Australia supports and prioritises water for development with an annual investment of roughly AU$130 million, which includes the Water for Women Fund (focusing on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and the Australian Water Partnership (focusing on Water Resource Management). However, globally, there remains an annual gap of US$140 billion when it comes to achieving SDG6.
In very real terms, that means 800 million people cannot access basic water and two billion are left without access to basic sanitation. Donor funding alone cannot bridge this gap, so Australia must look at new ways of working and approach the challenge with fresh ideas.
The ‘Innovate 4 Water’ marketplace—which took place virtually and in Brisbane on 5–7 August 2020—provided a platform in which to explore ideas centred around sustainable development, and accelerating innovation and investments at the water nexus in Australia and the Asia-Pacific. The event was attended by almost 130 people, mostly online, and was the first ‘Innovate 4 Water’ in the Asia-Pacific region following its success in Europe and Africa since 2017.
AWP, Water for Women, and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) together were one of the proud sponsors for the event, with a key objective to explore and collaborate on innovative approaches to finance for the delivery of global WRM and WASH solutions.
“It is clear we need new solutions and blended finance is an important part of the toolkit, but is still not well developed for the WASH and WRM sectors,” said Gerard Cheong, Assistant Director of the Water Section at DFAT, explaining that participation in the event will help broaden thinking and connections as they progress funding and financing options.
The event was organised by the International WaterCentre at Griffith University in partnership with Waterpreneurs through an interactive virtual conferencing and networking platform. Remote live presentations were seamlessly spliced with onsite presentations at The Precinct in Brisbane. During breaks, participants could navigate through the virtual marketplace, which showed a bird’s-eye view of the conference room, allowing them to engage in conversations with others at tables in a ‘breakout room’ environment.
The ‘marketplace’ involved global and local players from the private sector, the public sector, and civil society to shift financing towards innovative, impactful, local solutions. Originally programmed around water resource management, innovation, entrepreneurship and finance, every ‘Innovate 4 Water’ theme also included COVID-19 related discussions.
AWP Partnerships & Knowledge Manager Dr Marian Neal set the scene for the session themed ‘Exporting Australian innovation and expertise’, one of nine sessions where participants had the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to the international market.
“Australia has a very important part to play in supporting our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have a lot to offer—a depth and breadth of water innovation and expertise,” said Dr Neal.
“We don’t have all the answers and we don’t always get things right ourselves, but we are willing and able to share our lessons learned and experiences so that they can impact positively in the lives and livelihoods of our neighbours in the region.”
The AWP currently has 215 Australian Partners that it is able to draw on in this regard. These partners cover a broad range of water expertise ranging from strategic approaches to water management, to safely and sustainably managing water during COVID-19.
Water for Women’s Fund Manager Dr Alison Baker set the scene (with DFAT) for the session themed ‘from resilience to prosperity’, posing that donor programs that work with partners, such as local and international NGOs and country governments, strengthen systems and create an enabling environment to reduce risk to investors.
The Innovate 4 Water marketplace has provided an engaging and fast-paced platform for attracting the attention of international investor and market networks, which is a productive first step in helping to drive economic growth and improving access to water and WASH in the Indo-Pacific region.