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Published on: 30/11/2016

Watershed - empowering citizens meeting November 2016 (source: IRC)

This article is written in cooperation with: Tettje van DaalenVera van der GriftCatarina FonsecaJeske Verhoeven

"Watershed is not a stand-alone agency. It is part of a broader strategy. So we need to use our current structures for capacity building in a broader sense." – Samson Shivaji (KWASNET, Kenya)

From 9 to 11 November 2016, the Watershed – empowering citizens partners came together to reflect on the inception phase of the past nine months, see what has been learned, build stronger partnership relations, and plan for the next phase of the programme. This 5-year programme is running in six countries and all countries had their own challenges and successes in this first period.

Watershed is a strategic partnership designed to strengthen policy and advocacy capacity of civil society globally. It will focus on the linkages between water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and water resources management (WRM). The programme is active in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mali and Uganda. Other partnerships will be developed in The Netherlands and at international level.


Watershed is a partnership of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), IRC, Simavi, Wetlands International and Akvo. Local and regional Civil Society Organisations have now started to join the programme. The partnership aims to improve governance for WASH and WRM so that all citizens, including the most marginalised, can benefit from sustainable services. Its immediate goal is to enhance citizens' ability to obtain information so that civil society organisations (CSOs) can advocate for change based on reliable, accurate data.

"The barriers of the individual partner organisations have been broken down. We are one team now." – Seriba Konare (Wetlands, Mali)


The programme starts at a moment where globally, the space for civil society is decreasing and deteriorating rapidly across the World. However, we also acknowledge that the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides an opportunity for engagement of citizens to enable universal access to water and sanitation services.


Looking back on the inception phase

"The inception phase is a period of shaping. During the journey of the past nine months, we crystallized our understanding of Watershed."
- Lydia Mirembe (IRC, Uganda)

Two key lessons were learned. Firstly, it is crucial to make sure the teams are stable and clearly defined from the very beginning and that it is important to invest in team relations during the inception phase. Secondly, it is important to create a consistent and clear global message and a working definition on lobbying and advocacy. These two words mean many different things in the US, in India, in Ghana and for each of the team members as well.

Pim van der Male from DGIS says that "the inception phase is crucial; this is where 'the rubber hits the road'. This is where the theory of change is translated into concrete plans. Given the scope of the programme, covering 6 countries the inception phase has been a huge task and I applaud the consortium for reaching the end of this phase. It has been an impressive process where the consortium members have worked from the bottom up to come up with a country specific analysis and translation into concrete plans. We have also seen a good dialogue at country level with the Dutch embassies, which is encouraging, particularly given the many strategic partnerships per country supported by the Netherlands." 

  Watershed - empowering citizens meeting November 2016 - Pim van der Male (DGIS) (source: IRC)

Points for improvement

Besides the successful first phase of the programme, there are also some points for improvement. Van der Male mentions: "What could have been done differently in my view would be a thorough capacity assessment on the side of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to come to a realistic view on the role we can play in partnerships like this given the Human Resource and budgetary constraints."

Moving forward

During the inception phase Watershed conducted a context analysis to gain a clear understanding of the environment in which Watershed partners will work, and as a first step in informing the process to decide the scope of the programme in each country. The challenges that the programme will address in conjunction with civil society partners in the countries are as followed:

  • To strengthen the current weak coordination of decentralised service delivery, Watershed will lobby for the means to put policies and mandates into practice.
  • Watershed in each country must find a specific geographical area and level of operation to examine how the link between WASH and integrated water resources management (IWRM) can be made and what can practically be done with stakeholders in that location.
  • At the moment there is lack of evidence to inform implementation decisions in the WASH sector. Therefore, Watershed will support CSOs to engage with regional, district level authorities and service providers, to develop a formalised space where they can reflect on the evidence and learn from it.
  • Watershed will support CSOs and government in using tools such as budget tracking to address inequalities in WASH and IWRM financing.
  • People without access to clean and safe WASH services are increasingly concentrated in select regions and countries. Watershed will work to ensure that issues of poverty, gender and inclusion are high on the agenda for advocacy and lobbying.
  • Currently CSOs have limited capacity to influence WASH and IWRM policies. Watershed will work with partners to increase capacities of CSOs to analyse and use data to build effective evidence, to establish platforms to interact with target audiences, and to build relationships between stakeholders.

Watershed - empowering citizens meeting November 2016 (source: IRC)

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