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Develop social skills and capacity to complement technical interventions


Develop social skills and capacity to complement technical interventions

Develop social skills and capacity to complement technical interventions

Posted on August 22, 2019 by Karina de Souza

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: Anheuser-Busch InBev
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Universal: No
Applicable Phases: Assess
Last Updated May 22, 2024


Water stewardship goes beyond technical interventions. Stewardship partners must consider the capacity building of other skills including social, or “soft,” skills, especially in the context of complex water challenges. Soft skills include communication, partnership brokering, negotiation, and facilitation. These soft skills are especially necessary to respect and navigate cultural practices and norms when engaging communities. Technical solutions, when combined with strong social skills, improve the lives of the communities that are part of the project. This community involvement ultimately results in a more sustainable project. Ultimately, soft skills facilitate interventions that are not only technically viable, but are based in healthy, equitable, mutually trusting relationships.


Social skills help build trust between partners and beneficiaries to ensure a smooth project process. Furthermore, a partnership based on open and clear communication – where all partners are empowered in terms of negotiation or facilitation – will result in better implementation of technical solutions. For example, when discussing interventions with landowners - such as clearing of alien invasive trees on private property - and who may be sensitive about on-site activities, clear communication and partnership brokering are as important as the technical intervention. In this situation, the landowner’s trust is a prerequisite to the project, and deft, sensitive relationship-building is critical. Take time to analyse the stakeholder landscape in a community and identify the right “gate-openers” who have the necessary social capacity skills to bring the partnership together.


Relevant soft skills include communication, partnership brokering, negotiation, and facilitation. The following should be considered to develop social capacity skills for the project:

  • Development of social capacity skills should be undertaken with strategic stakeholders within all partnerships.
  • Many service providers can offer this form of training to the core stakeholders of the partnership.
  • Include all key stakeholders in capacity building activities to leverage existing knowledge from diverse actors and build technical, financial, and social skills.
  • Communities of Practice can be a good way to develop continual learning within and between partnerships.


IWaSP entered into a partnership with South African Breweries (now owned by ABinBev), WWF and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) between 2014-2018. The partnership wanted to improve the water balance around the George and Oudtshoorn areas in the Southern Cape. ABinBev sources its hops, a water-intensive crop, from this water-stressed area. The first time the team tried to enter local properties to explain their project, they did so before building trust between themselves and the private landowners, due to inexperience in social or ‘soft’ skills. The project experienced setbacks as a result.  It was only after the partnership invested time in building trust between themselves and the landowners that the project was ultimately successful. In total they cleared over 536 ha of invasive alien trees and 880 ha of follow-up maintenance. Landowners/hops growers are now at the heart of the sustainability of the partnership as they are responsible for follow-up clearing within their properties and they have formed a hops grower association which provides strong support to the partnership and contributes to its longevity.

Projects that have validated this Lesson

None found.

This lesson learned reflects the beliefs and experiences of the author, not necessarily the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate, or UN Global Compact.