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Taking the next steps for Nature-based Solutions

What does it take to implement and scale up Nature-based Solutions (NBS) in the global water sector?

This was the central question at the ‘Scaling & Improving Together – The next steps in Nature Based Solutions’ conference. The much-anticipated NBS professionals event was held on 22 June at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) in The Hague.

One of the frequently cited success factors was making sure implementation and scaling-up processes are inclusive and collaborative.

Enthusiastic panel discussions

“Every country has its own challenges, yet we all face similar problems. For example, too much water in one place and not enough in another. Together, we can develop solutions that benefit us all.” Said Sergio Lopez, the executive coordinator at the Argentinian Ministry of Public Works, getting to the heart of the matter. He and his fellow officials from Chili and Indonesia talked enthusiastically about their recent field trips to several Dutch NBS projects as part of a delegation from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and national governments visiting the Netherlands ahead of the event.

It was so interesting to hear the perspectives from overseas delegates. It is wonderful to see their enthusiasm, openness to learn and commitment towards implementing NBS.

Trang Vu

Ecoshape and Boskalis

Inspiring plenary presentations

The lively buzz in the room fell silent as keynote speakers Bregje van Wesenbeeck (Deltares) and Eva Pfannez (OOZE) took turns inspiring the 150 attendees with their vision on integrating NBS into spatial design. “We are in energy, infrastructure and agriculture transitions”, Bregje says, “but we’re taking on each transition individually. We need solutions that support all of these transitions together. NBS meets this ‘multifunctionality’ criterion.”

Eva emphasised the versatility of NBS by demonstrating how the Indian city of Chennai plans to face both flooding and water shortage by storing excess water in aquifers. A pilot project on a school site in the centre of Chennai provides valuable lessons learnt: “For instance, we now know that to mitigate risk, we need to incorporate the cost of client management, capacity building and awareness raising.”

Bregje supported this observation and pointed out the added significance of collaboration. “It helps to have diverse people at the table. Different people offer different perspectives and solutions. This encourages us to let go of tunnel visions.”

Valuable breakout sessions

Fortunately, the event featured plenty of diverse perspectives. The NBS professionals were given the opportunity to break out into small groups to delve deeper into the relevant themes and discuss them together. These were the key outcomes of those breakout sessions:

  • NBS are likely to be an outcome of integrated and inclusive processes during project initiation.
  • The IUCN NBS Standard can help to effectively design, implement and scale up NBS.
  • An inclusive, bottom-up approach inspires more ownership, creativity and fun.
  • Some stakeholders might seem more important than others, but in the decision-making process, you’ll need all of them.
  • When implementing NBS, nature should be able to do its work. It should be managed as little as possible.
  • Enhancing biodiversity is as important as improving the water safety for inhabitants.

Make sure all people from the designated area benefit from your solution. They’ll want to know what’s in it for them. And you should be able to answer that.

Jan Zijlstra

Speaker break-out session
Holwerd aan Zee

Informal networking

As the final speaker concluded his remarks, the power of collaboration and the value of diverse voices were enthusiastically embraced. The attendees then continued to share their insights and look for collaborative opportunities. They did this at either the informal social gatherings or at the so-called ‘country tables’, which were set up for participants interested in water sectors in specific countries.

When the time came for the participants to head home, there was a collective sense of confidence. The NBS community came together, connected and listened to each other. Now it’s up to everyone to continue doing so. With the evident determination, innovative ideas and enough people at the table, this goal certainly is attainable.


I love the fact that such a diverse group of people came together today. And I think everyone here is aware that we all need to work together.

Gregor van Essen

Managing Partner at The Water Agency

Questions about the event or about Nature-based Solutions?

Please sent an e-mail to, or reach out to Matthijs Zijlmans. 

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