A joint venture between two ministries and all Dutch water authorities called the ​Blue Deal ​is set with one clear objective: helping 20 million people in 40 catchment areas around the world gain access to clean, sufficient and safe water.

Being actively involved in the organisation of AIWW, we connected a group of enthusiastic young water professionals, the Future Water Leaders (FWL), to the owners of several Amsterdam Agreements signed in 2017. This week, Future Water Leader Bobby Leijgraaf interviews Emilie Sturm, Programme Manager of the Blue Deal Agreement.

Emilie Sturm has been involved in realising the Blue Deal collaboration for over two years. As Programme Manager she is responsible for shaping the programme by connecting all parties and aligning their interests. Bobby talks to her about the progress that has been made.

After the conclusion of the Amsterdam Agreement in 2017, marking the start of the Blue Deal, the outline for the starting phase has been defined. How do you look back on this process?

“It has really been very educational, for me personally, too. Because of the Amsterdam International Water Week (AIWW) we gained momentum. The fact that we said “Yes, we’d like to set up a programme” on stage together with all water authorities and two ministries, helped tremendously. All we had at that time was a single sheet of paper expressing the ambition of helping 20 million people get clean, sufficient & safe water, without any further details.”

“The year following we determined the programme’s outline, dealing with various interests: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs working mainly in developing countries, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management focusing on transition countries, and the water authorities with their own established foreign relationships. Bringing them together and reaching clear agreements was a major challenge. I drank lots of coffee that year – talking and listening to all different interests and trying to achieve coherence.”

“Fortunately we succeeded! Deadlines caused a continuously high pressure, but in return we’ve achieved a lot in very little time.”

Judging on the high number of partnerships, would you say the Dutch water authorities desired the Blue Deal?

“Absolutely! In 2017, two years ago, we were thrilled that a six-partner-programme would be established.  Today we’re announcing an increase to 17 partnerships in 14 countries, showing the need and enthusiasm certainly exists. Now the exciting time of carrying out our plans starts.”

Already exceeding expectations at the beginning of the first phase?

“Unbelievable. When I look back and think of that day at the AIWW two years ago, we’d never have dreamed we’d now start with so many partnerships. It’s up to all of us now to show results.”

Additionally the Blue Deal aims to create business opportunities for both Dutch and local organisations. Can you elaborate on how this is embedded in the programme?

“Honestly, this is still a bit underexposed in our programme. We started by answering “What does our local partner need?” because it’s what forms the basis of the Blue Deal: solving local problems and not working based on Dutch wants and needs. We looked into whether we can contribute to solving these local issues by focusing on aspects such as the ability to provide the needed expertise and whether involved parties would want this twelve year long commitment. Businesses are less strongly represented in our programme – this is something we’ll develop in the next couple of years. Now that the ‘What, where and with whom’ are defined, we can start looking into how the business community can contribute to this.”

The next edition of the AIWW Conference starts in a few weeks. What opportunities do you see for the Blue Deal?

“Opportunities to network with partners who can strengthen our programme. On the other hand, I hope to inspire others by showing that if you go all out, in two years you can set up a worldwide programme in 14 countries. We’ll take something home, but I hope we can bring something as well.”

What is your personal goal for the next phase of the Blue Deal?

“I hope there’ll be space and attention for inspiration and learning from each other within the partnerships. Past years we’ve been busy rigging everything up, but in the end it’s about formats, deadlines and reports. My personal goal is to focus on the local partners and give full attention to the people whom we all do it for. After all, that’s what inspires, not writing reports. In my opinion here in The Hague we sometimes forget that it’s about ​real ​people whose lives you want to improve. I hope those stories will dominate.”

The Blue Deal programme is expected to offer added value to Dutch partners by learning from foreign practices. How is knowledge sharing among all partners guaranteed?

“We have an annual network day in October. All teams will come together to share know-how and experiences in order to inspire each other. In addition, we have a monthly intervision where we sit together with the partnerships to discuss a topic in which we wish to professionalize. This way we try to learn from one another as much as possible. Furthermore, we learn from other programmes already ahead of us, for instance WaterWorx, WASH SDG and the Young Expert Programme (YEP). We meet every three months to see if we can help each other move forward.”

The Blue Deal promotes gender equal organisations, also within the Netherlands. Can you provide an explanation of how this happens?

“Water authorities in the Netherlands are certainly not at the forefront when it comes to gender equality. We ensure that the teams active within the Blue Deal are “included”. We focus less on gender and more on inclusiveness, so that for example employees of a different ethnicity are represented proportionally, or young employees get a chance to participate too. For this reason we set up a programme especially for young employees (KIWI). Basically everything to ensure that when you have a team going abroad, they’ll look for solutions from different perspectives. Moreover we ensure the ​proposals ​of all water authorities are inclusive with the local partners. In other words, the approach to solving a water problem is assessed by verifying that all target groups are reached, not only the obvious water users.”

Any additions?

“It’s good to mention climate turns out to be a very important topic within our programme, all partnerships focus on climate adaptation in one way or another. I believe climate is water and vice versa.”

About the Amsterdam Agreements and Blue Deal

In 2017 the Amsterdam International Water Week Conference launched the ‘Amsterdam Agreements’. The Agreements express the intentions of leading companies, institutes and authorities in the water sector to jointly collaborate on a wide range of challenging issues in the global water agenda. Blue Deal is one of them. Besides Blue Deal, during the AIWW Conference (4-5 November) other involved parties in Amsterdam Agreements will update on the progress made since 2017. Also, conference participants are welcome to submit their initiatives and coalitions as new 2019 Amsterdam Agreements. The new Agreements will be presented at the Plenary Closing of the conference.