Cross-sectoral Partnership for Danube Wetlands | WWF
Cross-sectoral Partnership for Danube Wetlands

Posted on 08 September 2020

Learning from the Living Danube Partnership: “1 + 1 + 1 = 5 …or maybe even 9”
In 2014, WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE), the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and The Coca-Cola Company and Foundation created the Living Danube Partnership to promote river and wetland restoration across the Danube River Basin. On the occasion of the virtual Stockholm World Water Week@Home, Andreas Beckmann, Regional CEO of WWF-CEE, sat down with representatives of the three partners to discuss some of their lessons learned from the unique cross-sectoral partnership: Therese Noorlander, Sustainability Director Europe for The Coca-Cola Company; Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov, Technical Expert for Public Participation & Communication at the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR); and Laurice Ereifej, Regional Freshwater Lead at WW-CEE.
Andreas Beckmann: The Living Danube Partnership is rather unique in bringing together the private, public and non-profit sectors for river and wetland restoration. What has motivated each of your organisations to participate?
Therese Noorlander (Coca-Cola): I guess it's important to say first that water is our primary ingredient -- we make all kinds of beverages and drinks that people like. And water needs to be in there. That means that our responsibility in connection with water does not stop at the borders of our production plants. And so we feel a huge responsibility to really take care of the water we use from nature, from communities and from shared sources.
So in 2010 we launched our water strategy, which included water stewardship, including a clear ambition to replenish all the water that we use. So for every drop we take, we give one back. And that has really been the impetus behind us getting involved with great partners like WWF to see what we can do and how we could collaborate to help bring back water in nature and to make sure we help strike the right balance for nature and for the people in surrounding communities.
Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov (ICPDR): For the ICPDR and its members, the most interesting part has been the “partnership” itself. The Living Danube Partnership makes a substantial contribution to the programme of measures within the Danube River Basin Management Plan that our members have committed themselves to implementing. There, wetland conservation and restoration is one priority. But the partnership also contributes to our efforts to reach out to and engage citizens and stakeholders across the Danube Basin.
As an institution, we really take pride in taking stakeholder engagement very seriously. Good basin management requires engagement at different levels, because it only happens if everyone participates successfully. For this reason, the “partnership” element is very valuable, harnessing the different strengths of the public, private and non-profit sectors to restore wetlands and implement the EU Water Framework Directive.
Laurice Ereifej (WWF-CEE): I have a long list of reasons why we are involved! Especially worth mentioning is the financial support for real conservation. Coca-Cola has been willing to finance important work, including analysis of restoration potential for whole river sections, for which financing is otherwise difficult to find. We have also been able to use the financial support to co-finance EU-funded restoration projects – to leverage support from European Union programmes for bigger impact. Directly and indirectly, we have managed to leverage some €3.8 million in project support from The Coca-Cola Foundation into nearly €20 million for river and wetland restoration across the Danube Basin. As one of the best communication and marketing organisations in the world, Coca-Cola also has excellent capabilities and expertise that it has contributed to this partnership. The ICPDR provides the political framework for our work, both at the international level but also, via its member governments, within the Danube countries where we operate.
Andreas Beckmann: How hard was it initially to convince stakeholders and donors of the importance of nature-based solutions for trans-boundary work?
Laurice Ereifej (WWF-CEE): Stakeholders are a very important part of the whole story. Even if it is technically feasible to restore an area, because of the hydrological and political-administrative conditions, local stakeholders still need to be motivated and persuaded to support the undertaking. We can’t take just a pure biodiversity approach to restoration. We really need to think from the stakeholder perspective, why restoration may be important for them. How can they benefit, e.g. through enhanced fishing or recreation, new business opportunities, or minimising risks of drought or flooding? This will influence the technical design of the restoration project.
Andreas Beckmann: Therese, how does Coca-Cola promote this approach and the results of this partnership to other corporations?
Therese Noorlander (Coca-Cola): We talk about it both internally, of course, to our own employees, but also externally to specific partners in industry, say through business associations. Water stewardship is one area where not only Coca-Cola but also other partners in industry are interested, and where the Living Danube Partnership can provide an example and inspiration.
The work of the Living Danube Partnership really shows that there is not a quick fix. Wetland restoration and other forms of water stewardship is not something you can do within a year. Most of the work is really rooted in longer-term partnerships and support. So this is something that we bring across in our conversations to make sure that other partners in industry look at this from a longer-term perspective so that they can give the right support in those locations where it's needed.
Also worth mentioning is our leadership of a coalition of corporations that last year joined WWF and others in support of the Water Framework Directive, the EU’s landmark legislation on freshwater that is fundamentally important to preserving and restoring rivers and wetlands.  
Andreas Beckmann: Finally, I would like to ask each of you if you could share briefly your top lessons learned or your top recommendations for others.
Therese Noorlander (Coca-Cola): I think one of the most important things is to make the work relevant for the audience that you're talking to – to really understand what's in it for them, what gets them excited about water and biodiversity and the work that you're doing. Make it relevant and engaging. Let people experience it, in any way possible -- physically and with all the fantastic digital tools that we have nowadays.
Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov (ICPDR): From the perspective of the ICPDR, my recommendation is to invest in and value partnerships of this sort. The benefits of this partnership have been tremendous. For the ICPDR, it's important to spell Stakeholder with a capital “S,” to put extra effort in this area.
Laurice Ereifej (WWF-CEE): My key lesson learned is also the power of a cross-sectoral partnership like this one that brings together the very different and complementary expertise, experience, tools and opportunities of each of the partners. We really have achieved much more together than working in parallel but separately. I also think that we need to have the courage and the openness to learn and to listen to others – something that nowadays we often don’t really do, but should, as we can pull so much out of it.
Andreas Beckmann: If I can add to what the three of you have said: for me, if there's one lesson learned coming towards the end of this seven-year partnership, it is that if we were more conscious and systematic in designing and implementing this partnership, we could achieve even more -- because it's only towards the end that we've really started pulling out the synergies between us as partners, and I think there's a lot more potential there. 1 + 1 + 1 could equal not only 5, but even 7 or 9… That underlines the fact that, in order to do that, true partnership is needed. The partners need to know and trust each other -- and that takes time to develop. It does not happen automatically or overnight. If there is one thing that the Living Danube Partnership has shown, it is the power -- and the potential -- of partnership.

The Danube River Basin is Europe’s second largest river basin and the most international river basin in the world. On its 2,800 km journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the river passes through 10 countries and drains all or part of 19 countries. Although water quality has improved in recent years, over 80% of the floodplains along the Danube and its main tributaries have been lost -- and with them significant populations of fish and other valuable ecosystem goods and services. While Danube countries have made strong commitments to conserving and restoring freshwater habitats and ecosystems, achieving this in practice has proven to be challenging, requiring overcoming technical challenges as well as painstaking alignment of local landowners and interests. That is where the Living Danube Partnership comes in: the cross-sectoral partnership between WWF Central & Eastern Europe, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River and The Coca-Cola Company and Foundation, is focused on restoring and promoting rivers and wetlands across the Danube basin. To date, the Partnership has undertaken wetland restoration in nine projects over nearly 6,000 hectares in six countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Serbia. The restoration projects vary from improving the water level of the unique soda lakes at Neusiedler See in Austria to reconnecting river side arms in Croatia or breaching dikes and restoring supply channels to reconnect former flooplains at Garla Mare and Vrata in Romania. The Living Danube Partnership is also promoting a movement for wetland conservation and restoration in the Danube basin, that to date has reached more than 56 million people and engaged over 86,000 people in awareness about freshwater and wetlands and their importance.

For more information:
Therese Noorlander is Sustainability Director Europe for The Coca-Cola Company
Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov is Technical Expert for Public Participation & Communication at the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR)
Laurice Ereifej is regional lead for freshwater for WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE)
The conversation took place as part of Stockholm World Water Week @ Home.
To see a video of the session, go here. Passcode: bU.^+3SG
To see the FY2020 report of results of the Living Danube Partnership, please see here.
If there is one thing that the Living Danube Partnership has shown, it is the power -- and the potential -- of partnership.
© Andreas Beckmann
The aim of the Living Danube Project is to increase the Danube's capacity by 12 million m³ by the end of 2020.
© WWF-CEE/Coca-Cola Foundation