A Conversation with the Architects of the U.S. Water Partnership
On World Water Day, March 22, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the U.S. Water Partnership (USWP), a public-private partnership that seeks to mobilize U.S.-based knowledge, expertise, and resources to address water challenges across the globe – particularly in the developing world. USWP has five founding partners and 22 new partners from the private sector, non-governmental organizations, academic/scientific institutions, and U.S. Government agencies.
Global Waters spoke with Aaron Salzberg, special coordinator for Water Resources in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and Christian Holmes, global water coordinator at USAID, about the partnership:
Global Waters: What should we know about the USWP?
Aaron Salzberg: This is a partnership intended to mobilize knowledge, expertise, and resources of the United States to strengthen water security, particularly in developing countries. It responds to a number of challenges, but our hope is that it will provide a platform to encourage and facilitate the engagement of a broad range of actors within the United States to work on water issues internationally. It also puts into practice the “whole-of-America” approach that Secretary Clinton has often talked about: The idea that we can mobilize the best and brightest from the United States to address our foreign policy and development challenges.
Christian Holmes: There is a huge demand for information related to many aspects of water. USAID will support USWP’s efforts to develop a portal that would enable the public and private sector to exchange information to address a wide variety of water issues. It would be tremendous to have a database that would enable people to locate examples of solutions, successful activities.
GW: The USWP calls for sharing of information and knowledge. Is the “knowledge portal” the platform for carrying that out?
AS: Yes, it will be one of the tools of the partnership. The web-based knowledge portal will increase access to existing materials, best practices, and lessons learned from U.S. government agencies, the private sector, non-profit organizations, academia, and expert organizations, hopefully in a useful way. The key will be getting the consumer to the information they need or want.
CH: In addition to USAID, there are several U.S. government agencies with knowledge management tools that have signed up to be partners in the USWP. We hope that partners will contribute to the information platform their information and data dealing with best practices that deal with water in different ways. This would be an achievement.
GW: What inspired the idea of a public-private partnership?
AS: I think the idea has probably been around for a long time but a number of things just made this the right time. This includes Secretary Clinton’s strong interest and leadership on water, the growing demand internationally for access to what the United States does to address our water challenges, and the increasing efforts by the U.S.-based non-governmental community in water. We also had strong interest from many of our U.S. technical agencies in more effectively sharing their knowledge with the world.
CH: We know from experience that public-private partnerships can make a significant contribution to development. We also know that knowledge critical to solving development challenges is located within a wide variety of public and private entities. What inspires us is the possibility that the systematic collection and sharing of information will, for example, accelerate the provision of technical assistance by linking public and private sector experts with a wide range of development needs.
GW: Can you give an example of a project or situation for which the USWP will be uniquely beneficial?
AS: Before USWP launched, the U.S. Department of State was contacted by the Government of Indonesia. They wanted to send a team of government officials to the United States to learn about how we do wastewater management and needed help with putting together an itinerary to meet their individual needs. So, we turned the request over to USWP, who shared it with their partners who work directly with the Government of Indonesia. The study tour has happened and all sorts of follow-on activities are being considered – all outside the U.S. government framework. One can imagine over time, that as different partners join, even local communities and municipalities who have good experiences could handle a request like that. So, USWP is an entity that can reach into the U.S. Government and outside it, where much more of this expertise now lies.
GW: What is a “best-of-U.S.” approach?
AS: It’s drawing upon the entirety of the U.S. experience to provide solutions to our foreign policy and development challenges. It’s recognizing that we, the U.S. Government, do not have the resources nor necessarily the expertise to address something as big as water. The United States has had, and still has, its share of water challenges. We should be sharing these solutions. I was speaking recently at the annual meeting of the National Association of Water companies. Utility operators came up to me and said, “I’d be willing to give up my two weeks of vacation to work with a utility in a developing country.” These folks have hands-on knowledge we should be putting to work. The small-scale rural service providers, the local governments, the NGOs, the universities, and the private sector all have a lot to offer.
CH: From a USAID perspective, we realize that to really be successful in international development you have to have partners. It’s absolutely critical. I think that having a platform that provides information on the dimensions of problems becomes a tremendous way to begin the dialogue on developing partnerships.
GW: What do you expect each partner to contribute?
AS: Well, our hope is that partners contribute in whatever way makes the most sense for them. For some that may mean providing financial support or seconding staff; for others it may be providing access to knowledge, best practices, or modeling tools. Our expectation is that each partner comes to the table offering something into the partnership.
CH: We hope that the USWP will provide a platform for people with different expertise to share challenges, generate some new solutions, and agree to partner to implement solutions on approaches.
GW: How will the partnership work to scale up successful water projects?
AS: Hopefully in two ways: First, by sharing successes. Success breeds success. If people see what works, more will follow. Second, by providing a platform for discussion among the partners. We have a good mix of funders, thinkers, and practitioners. As they begin to work together and identify areas of common interest, we would expect to see partners spinning-off to pool and leverage their own resources to scale up their impact.
CH: To scale successful activities often requires new information, resources, and partners, and our hope is that the USWP will help catalyze such additional value.
GW: How do you see providing technical assistance and “best-of-U.S.” knowledge on water governance fitting into the key deliverables of the partnership?
AS: The governance issue is at the heart of many of the challenges faced within the water community – everything from integrated water resources management to improving cost recovery. I know a question I get a lot is ‘how does the U.S. manage a community asset in a decentralized system?’ There is a huge craving for knowledge about how the United States has organized itself, how the states work with the federal government, the roles of the different federal agencies, and how they work. how do these agencies work together to provide the kind of knowledge, resources, and management that we have in the United States? I think this governance element will be one of the most highly requested pots of information that we can offer.
GW: What are the next steps for the partnership? How can interested companies, NGOs, and others join?
AS: Building functionality. Interim staff, a steering committee, and a standardized application process all need to be in place, and the partnership needs to start delivering. The sooner the partnership starts delivering results, the quicker this will grow. Right now, the Global environment Technology Foundation is acting as the interim secretariat for the partnership. Anyone interested in joining should contact Chuck Chaitovitz at email@example.com.
CH: Holmes: As a next step for the partnership, USAID will methodically examine what data and information we have which might best support the partnership. An example of such data is that which is contained in our Safeguarding the World’s Water report.
Last updated: November 26, 2013