Paying tribute, not farewell

Kate Horner


 International Rivers staff at the March Women and Rivers Congress in Nepal.

This post is less farewell than tribute. I am winding down my tenure as executive director of International Rivers this month. But my heart will not be wandering far from the mission, the staff, and partners that make this organization the vibrant, longstanding, change agent it is.

When I first joined International Rivers, it was as a forest and climate advocate, having spent time directing the forest team at Environmental Investigation Agency, analyzing policy at Friends of the Earth, and advising governments on climate policy. I appreciated the deep inter-connectedness of rivers issues, forest protection, and climate justice. Free-flowing rivers work like arteries, providing the world’s ecosystems with critical freshwater resources. These resources nurture the animal and plant life within rivers, recharge fertility in floodplains and provide nutrients to delta, estuarine and near-shore reefs. And I wanted to throw my all into this related, new, and exciting endeavor. What higher calling could there be than the stewardship of the world’s circulatory system?

For all I felt I had to offer, I was humbled by all there was to learn, the vibrance and resilience of river protectors, and the devotion of the International Rivers staff, board, and partners. For more than 30 years, International Rivers has taken on the biggest fights, challenging the massive hyrdopower dams that are fragmenting the world’s rivers and threatening vital freshwater biodiversity, and won in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  It has stalled and impacted some of the world’s most destructive dam projects. And it has built lasting networks of solidarity across borders.

Together, we have started to change the narrative, recognizing that this fight is not only about battling the threats, but fundamentally changing the way rivers are valued and governed.  We have elevated river protection to the heights of government, global media, and public consciousness and helped foster a growing movement for the consecration of free-flowing rivers.

To those whose shoulders I stood on, I say: thank you. To the staff at the heart of International Rivers work, I say: stay the course. And to those supporters who animated our ambitious and necessary plans, I say: join us in inviting still more to join. To harken back to a few of the things you made a possible during my time with International Rivers:

  • In 2017, in partnership with CEE Bankwatch, International Rivers hosted the Georgia River Gathering, the first such global gathering of river activists in many years. We chose Tblisi for a convergence of river protectors because of the extraordinary movement growing there to battle back the veritable tsunami of planned small dams. That gathering would prove a critical gathering to mounting dam resistance efforts the world over.

  • In 2018, International Rivers launched an ambitious strategic plan with an increasing focus on protecting the world’s free-flowing rivers before they are all dammed, diverted, polluted, and otherwise sacrificed for short-term profit.

  • And in 2019, the first ever Women and Rivers Congress was organized in Nepal to close the reprehensible gender gap in water governance. To quote the Congress’s keynote speaker Joan Carling, “When women stand on equal footing with men in deciding the fate of our freshwater resources, the well-being of the planet and future generations will be assured.” I believe that firmly and am so proud of what this Congress set in motion.

There is so much more to say, so much fortitude and innovation in our ranks, and I hope you’ll join this growing, vibrant movement to protect our world’s rivers.  

International Rivers staff and board at our annual convergence.
International Rivers staff and board at our annual convergence.

Speaking of setting things in motion, our Director of Programs, Michael Simon, and my cherished thought partner during my time with International Rivers will be stepping in as Interim Executive Director. With 20 years of prior experience in freshwater advocacy and the admiration of partners the world over, I’m looking forward to seeing where the organization will go under his ongoing leadership, and that of my eventual successor. I’m glad to be leaving the organization in such capable hands - from Michael’s to that of our long-tenured regional directors and staff to our committed board. My hat is off to each and every one of you. There is a considerable task ahead and you are up to it. Rivers will flow, life will abound, rights will be assured because of you.

Monday, May 13, 2019