The world’s great rivers—the Amazon, Mississippi, Mekong, Yangtze, and a dozen others—help sustain food, water, energy, and environmental protection for hundreds of millions of people. But since different groups use rivers for different purposes—including irrigation, navigation, flood control, fishing, drinking water, and hydropower—no one stakeholder or regulator can fully recognize all the management concerns and values in play. Actions that affect the sustainability of these great rivers are fragmented across regions, countries, and sectors. Integrated management requires government, business, environmental, and community stakeholders to build a shared understanding of how human actions and river basin ecosystems interact, and to build agreements and partnerships that enable adaptive management across jurisdictions, sectors, and time scales.

Through its Great Rivers Partnership (GRP), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has supported efforts to promote integrated management of several great rivers. TNC asked CBI to design and facilitate a global process to expand the GRP to additional river basins and to broaden and deepen its international network of International River Basin Management partners and stakeholders.


CBI worked with TNC and its partners to create an International Steering Committee (ISC) with representatives from global, regional, and national development and conservation organizations; philanthropic foundations; and water-using industries. CBI guided the ISC in a year-long process to expand the GRP, including key objectives, criteria for selecting river basin partners from the set of candidates, and operating roles and responsibilities. CBI also worked with GRP staff to create a process for soliciting and reviewing proposals. CBI then facilitated the ISC’s review of proposals, leading to the selection of eight river basins for the partnership’s next phase, based on their potential to achieve several goals: sustainable hydropower production, decreased flood risk, and increased agricultural production and transportation. Finally, CBI advised the ISC and GRP staff on a governance structure for the expanded partnership that would promote sustained commitment and learning among global, regional, and national partners.


The partnership completed a five-year business plan for the Great Rivers Project. The business plan outlined the GRP’s goals and the way the partners would work together to support the selected river basins and projects, raise funds, provide technical support, and facilitate cross-basin learning. It also committed the core partners to a shared governance structure, and clarified roles in management and communications. The partnership has successfully implemented the plan, advancing integrated management across the basins and adapting in response to lessons learned.