About the initiative

A groundbreaking template for post-crisis learning

The CTDRLI was undertaken with the aim of learning from the 2017-2018 Cape Town water crisis. As a recent instance of an urban resilience crisis event, this has global relevance, capable of yielding lessons applicable worldwide and well beyond the sphere of water management. The initiative documented observations, insights and reflections on the crisis using in-depth filmed interviews with individuals across a range of sectors who were involved in crafting the city’s response to the drought. From these interviews we produced three curated series of 56 film-based outputs encapsulating key learnings.

During the first phase of the initiative, 39 interviews were conducted and filmed creating a rich resource of 43 hours of material, constituting the largest collection of first-hand reflections on the drought and the Cape Town water crisis. Interviewees were deliberately selected to represent a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds and sectors, including government, business, agriculture, non-profit and non-government organisations, research and academia, independent consultancy and civil society. Between them they brought to the project expertise ranging over a widely diverse collection of disciplines and subject areas. This yielded a wealth of recollections, observations, assessments, reflections, insights and points of view on the subject, capturing thinking shortly after the crisis that would otherwise have been lost, now all gathered in one place.

The essence of the initiative was its second phase, which involved the identification of the central themes and key lessons, the distillation of learning and insights from the raw material in the full interviews, and the presentation of these in a user-friendly and digestible format.

In just over twenty four months after the crisis a public resource was created that brings rigour, clarity, coherence and perspective to the treatment of a subject of societal concern previously characterised by a large degree of contention, confusion and misunderstanding. The methodology provides an innovative template for capturing and then distilling the learning from such complex crises or disasters through personal testimony shortly after the event.

Who we are

The CTDRLI was conceptualised and launched in the aftermath of the 2017-2018 Cape Town water crisis by project partners Peter Willis and Victor van Aswegen, who co-led the project over its two-year duration. The project was undertaken in association with the University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative and made possible by the generous support of lead partner The Resilience Shift as well as corporate and foundation donor support from Old Mutual, Nedbank, Woolworths, GreenCape, Aurecon, PwC, Arup and 100 Resilient Cities.


Peter Willis

Co-lead: Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative

Peter Willis brought to the project decades of experience facilitating structured dialogue and reflection among select groups of senior business people, an extensive high-level network into the business, academic and NGO communities in South Africa and the facilitation and sustainability fields globally, and a quarter century of teaching, facilitating and advising at executive and board level on strategic issues of sustainability. Peter formed Conversations that Count in 2014 to provide strategic facilitation and mentoring services. For the twelve years prior he was the South African Director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. In that role he designed and facilitated numerous senior executive programmes, including the annual Prince of Wales Business & Sustainability Programme, and worked closely with many corporate leaders and top scientists in the region. On the CTDRLI, Peter sourced all the funding for the project, identified and invited all the interviewees, and conducted the on-camera interviews. The two co-leads were jointly responsible for project conceptualisation and management.


Victor van Aswegen

Co-lead: Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative

Victor van Aswegen brought to the project a background in, successively, law, economics, development, finance, private equity, consultancy, business analytics and filmmaking. He holds a law degree and two postgraduate degrees in economics from South African universities, including a cum laude Masters in mathematical microeconomics from Stellenbosch University, and an MPhil Economics and Politics of Development from the University of Cambridge, completed with a scholarship won upon being selected as the best student of economics in South Africa. As filmmaker and founder-owner of CineSouth Studios, he now works principally as director and producer. On the CTDRLI, Victor scoped the content coverage of the project, ensured capturing of the requisite content during interview filming, and conceptualised and produced the project outputs constituting the body of work delivered by the initiative, identifying and articulating the key themes and learnings; he undertook the cinematography, post-production and editing of the nearly one hundred film outputs of the project, and produced both film and text components of all learning outputs. The two co-leads were jointly responsible for project conceptualisation and management.



Prof Mark New

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Climate Change: University of Cape Town

Professor Mark New is Director of the African Climate and Development Initiative at UCT. He holds the AXA Research Fund Chair in African Climate Risk. He also holds a joint appointment as Professor of International Development at the University of East Anglia in the UK. He is a Coordinating Lead Author on the IPCC 6th Assessment Report: Chapter 17 – Decision-Making Options for Managing Risk. His research focuses on climate change detection, processes, scenarios, impacts and adaptation. His interest in the drought is around quantifying how much greenhouse gas warming has changed the likelihood of the drought, how this risk might change into the future, and how to manage this changing risk.


Assoc Prof Gina Ziervogel

Research chair: African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town

Associate Professor Gina Ziervogel is Research Chair with the African Climate and Development Initiative at UCT. A geographer by training, with a PhD in Geography from the University of Oxford, she has 18 years of experience in the field of adaptation and vulnerability to global environmental change. Her research areas include municipal adaptation strategies, adaptation governance, institutional barriers and enablers to adaptation and transdisciplinary processes for urban transformation. During the 2017-2018 Cape Town drought she was invited by the City of Cape Town to sit on its Section 80 Water Advisory Committee.


Lead partner

The Resilience Shift is a catalyst for positive change. Our mission is to help ensure the safety and continuity of the critical infrastructure and services that are the foundation of our societies. Climate change, urbanisation and the current technological revolution are eroding that foundation in new and profound ways. It is essential that we make the right decisions now to ensure a safe, equitable and prosperous way forward for our planet and for everyone. To do this, we must understand the factors that brought us to this point and provide new methods, models, tools and approaches to ensure a transformative approach to building a more stable future in an increasingly uncertain world.

We are delighted to have been able to partner with the Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative. We believe this ground-breaking approach to understanding a major infrastructure crisis carries many lessons for cities and infrastructure professionals around the world.



The project would not have been possible without the generous financial support of donors, particularly during the early stages of the undertaking: