Leading for Leaving No One Behind at World Water Week 2021

Side view of slums alongside a waterway

Rethinking the paradigms of inclusive and resilient societies through transformative leadership in the age of global crises

By Thuli Montana, SIWI World Water Week young rapporteur


Day one of World Water Week has already provided a range of issues to interpret in practical actions for improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and water resource management (WRM).

Building resilient and fair societies is listed as one of the core challenges for the conference. Part of what this challenge seeks to address is inclusion and equality for the most vulnerable through engagement in decision-making processes on water access, management and governance.

Covid-19 exposed the structural inequalities in our societies, especially inequalities in healthcare, education, technology and economic well-being. This speaks to the fact that people are being left behind in pursuit of global development ambitions and moments of crisis. While there has been an increased uptake of resilience discourse in global water policy, it remains complex to implement. In the face of uncertainty and growing global crises, resilience building should be viewed as a journey that world leaders build towards attaining, rather than an ultimate destination. 

Transformative leadership is required for rethinking the paradigms of inclusion in a world filled with crises. In a session called, Leading for leaving no one behind transformative leadership was unpacked as a style that prioritizes inclusion in ways that challenge norms and systems that perpetuate inequalities. Additionally, it was emphasised that it is best operationalised through partnerships, the alignment of values like diversity and social justice, as well as the capacity for self-reflection among global leaders with genuine power. 

In the aim of drawing parallels between building inclusive resilient societies and transformative leadership, I reflect on practical actions that were shared in the sessions on Leading for leaving no one behind. In these sessions, a transformative leadership agenda includes:

  1. Promoting diversity in decision-making: Challenging inequalities embedded in systems, norms and structures. It means empowering the marginalized and vulnerable (typically women and young people) to contribute to these processes. Leaving no one behind is easy to say but hard to do. Systems change and the constant interrogation of institutional structures is fundamental for the realization of inclusive decision-making. 

  2. Partnerships as new leadership: Partnerships between women and youth, NGOs, governments, business, academia and more are central to driving the agenda for inclusion and transformative leadership. Collaboration is key for shared learning, developing accountability in systems and gaining diverse perspectives on water challenges. 

  3. Personal reflection to action: Transformative leadership requires individuals with power to step back, reflect on their values to ensure they align with inclusive and social justice perspectives and ultimately turn their critical reflections into critical actions. 

This week presents a timely opportunity to collectively analyse the impact of the Covid-19 health crises in terms of transformative leadership. Water plays an irreplaceable role in health services, national economies and environmental sustainability. We ought to value water and the role it plays in improved water security in our changing world to ensure no one is left behind. 

This summary was written by Thuli Montana on behalf of World Water Week as part of the young rapporteur programme. It was originally published on the World Water Week blog on 23 August 2021 and has been re-published with permission from the author and SIWI. 


Contact Us