Lessons Learned

Through more than seven years of collaboration, WWF and The Coca-Cola Company have learned a number of lessons on how to work better together to implement sustainable approaches to freshwater basin conservation. The following catalog captures challenges encountered, and offers actions and recommendations that have emerged as “best practices” through years of planning and relationship building.

1. Understand Organizational Structures and Cultures

Organizations can be complex. Taking time in the beginning of a relationship to understand the internal structure and culture of each other’s organizations facilitates the groundwork for all future collaboration.

As a company that includes six operating groups and nearly 300 independent bottling partners across 206 countries, The Coca-Cola Company brings a diverse array of challenges and opportunities to the partnership.

Likewise, WWF operates through more than 60 offices and has a presence across 100 countries, all with varying cultural norms and political systems. Taking the time to explain, listen and discuss the complexities of communicating, coordinating and mobilizing such expansive networks was important for this partnership.

2. Align Organizational Priorities

Each partner comes into the relationship with a set of priorities. Understanding and articulating those priorities to find common ground is important.

3. See the Work Firsthand

Visiting field sites and manufacturing facilities (e.g., bottling plants) can help partners learn more about a place of interest and its conservation challenges, as well as business realities. These exchanges provide opportunities to learn from the other’s perspective, and gain firsthand knowledge of challenges and opportunities.

4. Leverage Champions and Start Small to Overcome Barriers

Through years of partnership, we have seen great success in those areas where specific individuals stepped up as key supporters of the work. From the beginning, inclusion and transparency are critical, as is open dialogue that can move people from being skeptics to supporters. Starting small can create opportunities for learning and building trust while laying the groundwork for more comprehensive involvement in the future.

5. Seek Out Many Areas for Collaboration

6. Engage Key Stakeholders in Setting and Mapping Conservation Targets

The engagement of relevant stakeholders from the start of the project is essential. Outreach should include people who will be affected by the project, as well as those whose support will be needed to carry out key activities.

8. Create a Coordinated Vision with Government Partners

A lack of coordination between different government agencies responsible for natural resource management results in inconsistent messages, conflict over resource use (i.e., opposing regulations and policies), and the waste of limited financial and staff resources. Involving government agencies in the leadership of the project can give them greater ownership of the process and sustain collaboration. Sustainable natural resource management can only be realized if the government is fully engaged and recommendations are harmonized with existing processes, departments and implementing bodies.

9. Expect the Unexpected

Conservation requires an ability to adaptively manage, collaborate closely with partners, monitor progress and make corrections if necessary. Project teams have had to exercise a fair amount of creativity and flexibility to respond to changing project conditions. Detailed project tracking has provided team members the foresight to respond to challenges and obstacles and shift plans accordingly. The selection of partners and contractors was executed with extreme care due to their ability to either advance or derail project efforts.

10. Launch a Pilot Project as Proof of Concept for Local-to-Global Action

Using small-scale projects as models in advocacy efforts can provide an effective approach for reaching key policy makers. Models can be used to attract additional funding, resources and policy opportunities from various channels to improve the management of river basin water supplies. Ultimately a pilot project in one site, if designed effectively, can provide a model for local, regional and global action.