Research projects

ESR 10: Emerging re-commoning water governance practices as a response to austerity crises

Early Stage Researcher: Dona Geagea
Host institution: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Principal supervisor: Prof. Maria Kaika
Co-supervisor: Prof. Jampel Dell'Angelo 

"My research will document and assess innovative paradigms for managing water as the commons, particularly looking at the response of actors previously excluded from research who led to the success of this transition under the recent austerity crisis."


The recent austerity crisis in Europe has given rise to stronger and more populous movements demanding re-municipalisation or re-commoning of water resources. These movements differ from past attempts to re-commoning and re-municipalising water in two important ways:

  • The geographical scope of these grassroots movements fighting for re-commoning water and against privatisation ranges from intra-Europan (e.g. the European Citizens’ initiative for the right to water), to regional (the recent campaign at Lazio, Italy, for declaring water a service of public interest) to local initiatives (e.g. the SOSte to nero, and 136 movement against the privatisation of the water company of Thessaloniki, Greece).
  • The Actors involved in these movements under austerity conditions consist of social groups and organizations who were previously considered to be neither ‘revolutionary’ nor ‘militant’, and certainly not ‘radical’ or ‘innovative’ in their outlook philosophy and praxis. These emerging actors who start thinking ‘outside the box’ and acting ‘out of their traditional role and character’ include trade union members, home carers (particularly women), adolescents, and pensioners.

The project will pay particular attention to these actors who were ignored in previous research, but take up central roles under conditions of austerity in initiating fresh ways of thinking about managing ‘the commons’. The project will assess the role they play in building alliances across segments of the society, and internationally, for reclaiming the commons through a new process of subjectivisation at different geographical scales and social contexts.

This research project will:

  1. Investigate to what extent the need to both protect the environment and secure jobs under economic crisis and austerity frameworks can mobilize new sets of actors and can ignite new paradigms for water governance.

  2. Examine ways in which the pressure of the international paradigm to privatize water combined with the inability to find investors under an economic crisis can lead to innovative ways of thinking and acting ‘outside the box’ around water governance and re-thinking practices for re-commoning water resources.

Expected results:

  1. Document and assess new innovative paradigms for managing water as the commons

  2. Assess the extent to which these new practices can be upscaled to an EU and international level

  3. Compare and contrast the outcomes of such re-commoning practices, to existing paradigms of either municipal or privately-run water sectors

  4. Understand and explain where such paradigms succeed and where they fail. Why do they fail (or succeed) locally in changing water management practices? Why they fail (or succeed) in scaling-up, and in altering global water management practices? Why and how they succeed or fail in inspiring further movements and practices?

About Dona Geagea

Dona’s experience encompasses ten years of professional work in the water sector as a facilitator and stakeholder engagement specialist, and until November 2020 as Global Lead for the Water Innovation Labs with Waterlution. In this position, Dona contributed to the design and delivery of social innovation labs with a focus on water knowledge-mobilization and building the capacity of emerging leaders to solve water challenges through cross-disciplinary and cross-sector collaboration. Under her leadership over 500 young leaders across 4 continents have been trained in this immersive program, and she has supported 25+ teams to develop their innovation projects. Dona spearheaded the delivery of these innovation labs in India, the Netherlands, and Portugal (in 2017), Australia (2018), Canada (2018) Lebanon and Mexico (2019 and 2020). Dona has also organized and moderated several workshops including at prominent water forums such as the Budapest Water Summit, 7th and 8th World Water Forums in South Korea and Brasil, Singapore International Water Week; and with GIZ’s Partnership on Climate Transparency. She holds a Master in Globalisation Studies from McMaster University, a Joint Graduate Diploma in the Water Without Borders program at United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment and Health, and a Bachelor in Political Science from York University. Her fascination with systems-thinking, systemic change and innovation in water governance led her to now be an Early Stage Researcher (PhD) with NEWAVE - Next Water Governance, an EU funded Marie-Curie Innovative Training Network hosted at Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her research is on emerging re-commoning water governance practices as a response to austerity crises. Dona is also the recipient of the Rotary Foundation Global Scholar Grant (2020) and an Aura Fellow, selected as one of ten women for Be the Earth Foundation's Aura Fellowship program (2020-2022).

In her sabbatical year, Dona co-founded a women's empowerment project while traveling in South America that lived as Círculo de Soñadoras and produced an archive of blogs and film-stories about inspiring women. 

LinkedIn profile: Dona Geagea

Personal website:


Dona Geagea
NEWAVE Early Stage Researcher, Ph.D. Candidate
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dr. Maria Kaika
Chair in Urban Regional and Environmental Planning
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Prof. Jampel Dell'Angelo
Assistant professor of Water Governance & NEWAVE Principal Investigator
Institute of Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands