Increasing our impact by taking a leading role in development initiatives

Michael McClain is Professor of Ecohydrology at UNESCO-IHE. As project leader of MaMaSe, the Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water Initiative, he shares developments and lessons-learned in this ambitious capacity development programme.


Working from knowledge generation to application

“MaMaSe is unusual for UNESCO-IHE, because it is not strictly a capacity development, research, or education project. It’s a large and knowledge-intensive development programme supported mainly by the Dutch Embassy in Kenya focusing on water safety and security at a basin scale. UNESCO-IHE is leading a consortium of Kenyan and international institutions working in all dimensions of the water sector. We are working with government water authorities to generate and apply the knowledge necessary for proper resource management. We are working with small-scale farmers to investigate and adopt water friendly and economically profitable crops, so farmers do not just produce more with the available water but also earn more from what they produce. We are working with pastoralist Maasai communities to improve management of their herds and rangelands to maximize the retention of soil water and the produce more grass. We are also working with financial institutions to introduce new financing mechanisms and Kenyan knowledge institutes to facilitate high levels of knowledge use and exchange.”

Different partners, different objectives

“MaMaSe is opening new forms of partnerships with the private sector. One of our key partners is a Dutch-owned commercial farm in the Mara that sells to European supermarket chains, and which also connects local small-scale farmers to European markets. They see a clear business advantage and we see a means of raising the standard of small farmer practice and profit.”

Different forms of capacity development

“MaMaSe is a very large project (more than 10 partners with a budget of €10 million), and there are different forms of capacity development happening inside it. Because we are working side-by-side with implementation partners, we are able to do a lot of on-the-job training. This also enables us to better identify the specific capacity needs of partners and organize group trainings in needed topics, including particular tools and techniques developed within the initiative itself. We are also involving Kenyan and European students as much as we can. This is a great experience for students and ensures their research outputs have maximal societal impact.”

Challenges and highlights

“Leading a major development initiative is a new role for us at UNESCO-IHE and has been an enormous learning experience requiring new ways of organizing our efforts and engaging with partners. We have found it challenging but we’ve also found that we are up to the task. In this role we are able to enhance our normal research and capacity development activities and have a much larger impact on the ground.”

Ensuring that progress is maintained

“Consideration of the long term impact of our efforts in MaMaSe is part of the entire strategy. It is really challenging to maintain the gains of an initiative like this once the funding ends and international partners move on. Our approach is to work with local partners to build improved capacity and practice into their daily operations and to be considerate of realistic long term funding levels. We are also trying to enhance future funding levels with new financial mechanisms such as water funds. In the end we consider capacity development to be among the wisest investments for long term change. This perspective is something special that UNESCO-IHE offers to development partners, and I hope we will be able to lead many more initiatives like MaMaSe in the future.”