World Rowing and WWF’s Kaufe River Project in Zambia aims to provide clean water and help hone African rowers

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast. 

According to Mark Thomas, a renowned sports advocate, rowers and the water share a symbiotic relationship: When you’re rowing, you’re in tune with the water and nature around you. 

Image from LinkedIn

World Rowing, where Mark serves as a marketing advisor, is an international organisation committed to helping ensure that the water people row on, is fit to row on. 

Today, however, the world faces different issues related to water — from sanitation and accessibility (over 1.1 billion people don’t have access to water) to a decrease in biodiversity. And these are concerns that should be considered as significant as climate change and air pollution. 

World Rowing and World Wildlife Fund Team Up

World Rowing is the international federation that governs rowing as a sport around the world. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the group is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is responsible for managing all aspects of rowing events. This huge responsibility is shared by a team that, although small in number, is dedicated to ensuring that rowing events and activities are sustainable and environmentally acceptable. As Mark emphasises, it’s in the DNA of rowers to be linked to the environment, specifically the water. 

In 2011, World Rowing partnered with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in an effort to be more active in addressing water-related issues. One of their goals is to shine a light on this matter through communications and awareness programs, and international events. 

Image from Unsplash

They also take an active role in making sure that the environments that they row in are clean. In every event that they hold, they implement guidelines and criteria to guarantee that their activities are environmentally safe. They conduct tests and utilise appropriate systems and applications in their venues for long-term sustainability.

World Rowing is the oldest international federation in the world, having been around for almost 150 years now. Rowing is also one of the original sports included in the first Olympics and has been there since. With the innate relationship that rowers and water share, it is natural for the organisation to be involved in this kind of initiative. 

Their global partnership with WWF only fostered this responsibility more deeply. Apart from raising awareness, they started taking action — doing things that are more tangible in terms of solving global water issues.

The Kafue River Project

World Wildlife Fund runs freshwater conservation projects in more than 50 countries around the world. World Rowing specifically joined the group’s Kafue River initiative. This project endeavours to build the Kafue River and Rowing Centre (Kaufe River is one of the tributaries of the Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa). 

Screengrab from World Rowing’s YouTube channel

Part of this undertaking is highlighting water issues that surround Kafue. World Rowing considers Kafue as a reflection of various water problems that the world faces, including access to clean potable water, irrigation issues, and industrial pollution among others. Through scientific and research projects, experts will have a better understanding of these issues. 

The project is also about education. Apart from bringing people — old and young — to enjoy rowing, they also aim to let them see first-hand the issues surrounding the river. The learnings from this initiative can then be applied to and replicated in other water conservation centres around the world, including those in China and South America. 

It’s a step-by-step process that involves researching and understanding water issues and creating models that can be used in other centres, water crisis areas, and clean water projects that the WWF runs throughout the globe.

Securing Funding

For this project, World Rowing and WWF need to raise a couple of million dollars. Through the goodwill of the global rowing community, the project has already received initial funding. Now, they are in the next stage: to ask for corporate fundings. And they have recently secured one from a Dutch furniture company. 

In terms of the project’s operation, Mark says that they have already secured the land and title deeds and are now moving forward with the construction proper. Going forward, he acknowledges that securing funding and monitoring cash flow will be more crucial.

World Rowing is fairly open in terms of who they work with or the companies that will give them funding — as long as they share the same values with them. 

There are certain organisations that lend themselves to this kind of purpose-driven program. For instance, beverage companies, which consume a huge amount of water in their manufacturing process, can take part and also acquire learnings as to how they can make their business more sustainable with regard to water consumption. 

A Trade-Off

For the Kafue Project, World Rowing and WWF have received support from the local government and from Zambia’s national government. 

However, Mark notes that in other developing markets, one issue that they encounter is the trade-off between industrial and economic development. When the projects involve the environment and sustainability, a conflictual relationship often arises. 

World Rowing sees this as part of their responsibility — a challenge to turn the trade-off into a win-win situation. It’s about finding the balance between having a more environmentally sustainable economy without affecting development in terms of industrialisation.

Promoting Rowing in Africa

Historically, Africa is not regarded as the home of great rowers. To encourage more people to engage in this sport, World Rowing has a global development division focused on nurturing rowing in different parts of the globe, including Africa.

Because rowing is traditionally seen as an expensive and elite sport, the organisation helps in building facilities like the Kaufe River and Rowing Centre and provides more accessibility to people who are interested to learn. 

Image from World Rowing

As not everyone can get into the river, World Rowing also develops other variants of the sport. For instance, they have taken advantage of Africa’s vast coast and introduced the so-called coastal rowing. Recently, the group has also held a virtual indoor rowing championship, which saw a good representation from Africa. 

The organisation hopes that undertakings like these would serve as a stimulus for more Africans to show interest and participate in rowing. 

To learn more about the Kaufe Project, visit And if you’re looking for a new sport to try, you should check out rowing, which provides opportunities beyond being a great exercise.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.

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