09/23/2011 12:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Getting Water Right -- With and for Women (VIDEO)

The Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting has a reputation for producing simple, powerful and practical ideas and putting them into action: from calcium supplements that prevent maternal death in childbirth, to hand-crank emergency radios for isolated regions, to green reconstruction in Haiti.

I'm eager to see what ideas emerge from this year's meeting and am thrilled to be taking part in the Girls, Women and Water breakout session today. My group, which includes representatives from EcoDecision, Living Goods, The Paley Center and Unilever, will explore how girls and women can gain better quality of life while ensuring the long-term sustainability of water resources for entire communities.

Figuring out how to get this done is, quite simply, one of the best things we can do for the planet.

With the world population expected to double by 2050, we're going to need to get double the food and double the water from natural sources to the people who depend on them.

Improving access to clean water and keeping the whole range of nature's services intact will require everything from smart engineering and planning, to land conservation to education. If there's one thing we cannot do without in this situation it's the good ideas and innovation of half our population.

In many places across the world, women spend countless hours collecting and preparing water for their families, yet they are often excluded from decision making. There are real social, economic and environmental costs involved when communities miss out on women's input on water issues. Thursday's session is one ripple in an ongoing global movement to turn this situation around.

At The Nature Conservancy, we've been protecting clean water for six decades, often side by side with women scientists, farmers and landowners, and we see two areas where we are well-poised to help: by directly providing women and their communities with access to clean water and by empowering women to protect their natural water sources.

For example, in Kenya and Papua New Guinea, our work to provide low-impact, easy to maintain reservoirs and rainwater tanks gives small communities close access to clean water and frees women up to become more engaged in growing and leading their communities.

And in Ecuador, the microfinance support and training we are providing with our partners enables women to establish livelihoods that keep water sources clean for themselves and others downstream, including citizens of Quito.

I believe we should embrace all opportunities to put conservation to work helping people, and I see these examples as strong models we can scale up and replicate. Still, The Nature Conservancy's work is just one small piece of a rich, diverse and growing collection of organizations working for women and girls. That's where the CGI and our discussion today come in.

To make a real difference on this issue we need to connect the dots between freshwater conservation, water access, human health and sanitation, and collaborate more fluidly across civil society and private and public sectors to keep water safe and plentiful.

Water is the thread that runs through all of the world's biggest challenges: food security, health issues, fair access to energy, truly sustainable economic growth, education and of course, the welfare of women and children. We cannot meet these challenges without getting it right on water. And we cannot get water right without women.

Please explore this digital "quilt" to see the range of amazing work on water being led by women around the world.