Culture as critical success factor for international collaboration

On April 15, Esther Janssen conducted the training Working with Other Cultures, as part of the Blue Deal learning programme. 11 participants from various Dutch water authorities took part in the training. Janssen remarked: "Culture is a critical success factor for collaboration."

A group of Dutch and Kenyan colleagues on a field trip, one of the many examples of intercultural collaboration in the Blue Deal partnerships

Janssen, owner of Culture-Inc., shares her experience from a work trip to Ethiopia last year. At the beginning of the trip, Ethiopian and Dutch colleagues made agreements regarding their collaboration. “Openness in communication is key,” they concluded. “But what does that mean exactly?” Janssen asked. “Does it mean I can say whatever I want?” The Ethiopians looked surprised, replying: “No, of course not!” This is just one example of how communication styles or meanings can differ among people.

Understanding cultural differences

This is why it’s crucial for colleagues in the Blue Deal partnerships to have insight into cultural differences for effective collaboration. Hence, it’s mandatory for all Dutch experts traveling abroad for work to undergo the Working with Other Cultures training. Many partnerships also organise similar activities with their entire team in the country where they operate.

Impact of one’s behaviour on others

What do the experts themselves want to learn during this training? One participant asks: “What should I absolutely avoid doing? Where do I cross the line? And why do I sometimes get no response at all when I ask a question during a presentation?” She recounts a workshop she conducted in Ethiopia where she received no response to questions posed to the group as a whole, whereas in the Netherlands she would have. “It’s like there’s an invisible barrier that I don’t see, but they do.” Other participants in the group also want to be more aware of the impact of their own (Dutch) behaviour.

What is culture?

Janssen first explains what culture actually entails. “Think of it as a computer’s default settings. It’s the habits, manners, and norms instilled since childhood. Within that group, everyone understands what you mean.” She continues: “Culture is essentially solidified history. To understand a group’s culture, you have to look at everything that came before it: the history, geography, defining moments.”

Different types of cultures

She also explains the different types of cultures into which countries can be categorised. For instance, the Netherlands belongs to the group of linear-active cultures. These cultures are characterised by direct communication style, trust in institutions, and little importance placed on hierarchy. In multi-active cultures, people often have a very active and emotional communication style, and status is based on charisma and connections. In reactive cultures, people often express themselves less, avoiding loss of face is crucial, and connections are incredibly important. Most Blue Deal countries fall under multi-active or reactive cultures.

Avoiding offenses

And this, in turn, affects how you communicate, collaborate, what’s respectful, or what isn’t. While a Dutch person might feel offended if the other party doesn’t make eye contact during a conversation, in another culture, it might be considered respectful. And who do you greet first? In many countries, it might be considered respectful to greet the eldest or the leader first. How do you greet that person anyway? And what questions do you ask or avoid? Numerous examples of (minor) cultural differences that are still significant in collaboration.

Don’t be too direct

What does this mean concretely? How do you deal with this? Janssen explains how important it is to give feedback in the right way. Dutch people can often be very direct, sometimes too direct. “Always start by mentioning the positive. And frame the aspects that are not going well differently. For example, as: what points do we still want to achieve or where do we see possibilities for further improvements.” Often, it helps if the partnership involves someone who can act as an intermediary. Someone who has grown up in the local culture but is also accustomed to working with Dutch people, so that this person can prevent any miscommunication.

Cultural buttons

“How far should you go in adapting to the other culture?” one of the participants asks. Because completely pretending to be someone else is obviously not the goal. Janssen responds: “And that wouldn’t be possible anyway. You can’t suddenly become entirely Chinese as a Dutch person, nor should you. But you can see what works. Which cultural buttons can you press to collaborate as effectively as possible?”

Join a training

Are you an expert from Dutch Water Authorities and would you like to participate in this or another training from the Blue Deal learning programme? Please contact the partnership manager of your partnership or send an email to These are the upcoming trainings:

  • May 16: Introduction into the Blue Deal, in Amersfoort
  • June 24: Working with Other Cultures, in Amersfoort

Team Tackling Drought Romania visits North of the Netherlands

In the first week of April, the Blue Deal Project team Tackling Drought Romania was welcomed at the Dutch water authority Noorderzijlvest by Roeland van der Schaaf, Chairman of the Board. They toured the North of the Netherlands to visit several projects with different tactics for tackling drought.

On the first day, the activities of Noorderzijlvest were presented in a short movie. After that, presentations followed about the Blue Deal project in Peru, the meeting in Bucharest of the bilateral panel, the activities of the Romanian partner Jiu Water Basin Administration, and the monitoring system used by Noorderzijlvest.

Michelle Talsma presented the STOWA project about combating drought in the Netherlands. She explained about the use of ESA satellite information about soil moisture, the Dutch Hydrological Instrument (NHI), measures such as Improvement of soil structure, Flexible water level management, Reduction of drainage, Fill in ditches, and the Use of climate resilient crops.

Agricultural Research Centre

In the afternoon, we visited the Agricultural Research Centre SPNA in Munnikezijl. SPNA is an independent research institute driven by farmers. Director Henk Westerhof explained that experiments related to organic agriculture (approximately 49 ha) and conventional agriculture (80 ha) are carried out here.

Organic farming uses crop rotation, cover crops, no-till farming (not disturbing the soil), no chemical fertilisers or other chemicals. The idea is not to feed the crop but to feed the soil. The amount of organic material in the soil will grow, which causes less pollution, a more hydrated soil, and less problems with dehydration of the soil. This can create a situation with 200% more biodiversity and a 90% reduction of the input in the agricultural system. On the question what is needed to introduce innovative crops, Henk’s answer was that it is all about marketing.

Lauwersmeer dike enforcement project

The day ended with a field trip and a presentation about stakeholders management during the implementation of the project to strengthen the Lauwersmeer dam. The project consists of the strengthening and raising of the dike for the defence of local communities with a length of 9.2 km. In the future, seawater will be let into the lake to restore the natural habitat. Therefore, it is an integrated approach for water safety and biodiversity. The project centre was visited, a centre where all types of meetings related to this work are organised.

Silvia Mosterd (from Noorderzijlvest) stressed that the Lauwersmeer project started with spending time for getting to know all the stakeholders, including the farmers who depend on fresh water. The salinity of the water will be measured in the future to determine the saline zone and the fresh water zone in the lake.

Wadden Centre

The following morning, we toured the Wadden Centre, a facility dedicated to the restoration of the Afsluitdijk. This dike serves as a barrier separating a lake for the accumulation of fresh water, which supplies the drinking water system to, for example, the capital city of Amsterdam, from the North Sea. In the future, fish will be able to migrate from the sea to the freshwater reservoir.

Fresh Future Texel

On the island of Texel, ACACIA Water (Tine te Winkel) and representatives of the Dutch water authority Hollands Noorderkwartier (Klaas Sjouke de Boer and Arnold Longeveld) explained about the project Fresh Future. This project aims to treat fresh water and store water in 2 underground layers. It was mentioned that during the rainy season normally the surface water is pumped into the North Sea. Now this water is partly stored in the soil and can be used in the dry season for agriculture.

The monitoring plan for this project and the operating principle of the water treatment facility for agricultural irrigation were presented. The presented project was promoted by the farmers of Texel. In the rainy season approximately 44 million cubic meters of fresh water are pumped into the North Sea. In the dry season there are no fresh water resources on the island of Texel. This is why several options/solutions for water supply for agriculture have been analysed for farmers, such as building a polder, building a pipeline to connect the island to the mainland, or naval transport.

Farmers on the island of Texel have crops of seed potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, flower bulbs, wheat, and more. The soil has a good quality for all types of plants, but the water is not enough during the growing season for all species. The seed potato production is generally intended for export (Israel, Africa, Eastern Europe, Mediterranean countries, etc.).

The Dutch colleagues described the way the farmers are organised on Texel, the pilot projects implemented by them, the way of co-financing the projects, the cooperation of the factories interested in the problem of water management in areas affected by drought, the collaboration of farmers from the continental area with those from the island areas. It has been mentioned that without water no organism can develop in an ecosystem and without water, life will disappear.

Several workshop activities

On Thursday, workshop activities took place in the Ecomare complex on Texel. Discussions were opened related to the groundwater monitoring plan in the pilot area, the water balance and the Stakeholder CANVAS strategy. Action points were formulated to keep the project on track. On Friday, the Romanian delegation went home again.

Blue Deal Wastewater training in Ethiopia

In March, the Blue Deal Wastewater team visited Hawassa, Ethiopia, to provide 2 different trainings for our partners - the water utilities of Hawassa, Shashemene and Adama. It was an energetic week in which a lot has been discussed and a lot has been learned. From each utility, around 8 to 10 people were present. They were divided over the trainings according to their profession.

Asset Management and Shit Flow Diagram

The staff working on data and information management dived into 2 topics: Asset Management and Shit Flow Diagram. Richard Oudhuis, Maarten Strasters and Thijs van Osch provided a training focussed on how to work with software related to these topics.

To create a Shit Flow Diagram, using the SuSanA tool, creates insights on wastewater streams. Unsafe discharge can be better seen, and it is a handy tool to see how the wastewater streams flow. This then shows where the main areas of attention and improvement regarding unsafe wastewater discharge are.

For asset management, it was stressed how important it is to know your assets – because when you know what you have, you know what to work on! Using the M-water tool, it becomes easier to build an asset register, and keeping it up to date. On the last day of the training, the trainees went out to bring theory into practice and actually map some of their assets.

The overarching topic of improving data and information management is an important aspect of the Blue Deal Wastewater in Ethiopia, which comes back in multiple aspects. Following up on previous trainings, one trainee elaborated: “It is great to have a training on this topic from time to time, so I can ask questions which pop-up during work.” Having a long-term partnership like the Blue Deal, really shows it benefits.

Operating Vacuum Trucks

For the vacuum truck operators, Volkert van der Keelen and Deler Abdulkarim shared their knowledge on the use of these trucks. There were many questions among the operators and drivers which could be discussed. It once again became clear that the Ethiopian colleagues are operating in a difficult context, in which they try their best to keep the streets clean of wastewater.

The utilities obtained the trucks they were using from a donor. However, they had never been trained properly. They were only instructed by going through the manual together with the trainers in a room. What made this training different is that it was an on-the-job training, where they could ask questions and try out things on the truck. The training focussed on the importance of:

  • Properly preparing the truck for operation
  • Safety while operating, for yourself, others, and the environment
  • Safely discharging the full tanks
  • Cleaning and maintenance of the trucks

One of the trainees said: “The training was really interactive and based on our needs. Besides, we not only learned from the trainers but also from each other and the other utilities.”

One noteworthy addition was having Yoseph Cherinet around. He translated the training on truck operation, and assisted in facilitating. This made the training even more effective.

Now, it is up to the utilities to incorporate the knowledge learned during the training!

Work visit Viet Nam: possible expansion of Blue Dragon programme

In March, several Dutch experts from various water authorities once again visited Viet Nam for the Blue Dragon programme, as the Blue Deal partnership is known. An update on what they've been up to there.

GIS training

From March 11th to 13th, the first GIS training took place, which was a great success. Over 60 participants from all 12 provinces in the Mekong Delta attended. Hannes Versteegh led this training in collaboration with Can Tho University. The training will continue in May. The training is a project that was set up by the KIWI programme, the Dutch learning programme in which Versteegh is one of the participants.

Pilot nature-based solutions for dike reinforcement

Next, we visited a potential pilot project for dike reinforcement using nature-based solutions for a section of the dike heavily affected by river erosion. The dike is located in one of our partner provinces, Kien Giang. This province is also keen to take on this pilot. Currently, residents are using more or less makeshift constructions to prevent river erosion. We have been looking into local natural materials and vegetation to apply, as well as the possibility of involving the local population. For example, we are looking into using grasses or water hyacinth woven into mats to reinforce the riverbank. We then discussed with the province and Royal HaskoningDHV how we will jointly implement this pilot.

Final week of Asset Management, Maintenance & Operations training

From March 18 to 21, the final week of Asset Management, Maintenance & Operations training began with Robin de Bekker (from the Dutch water authority Drents Overijsselse Delta) and Marcel van Zutphen (from the Dutch water authority Vechtstromen). In addition to 20 participants from our 3 partner provinces, there were also 4 Dutch students attending who are currently undergoing a six-month internship at Can Tho University as part of their Water Management studies. On March 20, they visited a high-water protection sluice.

Further expansion of the partnership

During the same week, Birgitte de Kraker (from Dutch water authority De Dommel) and Tjeerd Dijkstra (from the Dutch water authority Vechtstromen) visited 3 new provinces to further expand the Blue Dragon Programme in the Mekong Delta. They also had discussions with current partners. The new provinces, An Giang, Vinh Long, and Soc Trang, are all enthusiastic about joining the Blue Dragon Programme. They have started the process of obtaining approval from the provincial People Committees.

Blue Deal Regional Meeting Africa

From 7 to 10 July, a Regional Meeting will take place in Kenya, gathering Blue Deal partnerships from 7 countries. This event serves as a follow-up to the Blue Deal Congress held in Amsterdam in June 2023.

A workshop during the Blue Deal Congress, where the idea for the regional meeting originated

Topics in Amsterdam were, among others, water pricing and nature-based solutions. During the meetings in this congress week, mutual exchange proved promising on a number of water themes. One thing in particular was shared among the participants: to further deepen these initial contacts, and to share and learn from each other’s experiences. The result is the Blue Deal Regional Meeting in Kenya.

Countries and themes

Kenya, Ghana, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Eswatini have indicated that they will participate in July 2024 in this Regional Blue Deal Meeting. Blue Deal Kenya is gracious enough to host the event in Mombasa. The following 3 issues will be part of the exchange:

  1. Water pricing
  2. Funding for water projects
  3. Funding and governance for nature-based solutions

Advantages of exchange

The partnerships participating in the event foresee many advantages of the exchange:

  • Facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practices at the international level;
  • Discuss challenges of water management through intervision;
  • Explore the advantages of international cooperation;
  • Deepen and share insights on elevating the importance of water on the political agenda;
  • Strengthen the consortia of Blue Deal/Waterworx (a similar programme to the Blue Deal, initiated by the Dutch drinking water companies) and National Entities.

The regional meeting in Africa can also provide valuable input for the broader Blue Deal programme’s learning activities, such as the Communities of Practice.

The Water Governance Ladder: assessing progress of water governance in the Blue Deal

In Phase 2 of the Blue Deal, we've initiated a new method to gauge progress in water governance: the Water Governance Ladder. It involves self-assessment by the partnerships, allowing us to identify areas of advancement and where improvements are needed.

This new method is grounded in the OECD Principles of Water Governance. It provides insights into areas requiring improvement in water governance and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). Simultaneously, it serves as a tool for partnerships to engage in discussions about existing challenges and to highlight areas of success. “An overview-generating tool,” as described by one of our partnership managers. It has also sparked meaningful discussions and insights at the partnership level.


Upon reviewing the outcomes of this initial self-assessment at the complete Blue Deal programme level, we observe the following strengths:

  • Engaging stakeholders;
  • Task allocation, and clear roles and responsibilities.

Areas for Improvement

On average, Blue Deal partnerships perform least effectively in the following 3 areas:

  • Managing trade-offs (determining priorities for funding and decision-making processes);
  • Financing water;
  • Maintenance and management.

This knowledge provides valuable input for our learning program and program-level strategy.

World Water Day: 6th anniversary of Blue Deal

On March 22 it is World Water Day. This is always an extra special day for the Blue Deal. Today, we celebrate our anniversary! Because it all began on March 22, 2018.

People in Kenia 2022

And how far we have come, and at the same time: how much more we aim for! In our Phase 1 Report, we have summarised what we have achieved, what didn’t go so well, and where we can achieve even more success.

What was Phase 1?

In 2018 the official documents for the Blue Deal were signed and we started working on forming the partnerships. In 2019, the partnerships really started their work. Phase 1 is the period of 2019-2022.

What can we conclude from Phase 1?

  • The first success was evident from the size of our programme. We were supposed to start with 6 partnerships. Now we have 17!
  • The pandemic led to setbacks and delays. But it also brought some benefits. We became better at hybrid working, and the focus shifted away from mainly work visits. We also realised the importance of individuals being ‘on the ground’. Therefore, we have further invested in local capacity.
  • Our learning programme has been professionalised with, among other things, 6 Communities of Practice and regional meetings between partner countries. And, a Blue Deal YEP batch started in 2022, which allowed our partnerships to both accelerate their work as well as accelerate learning from each other.


Overall, we conclude that we have made significant progress, particularly in the area of knowledge exchange on specific water topics. Examples include trainings on wastewater treatment, working together on Water Allocation Plans, and setting up participative monitoring of water quality.

We have also worked on strengthening water institutions, for example in the area of water pricing, or in specifying roles and responsibilities within water authorities. In this area, we see progress, but naturally, these are slow processes. This is why it is so important that the Blue Deal is there for the long run. In terms of relational management, such as actively involving stakeholders, this is something that happens more and more in the areas where the Blue Deal works.

Onwards to clean, safe, and sufficient water for 20 million people around the world by 2030!

Social inclusion included in Blue Deal

The kick-off of the Blue Deal Community of Practice (CoP) Social Inclusion & Stakeholder Management took place on February 8. Online of course, so that colleagues from all partnerships worldwide could participate.

4 women are posing for the camera, 1 is carrying a basket full of plants on her head.

Social inclusion and climate adaptation are the 2 crosscutting themes for the Blue Deal. This means every partnership should include these topics in their annual plans. Social inclusion is also an important part of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which the Blue Deal contributes. With funding from the NWB Fund, a Focal Point for Social Inclusion for the Blue Deal is installed, together with a Leading Group, to help partnerships take social inclusion to a new level. The Focal Point and Leading Group are meant to take the topic social inclusion even further within the framework of the Blue Deal. One of their tasks will be to help the members of the CoP to learn more about social inclusion.

Catalyst for positive change

The session was presented by the chairs of the CoP: Tanah Meijers and Harmke Berghuis. During the session, there was an emphasis on social inclusion as a catalyst for positive change in addressing water related challenges. Action is needed to make use of the impact and power of diverse perspectives in problem solving.

What is social inclusion?

Social inclusion is a broad and contextual topic, for which many definitions are used. For the Blue Deal we look at it like this: Each individual has the ability, resources and opportunity to participate and influence. However, we should not dwell too much on semantics and definitions: this can paralyse efforts for positive impact in our partnerships. However, it makes to still have questions about what social inclusion is really about. The Focal Point (Tanah Meijers) and Leading Group are happy to think along and share thoughts with you.

Why is social inclusion important for water authorities?

Traditionally, within the water authorities, challenges in our field are often approached from a technical and practical standpoint. Water experts seek solutions, preferably as concrete as possible. However, we operate within a context that is highly complex. Focusing only on the technical solutions, can actually cause unanticipated impacts that can even disrupt the livelihoods of marginalised communities. When we look at the social ecosystem of which our projects are part, everyone has a piece of the puzzle that can solve the issues we are dealing with.

Chances and challenges

One of the participants mentioned the challenge that the communities they work with are often mainly concerned with their daily survival, instead of discussions about whether everyone is involved. While this can be a challenge, it can also be an opportunity. Because social inclusion is not so much about the discussion, but rather about the solution that works best for these communities. Other participants also mentioned challenges they faced. And that is exactly the reason for the CoP, the Focal Point and the Leading Group. Together we can identify these challenges and see how we can deal with them to increase the impact of our programme.

Of course there were also some inspiring examples of attempts to take steps in the field of social inclusion and socially inclusive stakeholder management. See some examples in this article.

Want to join?

This year, there will be 3 more CoP’s on social inclusion. The next will be on April 2, 14:00 – 15:30 CET via Teams. Want to join? Send an email to

Investment mobilisation in the Kenyan water sector: the Njururi fund

That a lot of extra investment is necessary to achieve SDG6 is an understatement. According to the World Bank, an additional 116 billion USD is needed annually for constructing new infrastructure to achieve SDG6 by 2030. Kenya needs an additional 4 billion USD to achieve clean water and sanitation for all Kenyans. So, in 2024, investment mobilisation is one of the primary areas of focus for the Blue Deal team in Kenya.

One of the relevant areas for the Blue Deal partnership is the Thika river basin. It is one of the main sources of water for Nairobi, Kenya’s fast-growing capital, and water quality and quantity has deteriorated over the past decades. Relevant authorities and communities often lack funds, capacity, and stakeholder input to address these issues. There is a need for unprecedented collaboration.

Bring Njururi back

An example of this collaboration happened in April 2023. World Waternet in partnership with Embassy of the Earth, facilitated the Thika River Basin Ecosystem Future Design Basecamp. This was funded by the NWB Fund and through existing Blue Deal and WaterWorX partnerships, which set the stage for a revolutionary approach to ecosystem restoration and water management in Kenya. Participants, including representatives from the public and private sectors, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, and the Water Resources Authority, as well as local communities, shared their ideas on the future of the basin and developed action plans aiming to achieve their most desirable future in 2033. The mission: to bring the Njururi (a water beetle) back to the river.

Participants now decided on the development of a so-called matrix organisation, designed to foster open communication, interdisciplinary collaboration, and a dynamic, open-system approach. The “Matrix Organisation” will be able to implement the initial action plans and to actively adapt to future changes in the turbulent environment they operate in. The design principle is: “Put responsibility for control and coordination at the level where the work is done.”

Njururi Fund

At its heart is the creation of the Njururi Fund, a novel funding mechanism to support seed initiatives focused on revitalising the basin’s ecosystems. This approach involves key actors, private, public and government, contributing seed money – 60% from standing organisations and 40% from external funders. With continued support of the NWB Fund, this Njururi Fund will enter its first stage operationalising the Matrix Organisation through collectively financing and implementing the first 5 seed initiatives. These are implemented by each of the 5 taskforces around water quality and quantity, biodiversity, conservation, recreation, and policy.

Much work lies ahead, and these initiatives alone will not be capable of covering the whole finance gap in the Kenyan water sector. But exploring the potential of this novel approach and engaging with such a wide variety of stakeholders and mobilising new investments in the process, might inspire those working on SDG6, not only in Kenya, but all over the world.

Article written by Jakob Ollivier de Leth (World Waternet).

First work visit of 2024 to Peru

In January, a Dutch team from Dutch Water Authorities visited the Blue Deal partnership in Peru. 3 main themes were the core of this first work visit of the year: climate adaptation, wastewater management, and data for water availability.

Climate adaptation

The Blue Deal Peru team from the 2 Dutch water authorities Wetterskip Fryslân and Noorderzijlvest visited the Casitas Bocapán creek in Tumbes and the proposed areas for a reforestation project. This is an initiative of the Regional government and the technical team of the Tumbes Water Council-ANA. We are looking forward to share expertise on the resilience and water components of the project.

In Piura, the mayor of Lagunas, one of the districts in Ayabaca province and initiator of the feasibility study for carbon credits project, and other involved stakeholders, renewed their commitments to work together this year under the support from the Chira-Piura Water Council. This feasibility study is financed by the NWB Fund.

Wastewater management

In both regions, Piura and Tumbes, we visited different wastewater treatment plants to see how wastewater techniques can be improved and to assess options for water reuse. In Piura, during the visit to the San Martin wastewater treatment plant and under the coordination of the Chira-Piura water council, we held a workshop to gather information from operators and managers about relevant themes for a tailor-made training to be executed this year.

Data for water availability

The Blue Deal Peru team from the 2 Dutch water authorities Hunze en Aa’s and Rivierenland, with the support of Deltares and our Young Experts from Piura and Tumbes, gave a training on the hydrological model W-flow. The training’s objective was to support local capacity generating data for water availability, and enhance interaction amongst organisations responsible for water management in the regions. The training was organised by the technical teams of the water councils of Tumbes and Chira-Piura. A primary exercise during the training involved modeling the Zarumilla River. Triggered by the training, the participants committed themselves to work together, sharing information in follow-up sessions and improving the model for their areas.

National and regional positioning of the partnership

Finally, the national and regional positioning of our partnership and the work with our local partners were also core activities of this first work visit. Our coordination team discussed in Lima the follow-up actions of our visit from last year with the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation and the General Manager of the National Water Authority (ANA).

We also visited the regional governors of Tumbes and Piura, explained our current projects and the potential themes for cooperation in both regions. With universities’ representatives from both regions, we discussed the next call for scholarships for young professionals. We finished this work visit presenting our project and exploring synergies for cooperation with the professionals of the ANA’s Direction of Water Resources Planning and Development.