International Tri-Sector Collaboration

By Aidan Kennedy

The importance of private, public and civil society working together to tackle water and sanitation issues locally and globally – Social Impact Practice


Aidan Kennedy, Partner in the Social impact practice group at Saxton Bampfylde, explores why greater collaboration and new innovative partnerships are more important to the clean water and sanitation agenda than ever before. He highlights the strength of leadership across global and local organisations in public, private and civil society that is driving positive change and creating a real and clear opportunity to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation by 2030.

Access to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental human right and moreover, it is essential for human development and inclusive growth. Great strides have been made over the last four decades in improving access to water and sanitation. To sustain and enhance this progress deeper cross-sector collaboration, innovative partnerships and new ways of working are more important than ever.

The international community, in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has committed to “ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030”, but this commitment must be delivered against an ever-changing context: climate change, population growth, conflict, migration, urbanisation, new technology. It cannot be addressed by a small group of organisations or even one sector alone. This is a global issue that requires strong leadership, collaborative working, vision and commitment to change.

At Saxton Bampfylde, we are privileged to work very closely with many organisations, both public and private, to identify the best people to help drive this important agenda forward. We recognise both the challenges and also the importance of identifying those with the experience to deliver strategically and operationally, but also those who have the ability to take an international agenda and make it relevant to local geographies, cultures and political and social environments.

For the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) agenda, enormous challenges still remain: globally, one in nine (or 844 million people) lack access to safe water and one in three (or 2.3 billion) people live without access to a toilet. 31 per cent of schools do not have access to clean water. Progress has been imbalanced and inequalities have widened: in Angola, for example, the richest fifth of the population have much higher levels of access to basic water and sanitation than the poorest fifth. Around the world, women remain disproportionately affected by the water crisis.

The impact is clear: dirty water and unclean environments kill a new-born every minute and a child under five, every two. Globally, every year, up to 443 million school days are lost because of water-related illnesses. In 2015, it is estimated that lack of access to sanitation cost the global economy $223 billion and developing countries around 1.5 per cent of their GDP. It is projected if every single person had access to WASH, 3.2 billion more productive days per year would be achieved.

Until recently corporate action has mainly focused on company provision in core operations, or to local communities through NGO partnerships. However, momentum is now gathering with greater collaboration between civil society and the corporate sector to drive action through supply chains. With data from the Carbon Disclosure Project and in partnership with large international organisations such as Diageo, Gap and Unilever, WaterAid, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate have been working to strengthen the business case for companies to integrate WASH interventions into global supply chains, deepening commitment through corporate policy and voluntary standards and scaling action. As Neil Jeffrey, CEO of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor comments: “At WSUP, we strongly believe that the WASH sector affords opportunities for companies to create business value and to generate lasting social impact at the same time – it is not either/or!”

Given the enormity of the resourcing challenge, innovative new funding partnerships are also emerging. One example is the Global Investment Fund for Water/ Water Unite which aims to develop revenue streams from bottled water sales in higher income countries, for use in developing countries, whilst also mobilising domestic resources in developing countries to support WASH improvements. This presents new opportunities for retailers and bottlers to collaborate with governments and other stakeholders to provide sustainable water and sanitation services for the most marginalised communities. Founder Duncan Goose comments: “Companies across the retail and bottled water industry already demonstrate their commitment to sustainability through numerous initiatives addressing water stewardship and water poverty. We will take this work to a much larger scale and make a positive difference to the lives of hundreds of millions of people”.

In the future it is evident that this level of collaboration will become increasingly important, building on the lessons learnt over the last four decades. In order to evolve, survive and hopefully thrive the need for great leadership, at executive and board level, is more fundamental than ever.

Governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector will all continue to play key roles in developing the sort of capacity required in-country and this is an area that we are working closely with many organisations to address. For example, strengthening small local businesses by providing waste management services or small-scale water providers; growing innovation; ensuring access to new technologies; providing alternative funding mechanisms; developing critical accountability mechanisms, such as unions in supply chains and grass roots NGOs; and finally, enabling the sort of policy and decision-making frameworks required at national and international levels.

Collaboration delivered strategically and proactively across so many different parts of the globe provides a huge opportunity. It will bring change and really deliver on the SDG promises. We certainly believe that this is the key to ensuring that the water crisis can be solved in our

Return to previous page