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Social Inclusion

Social Inclusion in water and climate adaptation efforts

Water, it touches the lives of every single person on this earth. Whether it’s too much, too little, too dirty or unequally distributed. Achieving a world where water is secure for all requires us to rethink water and climate adaptation efforts. For example, by looking into social inclusion.

In recent years, the water sector has taken several steps in this direction. Two things became clear: social inclusion is essential for sustainable interventions and collaboration on all levels is required to include this crucial process.

Climate- and water related problems often have the greatest impact on vulnerable people and the communities in which they live. Although these people have their own priorities, values and local knowledge, they are often seen as beneficiaries of the solution, rather than partners in resolving their water challenges. This approach fails to empower them, often resulting in missed opportunities for collaboration, community ownership and the valuable insights they can potentially bring to the table.

Levee breach in Colombia

Turning point

Starting in 2019, the Dutch water sector has made a conscious decision to initiate an open conversation about social inclusion and actively seek out different perspectives. This shift in approach was prompted by critiques from various scientists, NGOs, local governments and journalists, which included drawing attention to a lack of engagement with communities, culture and local governance. In order to pursue a more inclusive approach, the Dutch water sector is committed to actively listening to diverse voices, fostering dialogue and translating the outcomes into practical actions.

Community of Practice

With the aim of putting these intentions into practice, Partners for Water and Deltares started the Community of Practice on Social Inclusion, in 2019 . The community comprises of a diverse group of individuals from companies, knowledge institutions, NGO’s and governmental organisations. All of them are committed to learning about social inclusion, to sharing analyses and experiences, advising each other, developing improved practices and passing on the results to a wider audience.

Community of practice

Theory U

The aim of the Community of Practice is to foster a deeper understanding of the processes and perspectives that social inclusion encompasses rather than imposing a strict definition of it. One way of doing this, is by making use of Theory U developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Otto Scharmer. The theory aims to address complex challenges and foster transformative change. It involves practices like deep listening and observing the current situation supporting individuals or groups to suspend their habitual ways of thinking and open themselves up to new insights and possibilities (see Figure 1). Applying Theory U to integrate social inclusion in water management and climate adaptation enables a more participatory approach, ensuring that diverse perspectives and needs are incorporated into the process.

Making progress

While there are still many steps to undertake in this transformative journey, the water sector has recently taken important strides in addressing social inclusion in water management. For instance, by organising various sessions to openly discuss and reflect on important cases from the past few years, like Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities Asia1. After discussing with international experts and local stakeholder on the innovative approach of Water as Leverages, the Community of Practice recognised three actionable perspectives regarding inclusivity: inclusive community engagement, inclusive project development and inclusive commissioning. These perspectives were translated into potential entry points for improving social inclusion in water climate adaptation (see Table 1). Similar sessions were held to reflect on efforts involved in developing and applying the Manila Bay Sustainable Master Plan in the Philippines and the cooperation between The Netherlands and the city of Beira in Mozambique. Within the water sector, all these sessions contributed to a growing understanding of and support for the concept of social inclusion in international water management.

Source: Water Governance International PP. 34

The Community of Practice also addressed social inclusion internationally by holding various side events during different global water conferences, like Climate Adaptation Summit 2021, the Waterproof 2021 event and the Stockholm Water Week 2023. During these events, professionals from diverse corners of the world came together to share examples of social inclusivity and to share best practices, challenges and practical tools for a more inclusive approach.

Learning and improving

Social inclusion leads to better outcomes and sustainable interventions and it cannot be achieved alone. Our aim is to enhance the integration of social inclusion in water and climate adaptation. How we strengthen these integration processes is something we must explore together. While learning and improving collectively, we discover our positions, develop new methods, test prototypes, discard old practices and step into our highest potential future.

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