Monika Weber-Fahr penned these personal reflections before her last day as GWP Executive Secretary and CEO on June 30, 2020.
“So where is GWP going, now that you are leaving?” When announcing my departure from GWP, I got this question a lot, as well as three others: “Anything you regret?”, “What did you achieve?” and, my personal favorite: “You are leaving for family reasons. Does this mean women can’t hold leadership roles? Is it too much, leading an organization and being a Mum?”
GWP at extraordinary times. I am writing these reflections at an extraordinary time. The world is reeling in the pain inflicted by COVID – to people, families, lives, and to entire countries, both through the death sentences brought by the virus and through the economic fall-out from measures taken as we try to protect ourselves, particularly those most at risk. The coming years will bring developments that we have never seen before: enormous recovery packages that may or may not lead to more climate (and by extension: water) minded policies, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and dramatic changes across multiple sectors that we are only beginning to understand. In the meantime, global temperatures keep rising, populations and their needs for water for drinking, hygiene, and for their food and other consumption keep growing, and industrial processes that waste and pollute water are changing way too slowly. Both the pressures on water – and the opportunity to negotiate a “re-set” of how we use it – are unprecedented. Never before have we seen as much attention to providing access to water to the poor. Will GWP partners around the world take advantage of this opportunity? I would expect so! Certainly, the regional and the global GWP teams stand ready to support with advice and input – wherever our partners and stakeholders will manage to engage in national or local decision making processes.
Where is GWP going? Where we are going should be clear – we have a good, jointly developed, broadly consulted on and well owned strategy, with clear targets and relevant focus areas. “Mobilising for a Water Secure World” should enable us to effectively address global crises related to water security in the COVID-19 context. Indeed, our Regional GWP Chairs and Coordinators have confirmed: our strategy gives us the right focus to act – in particular now. As countries and industries begin to figure out how to “build back better”, our focus on water solutions for SDGs, on climate resilience through water, and on transboundary solutions all provide a solid framework to engage with the many non-water actors that will shape the post-COVID recovery. Our unique value is in bringing ‘voices of water’ together and to the attention of political and economic decision-makers, while mobilising action that will address the ensuing water crises. So let’s make sure we do this, with the continued help of so many enlightened donors: mobilise more and new partners, while valuing each other and our shared journey on this road, and find ways to negotiate water-relevant solutions even in uncomfortable spaces!
Anything you regret? An obvious one first: I do regret leaving GWP way “before my time.” Leaving early means that I will not be able to be part of and support many initiatives and steps that I truly care for: The 25th Anniversary Year in 2021 – a fabulous opportunity for the entire Network to showcase what we have achieved and what we can do more of; working with our regional teams to learn how we can be stronger in our regions and countries and building true “Network Effects” in how we connect GWP partners – making sure each and every partner who joins increases the value of the Network; and helping the Water ChangeMaker Awards grow – a unique mechanism to bring attention to the experiences and voices that make concrete and positive change for water happen, and bringing these into the GWP ToolBox. My biggest personal regret though, is that I had to let people go, early on in my tenure, when GWP’s finances required retrenching. And I am glad to say that we are now on better financial footings, enabling us to weather some of the storms ahead. Finally, a regret that I am taking with me is that I did not get to spend as much time with the team in Stockholm as I would have wanted, getting to know my host country only cursorily, and leaving with only a few words of Swedish. The Swedish art of Lagom is something I still have to learn about a lot.
What did you achieve? Well, there is an official list of things, shared in the announcement, coming with kind words from our Chair, Ambassador Howard Bamsey, noting “tireless efforts to put GWP on more secure footing” and the “energy and entrepreneurial leadership” with which I had been able to “turn the organisation around.” And then there is my more personal list of things that I feel particularly blessed by: first and foremost the personal relationships and friendships with so many so wonderful people around the world and of course in Stockholm; the magic of the two “follow the sun” Network Meetings that more than ever connected our partners around the world; speaking to the climate community at CoP25 about the “Voices of Water” and how they should matter more; bringing to GWP the notion that our work can support water security AND be gender transformative when launching the first fully-gender focused water, climate and development program, under the auspices of AMCOW and funded by ADA and SIDA; and, of course, signing the first grant agreement with the Green Climate Fund in support of Zambia’s GCF readiness, in a fully virtual environment, using media that some of my originally skeptical GWP colleagues now feel comfortable to use.
“You are leaving for family reasons: Does this mean women can’t hold leadership roles – is this just too much, leading an organization AND being a Mum?” Some of the younger women on the global team asked this question quietly but quite immediately after I announced my departure – and also others seemed to wonder. Indeed, it is true: I am leaving GWP so that I can re-join my family – my teenaged sons, my husband, and our dog – who live in Vienna, Austria, and whom I saw for much of the past two years only on weekends, if that. Commuting between work and family – with separations of weeks or months at a time – is something that many parents do: anyone working in the military, in transport (shipping, trucking, aviation), in off-shore work or in construction would be all too familiar with this and know that it often can work just fine. So, first to remember is that having the choice to step out and to do something else is a choice that not everyone needs – but also a choice that not everyone has. Contrary to what Foreign Policy Professor Ann-Marie Slaughter originally said in her then famous “Why Women Can’t Have it All” article: For me the choice is not between career and family, and it is not about “stepping down” but about “stepping out” into something else. Choices like this are about building the important and precious dimension of caring into one’s life, and there are times when this matters more or is specifically needed than at other times. This is the same for anyone – whether you are a mother or father, daughter, or son.
One last observation: the Global Water Partnership is unique: We may not see this “from within” – but in its workings and design, as a partnership and network, GWP stands out among many other similar set-ups I have seen and worked with across multiple sectors in my professional past. And in this, we all stand on the shoulders of giants – the people who built this partnership and created its knowledge over the years. Many stand out – Ismail Serageldin, Maggie Catley-Carlson, and Letitia Obeng, the early Global Chairs; the late and greatly missed John Briscoe; the Technical Committee Chairs Torkil Clausen, Roberto Lenton, Mohamed Ait Kadi, and Jerry Priscoli; the authors of influential Technical Background Papers, in particular No. 4, No. 14 and No. 22, and, of course, of the outstanding GWP Gender Action Piece – so many were part of shaping how the world sees and works on integrated water resources management, climate adaptation, and the SDGs. This work is carried on now by the many leaders engaged in Regional Water Partnerships and Country Water Partnerships, in the global and regional Technical Committees, and in the Global Team. As a network, we are as good as our relationships and values. Together, with respect and solidarity with each other, we can and do get things done.
Oddly enough, no one has asked me what I am grateful for – when gratitude is the dominant feeling for me as I leave. The list of people and experiences I am grateful for is long. Most of all, I am grateful for – and humbled by – the opportunity that I had in being part of the journey of the many leaders that come together through this extraordinary Network. So many of you are driving positive change, often with little or no means – but built on unique knowledge, relationships, and motivation. You are an inspiration – thank you all for this!