it becomes clear that business as usual is no longer appropriate to meet future challenges to water supply and wastewater management. The promotion of isolated, solely technology-based solutions has become anachronistic.
But how can we escape from this spiral of technology-based trial and error? How can we find a way out of the complex water jungle? How can water be linked to the health, energy and agriculture sectors? How can we solve the obvious problems of the water-climate change nexus? How do we link the key performance pillars of quality, safety, sustainability, customer service and financial viability in water utilities? How can we reap benefits from our existing knowledge and experience?
The answer is simple: By highlighting cooperation and enhancing collaborative competencies.
This answer is not really new, of course. Concepts like integrated water resources management or good water governance imply multidisciplinary and cooperative approaches. They are based on the conviction that water challenges can be met by joining forces. They share one assumption: We can improve the situation if we understand and apply technology and a management approach. This means the cooperative aspect is based on both the concept and the technology.
Why not look at cooperation from a human perspective? Fruitful cooperation requires a joint intention on the part of human beings who share an attitude of openness and partnership. Although cooperation requires some rules, it cannot be imposed. It has to be built on a vision of mutual benefits and joint action which, in turn, is built on reliability and trust. It neither follows the cycle of a well-designed project nor the rules of sophisticated project management; it evolves into mutual transformation and a learning process for partners involved in joint action. Each partner is part of the process: there is no insider, no outsider, no observer. It is a process of self-reflection and joint reflection that reveals new options for taking action and governing and defining a distinct development path owned by all the partners. This should be based on two principles:
(1) all actors at all levels are part of a system (at an institutional or organisational level) and are willing to assume responsibilities, and
(2) a new leadership paradigm towards innovative management by effective guidance through support, encouragement, and, last but not least, delegation: "From guidance to responsible leadership".
How can we enhance collaborative competencies? Enabling human beings to manage their affairs successfully is an essential aim of competency development. Joint learning is its most crucial aspect. To give some examples:
- Group and peer learning (i.e. bringing different stakeholders of water sectors together, are appropriate ways to learn by sharing perspectives, experience and knowledge, developing a common understanding and, as a consequence, appropriate solutions. (see example 1)
- Promoting regional exchange allows for the identification of regional options and answers to regional water challenges, e.g. by bringing the decision makers of a certain region together. (see example 2)
- South-South dialogue and exchange foster reflection on global challenges and contribute to the initiation of strategic alliances, such as a joint network of water practitioners of different continents. (see example 3)
The basis of all these examples is the creation of a collaborative framework that allows for joint learning, innovation and the development of context-oriented solutions. Individuals need to be strengthened in their abilities to assume responsibility for achieving a common goal. This motivation contributes to job satisfaction and staff continuity, which is a precondition for securing quality standards. Hence, the independency and creativity of individuals are the motor for innovation and success at organizational and institutional levels.
What competencies need to be enhanced? Competency development refers to a widespread set of competencies, for example technical and specialized know-how, methodological, social, communication, and individual human competencies. In the context of cooperation, developing a series of competencies is of particular interest: e.g. intercultural skills, team building skills, management of diversity and conflicts, trust building, negotiation and communication skills as well as effective leadership (see example 4). Strengthening these competencies is fundamental to creating an enabling learning environment that allows for the joint collaborative process and is prepared to embark on a partnership-oriented, unbiased and open-minded development path, and to do so in an effective as well as sustainable manner.
Whose collaborative competencies need to be enhanced? Collaborative competencies are not harmful and work in everybody’s interest. Naturally, the context of cooperation and networking takes an individual focus. Collaborative competency development particularly targets authentic leaders and high-potential practitioners sharing specific characteristics: a high commitment to balanced development, willingness to undergo adaptive change, a belief in human equity and social welfare, responsibility for sustainable development, and open-minded flexibility for processes rather than enforcement of top-down management styles. Although it focuses on individuals, an individual cannot be viewed as a standalone driving force and has to be seen in his or her role and function within his or her organizational and system context. It would be a fatal mistake to neglect organisational development and policy advisory services in the collaborative context. However, individuals are the motor of development and the centre of organisational performance and its improvement.
In a nutshell: The bottleneck for development in the water sector is not the lack of technologies or financial resources but the lack of effective management and leadership. It is time to rethink current solution patterns to overcome water challenges. As an assimilating resource, water offers an opportunity to reflect on cooperation and its potential from a human perspective. Joint reflection across organisational and institutional borders contributes to collaborative processes of learning and networking and allows local actors to seize global challenges.
Examples how to enhance collaborative competencies:
Example 1: Collaborative management of a training programme
“If you have good staff, the organisation tends to be successful” CEO of a water company in Zambia.
Competent staff in technical and commercial departments is critical for delivering reliable services to customers. The GIZ (formerly InWEnt) conducts a capacity building programme to improve staff’s competence in water service delivery in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. The WAVE Pool is a regional learning and networking forum composed of experts, practitioners and decision-makers from partner institutions. Each partner country has identified representatives from selected water services providers, private water operators, regulators, water associations, ministries, local government, water boards, training providers, the private sector and NGOs active in the water sector to constitute the WAVE Pool. The Pool is the policy advisory and planning committee for the whole programme and its responsibilities include supervising implementation and monitoring impacts. Its multidisciplinary, multi-organisational and regional composition is one key success factor of the programme.
Example 2: Collaborative regional expert forum for good water governance
The enhancement of good water governance in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is critical for achieving sustainable development under scarce water resource conditions. Water governance has many facets. Important elements in developing a joint vision in the MENA region include:
1. Accelerating regional cooperation in view of integral Arab representation advocating Arab water rights in water-related international forums
2. Facilitating the formulation and implementation of water management strategies to contribute to sustainable socio-economic development and safe water supplies for people
3. Enforcing the concept of integrated water resources management for achieving good and water security from the viewpoint of a shared vision in the MENA region
4. Establishing a cross-sector partner network within the MENA region
5. Promoting awareness of policy makers and the general public on water related issues
In response to this regional demand, the GIZ (formerly InWEnt) has supported the Arab Water Council (AWC), the Arab Water Countries Utilities Association (ACWUA) and other water sector actors in the MENA region since 2006 in developing a platform for policy development and advocacy in the field of good water governance.
Example 3: From local to regional to global learning and cooperation platforms
The GEF projects “International Waters: Learning and Regional Networking” (IW:LEARN) and “Strengthening African Water Governance” aim to increase African leaders and stakeholders’ knowledge and political will for balancing sustainable uses of water resources on a trans-boundary and regional-basin systems scale by institutionalising systemic thinking and adaptive management feedback mechanisms. GEF and their project implementing partners (e.g. GIZ, formerly InWEnt) provide a learning platform for African transboundary river basins, international lakes, groundwater aquifers and large marine ecosystems. Through structured learning and networking, they explore and leverage synergies, exchange biodiversity and water governance concepts, innovative technologies and applied research findings, and transfer innovative management tools. Parliamentarian dialogues provide opportunities for linking policy makers, legislators and senior managers from the water sector at a pan-African level to discuss cooperation concepts to foster sharing in transboundary water resources management. The regional platform is supplemented on a global scale by Global IW:LEARN Conferences that enhance knowledge management through the exchange of good practices and lessons learned from international freshwater and marine ecosystems worldwide.
Example 4: Regional ACWUA-GIZ Training “Effective Leadership and Managing Communication in Water Utilities in the Mena Region”
Assignment done back home. Report from Olfa Mahjoub, Head of Water Laboratory Services. Tunisia (January 2011)
"It was the first time that I attended such an interesting interactive training. I learned a lot of things during the different sessions that I attempted to implement on a personal and team level. So what I did for this assignment is a kind of self-assessment based on some past and present situations. As I have to manage a laboratory and lead a small team to work in an efficient way, I was comparing every situation experienced to every case discussed or simulated during the training, to know what attitudes have to be changed or improved, and what approaches have to be followed in order to get a better result. I discovered positive points in my way of leading the team, but some faults as well as I went along. Consequently, I decided to be more active and reactive as soon as I went back home. I had plenty of ideas and tried to implement what I have learned, taking into consideration some advice given by trainers, to whom I’m thankful, and indirectly by some colleagues.
I have to underline that I took up the challenge 10 years ago. Hence, my strategy in dealing with my subordinates was always to discuss with them and to enhance communication as much as I can to know their way of thinking, their motivations, and their fears. Indirectly, I was trying to involve them in organizing the work and taking some decisions. The strange thing is that people do not understand the scope of such a way of acting. However, I continued organizing meetings and boosting them to understand the real reasons for their reluctance in doing their job perfectly and in changing their behaviour. I was afraid of discovering that they were losing their conscientiousness and that they were hopeless cases.
According to what I have learned during the training, I decided to delegate more effectively, defining tasks as precisely as possible, putting deadlines and follow ups, and evaluate the progress of the work assigned. It was my way to make persons feel more responsible. I succeeded to a certain extent because I decided not to give up, and even if sometimes I was constrained to extend the deadlines, the result was there.
On a personal level, I continued to write what I have to do and to do what I have written to save more time and to avoid procrastination. I also tried to reduce time wasted, to take decisions and to act rapidly and more wisely. I decided to act differently, planning more efficiently my activities and implementing the tasks within a more stringent allocated time, and I think that at this stage I succeeded at 90%. I keep on believing that we have to change the present for a better future and this needs good willingness and perseverance: consequently every day is a challenge for me."
Note: This letter was sent just days before the peaceful revolution started in Tunisia.