Professor John Briscoe, a native of South Africa, has been named the 2014 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his unparalleled contributions to global and local water management. Briscoe is known for his passionate commitment to sustainable economic development, his disrespect for constructed boundaries between sectors and people, and for his insistence that the voice of people who are affected – from the poorest of farmers, to the private sector, to political leaders – be heard.
“At the end of the day, it is what happens on the ground that matters,” says Briscoe. “All policies must be judged by whether they make a difference on the ground. I believe that the years I spent working at the micro level is what enables me to be an effective policy maker.”
John Briscoe currently lives and works in the United States, where he is a popular teacher at Harvard University. Upon receiving the news, Briscoe said he was “Very surprised and honored. I am delighted for the recognition this gives to thinking practitioners, of which I consider myself one.”
From Bangladesh to Brazil
In the mid 1970s Briscoe lived in a small village in the interior of Bangladesh, and learned first-hand how infrastructure for protection from floods and droughts could transform the lives of the poor. Later in the 1970s Briscoe worked as an engineer in the government of newly independent Mozambique, learning that you were a credible policy maker only if you could help resolve basic problems of building and running infrastructure.
At the other end of Briscoe’s spectrum of accomplishments is the 2003 Water Strategy for the World Bank. This strategy provided a new, creative and enduring benchmark for global understanding of the need for both better infrastructure and improved institutions. The strategy has had implications far beyond the water sector, helping to ensure that developing and emerging countries get a stronger voice in global governance.
Briscoe brought his experience of high-level policy with him to Brazil as the World Bank Country Director in 2005. Brazil was one of the biggest of the World Bank’s borrowers, and John Briscoe was praised for bridging the divide between sound environmental management and economic development objectives in the Amazon and other parts of this rapidly developing nation.
Listening to those affected
“It is vital to give primary attention to the effect on people who will live with the consequences of policies and projects,” says Briscoe. “Equally important is the voice of political leaders who have to take account of all of their people and who have to make difficult choices among competing priorities.”
In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Committee states that Briscoe “has combined world-class research with policy implementation and practice to improve the development and management of water resources as well as access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”
The Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1991 and presented annually by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) to an individual, organization or institution for outstanding water-related achievements. Xylem was one of the founders of the Stockholm Water Prize is one of its predominant corporate supporters.