International water events have been cancelled since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was also the case in Latin America, even though water challenges in this region are more urgent than ever. From July to September 2020, the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) and a consortium of seven Dutch embassies in Latin America jointly hosted the ‘Tackling water challenges in Latin America together’ webinar series to dive into the most pressing water issues in Latin America and connect Dutch and Latin American experts. And the initiative worked perfectly: an average of 300 visitors joined each session and more than 1,400 stakeholders in 19 countries in the Americas registered. In this article, Noortje Pellens and Arjan Braamskamp from the NWP LATAM regional team review the development of this tailor-made water initiative and outline further ideas to continue catalysing water impact in this region.
Project Officer Latin America at NWP, Noortje Pellens recalls how it all started at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Panama. "That's where the idea to explore the feasibility of an online event was born. Good health and hygiene are of the utmost importance during the Covid-19 pandemic, so water plays a central role. At the same time, water is often related to huge challenges in the Latin America region. It was clear to our partners at the Dutch Embassy in Panama that this combination offered momentum for action and, after discussions with other Dutch embassies, the idea to develop a webinar series was applauded by the Embassies in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Mexico. They then contacted NWP’s Latin America team and jointly with NWP and the seven Dutch embassies we shortlisted the biggest water challenges in these countries.” As the NWP LATAM Coordinator, Arjan Braamskamp, explains, "the aim of the series of five webinars was to enable experts from the Netherlands and Latin America representing all the stakeholders in the water sector – government, knowledge institutes, NGOs and businesses – to connect and encourage the exchange of knowledge, and to share best practices applicable to the local context."
The Netherlands provided quality experts from subjects ranging from water quality, circular economy, governance, to food security and integrated watershed management. They could translate many of the region’s challenges into experiences that have been tackled by the Dutch. The webinar enabled the embassies in the region to remain connected throughout the pandemic and strengthen their network.
Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Panama (on behalf of all seven embassies)
Arjan continues, "we managed to create more awareness and visibility in the region and we expanded and enriched our network by drawing on both the embassies’ and NWP’s network. The latter gives us a strong foundation on which to build collaboration and maybe even future partnerships. An up-to-date network is essential. Political changes can make networks outdated very quickly, especially where the public sector is concerned. The webinar series has given many participants the opportunity to update their network as well. And as the webinar’s final evaluation shows, participants very much appreciated this."
Based on the level of participation, adds Noortje, “the webinar series made it perfectly clear that NWP can reach and connect a massive audience on crucial water topics through online events like these, especially when collaborating with strong partners such as Dutch embassies and other international water actors from the NWP membership and extended network.”
In Covid-19 times, NWP succeeded in uniting a large group of water professionals from both sides of the ocean to analyse and discuss the most important water-related themes on the Latin American continent. The water professionals involved feel more united than ever working from either their homes or their offices.
These kinds of online initiatives are very inclusive. They are easily accessible to many people who would never be able to travel far to expensive conferences. They broaden collective horizons and accelerate development. In the case of this webinar series, Noortje explains that “we lowered the threshold in many ways to ensure accessibility for a broad audience. The seminars were conducted entirely in Spanish, we put together a varied programme and added all kinds of interactive elements, including word clouds, polls and chats."
Arjan further expands on the successful factors. "We have not only shown where and how Dutch innovative solutions can be applied in Latin America, but also where they are already being applied successfully. For instance, during the webinar series we covered the GIRAGUA: integrated management and efficient use of water resources in the Coquimbo region Partners for Water project in Chile and the master plan for the Calzada de la República in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. These inspiring concrete examples were greatly appreciated by the participants because they offer opportunities for replication in a different context."
The series about water challenges and opportunities organised by NWP was of great value for me. Over several sessions I got a lot of information about the different LATAM countries and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Keeping in touch with my contacts, especially in these times, is of great value. It also opened up a network of people working in all these countries which would not have otherwise been established so easily. Information and contacts were my key takeaways.
Van Essen Instruments
The knowledge shared in each and every one of the five webinars are all available remotely. And these sessions are much more than on demand learning sessions. According to Noortje, "the participants found each other and want to develop project ideas in the near future, so several follow-up interviews have been planned. We are also building a bigger regional presence for Latin America on the NWP website as a basis for the exchange of knowledge, information and of course market opportunities – which are many, by the way. We want to continue responding to these kinds of concrete, regional developments with tailor-made activities.”
Arjan further explains the potential of the series to deepen relationships with some of the countries, and to zoom in at the regional or even municipal scale to identify local champions. “We are currently developing the virtual mission concept where the focus will be exclusively on small groups of participants that add value to a mini-consortium that can move swiftly to address local problems. If we can get closer to the stakeholders affected by a problem, we are more likely to generate local ownership and capacity to solve problems.”
There are fewer Dutch-funded large-scale and multi-year subsidy or loan programmes in Latin America than in Africa and Asia. That is why, Arjan adds, “we need to be creative and connect with international financial institutions, local organisations and private partners. Of course, we will continue to search for opportunities for pilots and feasibility studies that can be catalysts in local problem solving."
The webinars enriched our background knowledge and understanding trends at a global level. Three aspects stood out for me. First of all, to me it seems the right approach is to view water challenges from a regional perspective. Second, the agenda was very timely. Third, it was also very positive to hear the views of specialists from Europe and Latin America, all interacting at the same time and highlighting the potential for growth and innovation of the water sector in our region.
AySA (drinking water production and wastewater treatment for Buenos Aires)
The LATAM team will continue to bring international experts, governments and businesses together, thus connecting supply and demand, and creating opportunities to jointly tackle Latin American water challenges. Our dedicated team seeks to strengthen regional understanding, be the point of contact for any region or country looking for Dutch water expertise and enhance collaboration. Do you want to make the connection as well? Contact Noortje at firstname.lastname@example.org We would be happy to be in touch!
The videos and audios of the ‘Tackling water challenges in Latin America together’ webinar series are still available on our website.