GWP Network Meeting 2022: boosting innovation towards a water secure world

As the world faces the challenges of climate change, population growth, and urbanisation, GWP’s 2022 Network Meeting of Partners centred around the question, 'how can we push innovation in water?' “You will get some ideas from us, but what is more important is the voice from our Partners,” said GWP’s Executive Secretary and CEO Darío Soto-Abril, as more than 320 participants joined from 95 countries.

A year of achievement

Held on Wednesday 25 May, the hybrid online and in-person event was organised alongside GWP’s Regional Days, which saw members of GWP’s 13 regions work with global staff in Stockholm to review progress and plan for the future. By holding the two meetings in the same week, GWP is better able to align its aims with those of its Partners. As GWP Chair Howard Bamsey noted in his opening remarks, “This is a fantastic opportunity to get together and share experiences and points of view.” Bamsey reviewed key accomplishments in 2021, which he described as “a year of achievement for GWP.” 

In providing the context of the meeting, Soto-Abril highlighted the very exciting time in GWP’s history, and asked Partners to provide insights that will shape the second half of GWP’s 2020–2025 strategy: “This is the moment when we want to hear from you. Where have we been successful, and what can we do differently? How can we push innovation in water?” He noted that the emphasis on innovation was a continuation of last year’s Network Meeting theme “because we recognize that change and innovation do not happen overnight – they require sustained attention.” 

Soto-Abril also briefed participants about GWP’s innovation work and the scaling up: “We started this very creative and innovative agenda from GWP a couple of years ago when we launched our Water ChangeMaker Awards, the first one ever for GWP, and now we are scaling up a notch, where we are bringing 5-6 new topics that we want to dive deeper into in terms of innovation. We’re talking about the innovation in data, innovation and investment, connecting the innovators for funding, and also how do we use our Technical Committee and expertise to scale up those innovators who are within the network.” 

Soto-Abril brought the participants’ attention to GWP’s new GWP Toolbox - IWRM Action Hub, one of whose innovations is the creation of communities of practice. He then continued to launch the latest community, the Transboundary Water Knowledge Exchange Hub. Developed in response to Partner and practitioner feedback, the hub serves as an interactive space where water practitioners can share experiences, case studies, and opportunities to improve transboundary water cooperation and management. 

Multiple partners, multiple voices, multiple echoes from GWP leadership

Participants could choose to go to one of five breakout sessions to talk with regional and global GWP focal points and other GWP Partners about how to implement and spread innovative practices in the water sector. The goal was to get actionable recommendations to GWP leadership.

The Climate resilience through water session considered how best to engage private sector finance and ensure investments address climate resilience. Participants recommended a strong focus on communications and engagement with the private sector on both climate and water issues, and encouraged GWP to improve its understanding of climate finance. 

Attendees of the Mobilising youth for water resources management session were shown case studies from West Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as projects from the Youth for Water and Climate (YWC) Platform, demonstrating how youth voices can be amplified through innovation and intergenerational dialogues. They urged youth mobilisation to move beyond lip service to the hard work of creating spaces where young people are involved in real decision-making for water management and visible action on the ground. Bamsey later highlighted that greater diversity in decision-making bodies leads to better results. 

At the Water solutions for the SDGs session, participants considered what innovations could enhance GWP’s efforts to support SDG 6, which calls for the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. They suggested that GWP can play a role in convening stakeholders to identify shared data and information needs. Participants also encouraged GWP to increase efficiency and reduce duplication in data collection, noting that “we can only manage what we can measure.” 

The Innovation @ GWP Network session explored how innovations from GWP’s Partners can be identified and scaled up. Participants recognised that many innovations already exist but may lack support, and stressed the importance of systematically cataloguing, categorising, and prioritising them. GWP’s Technical Committee Chair, Jaehyang So, underlined the value of GWP’s Network in understanding the global and regional demand for innovative new products. 

The Communications for social change and water innovation session focused on how to better communicate globally what innovations partners are implementing, and how those innovations can lead to positive social change and innovation around water. Attendees stressed the need to better understand target groups and the importance of culturally sensitive communications. GWP Steering Committee member Dr Paulette Bynoe added that communication is a two-way process and urged GWP to solicit Partner feedback more regularly. 

Listen, connect, communicate

After the Breakout Groups, there was an Interactive Dialogue with GWP leadership, who provided instant feedback on the recommendations from the groups. The recommendations inspired a wide-ranging discussion about the steps GWP needs to take to increase its impact. Pablo Bereciartua, Steering Committee member and Lead of GWP’s Innovation Group, noted that the growing influence of the climate change agenda risks crowding out water management objectives unless GWP can position itself as a central voice in climate discussions. 

Bringing the meeting to a close, Soto-Abril reiterated the central importance of GWP’s Network. “The task we have now is to engage our Partners more – to listen, connect, and communicate. The diversity of the Network is one of our greatest strengths, and it’s been very exciting to see how many of our Partners are here today,” he said. “We need to connect the Network with top leaders, politicians, and policymakers – bringing both worlds together.” 

Mr Bamsey, who is due to step down as Chair this year, took the opportunity during the meeting to reflect on his work with GWP over the past four years. “It has been a tremendous privilege to chart the course for an organisation that is making such positive change around the world,” he said. “In the context of a changing world, it’s important that GWP adapts.” But one thing that won’t change, he said, is the relevancy of IWRM. “Its scope has grown, and it needs some renewal, but the conclusion is unequivocal: IWRM remains absolutely vital and is the only way to go.” 

He added that GWP can create coherence with other organisations to build the case for water particularly with the climate community because that is where the resources are, including the resources for water management.

In the photo, from the left: Dario Soto-Abril, GWP's Executive Secretary; Howard Bamsey, GWP's Chair; Monika Ericson, GWP' Senior Communications Specialist; Paulette Byone, GWP Steering Committee; Jaehyang So, GWP TEC Chair; Pablo Bereciartua, GWP Steering Committee.