Meet GWP’s new Executive Secretary: ‘The world needs us’

During his first month, GWP’s newly appointed Executive Secretary and CEO Alan AtKisson has come to view his arrival at GWP through the metaphor of moving into a beautiful older house. We’ve checked in with him on what he sees as the strengths of his new ‘residence’, and where he thinks some construction work is needed. 

AtKisson has shaped his entire career around a vision of sustainable development – a vision that involves working with people, planet, prosperity, participation, and partnership, the whole agenda, and how it works together as a system. 

He is thrilled to join GWP and to serve its network. The match is clear as water has always received AtKisson’s special attention: “Water is a key to the whole system, the whole dream”, he explains. 

“Water is something
we need to do a lot of specific measuring and planning around, but water itself is something you can use as a general, systemic indicator of our progress: it can tell us whether we’ve thought about everything else that we need to consider”, AtKisson says, and continues to place water within the broader climate agenda: “If we are not thinking adequately about water, we are not thinking adequately about climate change.”  

In other words, AtKisson says, “how we manage water is an indicator of how we are managing our world, generally. 

AtKisson’s list of 5 priority action areas 

AtKisson is impressed with what he calls the “grand, stately, beautiful GWP house”, and not least the people in it: the regions, the country water partnerships, the partners – the thousands of people carrying out GWP’s work. 

A bit of renovation and a bit of rebuilding is needed for the organisation to function to its best potential, AtKisson believes, “maybe even a new wing with some modern architecture
.But also retaining what is really unique and extraordinary, such as the intergovernmental status: 

“The intergovernmental system needs that bridge that GWP provides between the policy world and the
big ideas of what we should do about water. It needs the actual doing of that work and turning it into local policies, IWRM plans, gender mainstreaming, and very local programmes to ensure that we are achieving the water security vision.

Some of the renewals
needed come in the form of five priority action areas that will guide AtKisson throughout the first six months to a year of his tenure: 
People, Money, Ideas, Governance, and Communication. 

☑️ People: “I am focusing on getting all of us working together to build a sense of stability, trust, a healthy and happy work environment. Internally, it’s about developing our organisational culture. There’s an old saying, we are each other’s work environment. Externally, People is about engagement, and I am talking to many people, both inside and outside GWP, to strengthen their sense of GWP as an exciting organisation, one that is worth investing in.” 

☑️ Money: “We have an extremely tight budget, and it’s going to be tight for a long while. We will have to live frugally and creatively this year, while we also strengthen relationships with our existing donors and seek new strategies for financing our work.

☑️ Ideas: “GWP was built on the strength of a single, powerful idea: Integrated Water Resources Management. And IWRM remains a great foundation. The world is far from finished with working on IWRM. But we also need to build on that foundation and engage with the changing conditions around IWRM, including a fast-changing climate, rising conflict in the world, the artificial intelligence revolution. I will aim to support our regions, our secretariat and our Technical Committee as we collectively grapple with the intellectual challenge of doing IWRM in an increasingly turbulent world.” 

☑️ Governance: “Our Steering Committee is very serious about the similarly timely challenge of updating our governance structures so that GWP – which is this unique IGO, at the hub of an enormous and dynamic network – is truly fit for purpose. The Steering Committee is making decisions at a brisk pace about reforming our governance, and they have tasked me with planning the implementation of those decisions. 

☑️ Communication: “We have so many wonderful stories to tell about the impact of GWP’s work, which is almost always work that we do with others. We are global, and we are all about water, but we are most importantly about partnership. We need to use our fantastic stories of change and development to forge new partnerships – partnerships for learning, for funding, for action on the ground. I’m talking with our communications team and they have lots of ideas about how we can make an even bigger splash. We need to do that, to spread positive stories about GWP, because that helps make everything else that we want to do possible. We need to establish a narrative of dynamism, forward motion and results.” 

AtKisson’s vision for GWP and message to its network 

When asked about the future, AtKission uses a metaphor again: “My goal is for GWP to be more and more like water itself: essential, attractive, always in motion, making ripples that grow to waves of change. I would even add the word glittering. 

Message to all the Partners in the Global Water Partnership FamilyWe are very global, we are all about water, but we are principally about partnership – because that’s how things get done. We need you, we need your engagement, we need your stories, we need your enthusiasm, we need your professionalism. We need everybody focused on how we can make the work of the GWP – its mission, a water-secure world – front and centre in the process of achieving the sustainable development vision that the world now shares.“ 

final remark
: “When it comes to the future of GWP, I am very optimistic. This is a world that needs us, and it’s beginning to understand how much it needs us. Yes, we have challenges in this world. Water is often the first thing people fight about, and also sometimes the last thing people can collaborate on. So the essential role we play at the heart of the sustainable development challenge is something we need to respond to with great professionalism and dedication.”