Building a Shared Global Water Narrative: How Do We Get There?

August 14, 2023


Reflecting on Ways We Can Build a Shared Narrative for Storytelling on Water

About 4 billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the global population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. At Purpose, we believe in the power of stories to mobilize action consistently over time. Inspired by a cross-sector discussion we hosted for UN Water Week 2023 and renewed commitments in the Water Action Agenda, we launched a 3-part series to discuss how storytelling can supercharge action on water. In the first blog, Water: What’s Holding Us Back, we discuss how narratives, storytelling and multi-stakeholder collaboration can help address barriers to effective water action. In blog 2, Dive In! 3 Powerful Water Stories that Inspire, we look at examples of water storytelling and discuss key elements across them that effectively communicate the urgency of the water crisis.

Important to build a global water narrative and multi-stakeholder collaboration to inspire action.

In this post — the third and final in the series — we set forth a vision for water storytelling and reflect on ways stakeholders, specifically the private sector, and a wider ecosystem of partners can build a shared narrative for storytelling on water.


Our vision for water is to galvanize action around a shared narrative co-created with key stakeholders — including governments, civil society organizations, the public and the private sector — that elevates awareness of water’s strategic value for environmental, political, economic and social stability.

To build saliency of water scarcity, we believe that engagement with stakeholders can take place at different levels, through a combination of grassroots and grasstops engagements.

Our approach to engagement at all levels aims to reflect the following principles:

  • Storytelling that celebrates water’s everyday contribution and intimate connection with our lives and reflects local and global needs with messages, frames and values that resonate. Messages should celebrate water as an ever-present part of how we perceive the survival and flourishing of communities, ecosystems and the planet more broadly.
  • Storytelling that uplifts a holistic, systemic perspective and accounts for needs at the community and ecosystem levelparticularly through the lens of access. This means that we center the perspectives and experiences of groups most impacted by water crises. The relevance of this approach is particularly acute where mismanagement combined with climate change is devastating many ecosystems, undermining their ability to provide freshwater “services,” which threatens the health of human societies and natural environments. In narrative-building work, we are looking for storytelling that combines individual and systems perspectives in order to connect emotions and individual experiences to the complex systemic shifts that are needed.
  • Storytelling that is based on a common narrative can build solidarity and support accountability between stakeholders. There’s no cross-sector collaboration without cross-sector communication, so the shared language should be co-created through cross-sectoral dialogue including both existing and new or unconventional actors like faith leaders, women’s groups and content creators.

Meaningful engagement with stakeholders across generations is a necessary first step towards fully engaging young people in decision-making as well as implementation and monitoring of water projects and programs.

Engaging youth through mentorship, participatory action and training can lead to an intergenerational movement — with youth and aging populations coming together to co-create solutions.

What’s next for this vision?

There are roles that different stakeholders in the ecosystem, especially those that interact with the public, can take now in creating an environment to build saliency of the value of water among decision-makers, across sectors and within populations.

Brands and the private sector more broadly can play a unique role to drive awareness of water issues that puts pressure on decision-makers to take action on environmental issues. For example, as consumers interact with brands, they can be exposed to different ways brands and civil society can work together to cultivate nature-based solutions. Leveraging expertise from civil society and innovation from the private sector can lead to proof points that water is solvable — and help to ensure that commitments and action emerge from a shared water narrative for impact.

Building a global water narrative togetherMany companies already leverage their reach and influence to raise awareness through purpose-led brand partnerships, media campaigns and sharing information and best practices with stakeholders. How well this is done depends on the business. Some partner with champions to bring attention to the water crisis, inspire others in the general population to get involved and raise water as an issue that requires collective innovation and action (such as Bayer partnering with Australian runner Mina Guli on her campaign RunBlue). Businesses increasingly have an opportunity to show how water use is connected to sustainable sourcing (How Change Looks).

A wider ecosystem of stakeholders (e.g., including civil society and the public) can contribute stories that share an overarching narrative — and ensure that the narrative is connected to lived experiences. To create this ecosystem, we must identify opportunities to involve stakeholders in ways that reflect their strengths, build connections and help them coalesce around a common goal. 

Where relationships between stakeholders already exist, co-creating a shared water narrative and implementing a strategy to involve all stakeholders (e.g., young people) in accountability mechanisms and frameworks builds trust throughout the storytelling process as well as gets the message across. 

Where these relationships are more nascent or not yet at a scale, engaging a wider ecosystem of partners (e.g, one that includes NGOs, environmental groups and champions such as athletes or other highly visible advocates) through dialogue can offer multiple entry points for people to engage and begin cultivating a shared language that ultimately underpins a shared water narrative.

We are organizing a narrative co-creation session and invite interested partners to get in touch. Watch this space for more opportunities for exchange. Talk soon!

This blog concludes the three-part series. To access the first blog, click here. To read the second part, click here.

Corina Kwami Strategy Director
Alex Hammer Ducas Senior Director, Private Sector Lead
Alessia García Associate Strategist
Prachi Rao Strategy Director
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