Maturity Progression: Engagement
Scope: Facility / River Basin

Case Study Overview:

This case study drawn from the CEO Water Mandate’s Serving The Public Interest: Corporate Water Stewardship and Sustainable Development report.


This case study is fictional. It is intended to illustrate integrity risks in water stewardship initiatives.

In a developing country where watercourses are often used as conduits for waste disposal, a company with an international brand initiates a WSI to clean up the river that flows from its production site to the ocean a kilometer away. The WSI involves other businesses (1), an international NGO and donor agency, national and local government (2). The work is well funded, well publicized, and gets high-level political buy-in and significant time commitment from senior managers (3) at the Ministry of Water and Energy, City Council, and National Environment Protection Agency. The initiative begins with a meeting with costs covered by the donor (4) and a programme of work is agreed (5). Work starts immediately (6) and the WSI commences with cash transfers from private sector funds to the local public authority to clear waste (7) and enforcement work against poor sanitation infrastructure (8). The WSI intends to scale up learning at the basin scale (9).

Integrity Risks

  1. Participant track record: A partnering company employs child labor, is involved in aggressive tax avoidance, and is an ongoing polluter of the river, and so could bring the WSI and partners into disrepute.
  2. Participant representation: Key stakeholders are not in the room. Communities living along the watercourse, likely to be affected by degradation and with valuable insights on appropriate interventions, are not involved and are not adequately represented by dysfunctional local government.
  3. Capture of public resources: The WSI requirements of senior staff time are disproportionate to its narrow and largely private benefit to their companies. The river stretch targeted is not used for water withdrawals and has no strategic public value, yet a river 6 km away is severely polluted and affects the health of more than 300,000 poor citizens.
  4. Participant intent: The tyranny of “allowance culture” means that public sector staff are drawn to externally funded activities that pay sitting allowances, used to augment stagnating civil service salaries. These semiofficial financial inducements mean high public sector attendance at the meetings, but mask a lack of interest in or relevance of the WSI.
  5. Inadequate communication processes: Meetings are held in English, which prevents input by some local stakeholders for whom English is difficult third or second language. Without their input, the project design is flawed.
  6. Monitoring, evaluation, and learning: No baseline monitoring is undertaken against which progress can be tracked and lessons generated. There is no way to determine the benefits of the WSI.
  7. Planning and design: A lack of rigorous and inclusive design means that the WSI focuses on the wrong issues, with the wrong people in the wrong places. It turns out that corrupt local authority waste collectors are also dumping in the river while taking payment for waste removal to the licenced disposal site.
  8. Regulatory capture and perverse outcomes: Punitive enforcement work involving destruction of property and forced re-settlement proceeds against vulnerable communities who live close to the river but lack land tenure and funds to build proper latrines. The funding of public regulatory bodies by a group of private sector actors (some of whom are polluters themselves) to undertake legal enforcement work represents undue influence and unacceptable regulatory capture.
  9. Limited contribution to sustainable water management: Although the lessons are intended to be scaled up, the lack of any monitoring and evaluation means the WSI does not generate reliable knowledge. Neither is the sharing of knowledge strategically planned into the WSI, with no process for or commitment to adopting learning into wider-scale programs. The WSI has received sparse donor and government resources and has not advanced sustainable water management.

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