10 Years of CWR: Dawn McGregor Reflects On The Last 8 Years

By Dawn McGregor 26 October, 2021

Dawn Mcgregor, CWR's business unusual lead recounts how joining CWR helped her find her mission in life

8 years ago I joined CWR; I'd found my mission (not a quarter life crisis as people joked when I quit my investment banking job), to make the world better in an effective & unique way
It's not been easy but it's been worth it; the tide has changed (forgive the pun) as water is a financial & business risk - congrats CWR! But the changing climate means there is still so much to do
My wild & evolving ride has had some real highs (presenting to 300+ ppl in my 1st year) and I love that everyday can be different; Bring on the next adventures & challenges!

This December will mark my eighth year at CWR and what an adventure it has been. When I left my previous job at a global investment bank to join CWR, people joked that I was having a quarter life crisis and while they and I laughed, it turned out that I had found my mission. A mission to make this world better in an effective and unique way that combines business, science, governments, water, investors, art and the climate. Without cutting across sectors, audiences, stakeholders and people, I don’t believe we can make real and positive change. Given CWR operates with a similar belief it seemed a good fit, especially after studying Biology with Business at university – one of two students who picked that unique mix, both of us from Hong Kong.

Nearly 8 years ago I joined CWR, I found my mission…

…to make this world better but in an effective & unique way

It’s not been an easy eight years though why would it be when you are trying to change the way businesses, investors and economies operate, to make people reassess life priorities and all against the backdrop of an urgent climate crisis. But it has been worth it. The tide has changed, forgive the pun, with water now firmly established as a business and financial risk – at least by leaders & there is growing pressure the rest to follow -, a big tick next to CWR’s original objective. However, in the process of achieving this, new but related challenges have arisen not just in water (we also now cover saltwater threats) but in the climate space as water is the resource most vulnerable to climate change and is how we will feel most of the impacts (floods, droughts, extreme weather events etc.). CWR, the team, and our objectives have evolved so we can continue to tackle these challenges head on!

So, as CWR turns 10 – BIG CONGRATS! – I join my team and ex-team members in looking back at our time at CWR.

My wild & evolving ride at CWR, so far

What I do at CWR has evolved so much since I started. Everyday can bring something different and that is ultimately why I have been here for all this time. From researching Chinese soil regulations to analysing the risks of China’s fashion sector for an investment bank and taking myself by train across Changzhou for a conference to presenting to Boards of listed companies, those have been a few of the days of my life at CWR!

Everyday can bring something different at CWR, which is why I have been here all this time

In my first month, back in December 2013, I was learning the ropes as a colleague handed over to me and then it was just Debra (CWR founder & Director) and me. I remember her telling me she expected me to hit the ground running and I like to think that I did. I was doing all sorts of work from the famous CWR newsletter to report analysis and attending events to even already writing articles.

My role evolved, fast, organically with what needed to be done but also with things that I was interested in as Debra made a point of that. And so did the team, with Feng joining in early 2014. We three took it to the next level.

In my first year I was presenting to 300+ people

In 2014 I attended my first overseas trip for CWR, to Malaysia, and then after that a trip to Shanghai and even Stockholm for the biggest annual global water event, World Water Week – where I got to be a Lead Rapporteur meaning I had to lead a group of junior rapporteurs reporting on the event and present our key takeaways in the closing plenary in front 300+ people – my first presentation for CWR!

Fast forward to October 2021 and CWR is now at the next next next level, the team has grown and we are taking on even bigger challenges. As more of a jack of all trades my list of events, articles, publications and projects is now pretty long and varied – have a pretty unique view and skillset thanks to that. And for the last handful of years, I have been leading CWR’s Business Unusual focus area, where I can leverage my strengths and where I believe I and CWR can have meaningful impact. I am so grateful to Debra and the very capable CWR team and previous team members.

My highest of highs

I am happy to say there have been quite a few highs over the last eight years (not without the hard work), below are some of the highest.

  • Helping build CWR to what it is today
  • Delivered keynotes at global fashion brand HQ in Paris, TZ Minerals International congress in Shanghai and Industrial Water Leaders Forum in Shanghai among others
  • Invited to two-day closed-door strategy meeting for another global fashion brand at their European HQ
  • Inputted into the first ever Business of Fashion’s Sustainability Index
  • Lead Rapporteur at World Water Week for two consecutive years and presented in the closing plenary both times
  • Got 100+ Chinese textile factories to complete my survey (4x more than targeted in grant)
  • An industry tool was developed using my research report
  • Conducted water risk assessment for global listed company
  • Lead author for an article in UN publication, “A Better World”
  • Interviewed/cited by mainstream media and industry/corporate sustainability reports

Three words/bullets on what makes CWR unique

  • Unique & strategic lens
  • Punch above our weight
  • Agile

CWR making a difference 

For sure CWR has made a difference, though it is hard to attribute specific changes and long-term impacts, it’s just the nature of the work and also being a small think tank. Plus, deep change takes time. But when giving a presentation, I’ve seen people change even if it’s just for that moment; though often, we hear that it stays with them beyond that. Whether engaging with corporates or investors or journalists or professors, I’ve seen the same change. Much like the change I experienced when I first went to see Debra present.

CWR tells clear stories through data that you can’t believe you haven’t heard before & that catalyze change

The biggest way I think CWR has and continues to make a difference is the way we present the facts, the challenges and the call to action. It is done as a clear story with compelling data and in a way that you can’t believe you haven’t heard before and that inspires change. This is also true for CWR’s reports and articles, that nearly always are ahead of hot topic trends. There’s been many moments where we’ve done work internally or externally to later see the exact point made in mainstream media. I am looking forward to what comes in the next 10 years of CWR!

Advice to those who want to work in the space

Be brave, be patient – with the work and yourself – and make the jump already, we pretty much only have eight years left to determine our climate path and there is so much to do!

More on CWR 10-year anniversary 

Further Reading

  • Singapore: Making Business Unusual the Norm – Covid disruption has seen old businesses die and new ones sprout up. CWR’s Dawn McGregor shares how Singapore is innovating its climate threats into building resilience & new ways of making money
  • Fashion Has The Power To Shape A 2℃ World – If fashion were a country it would have the fourth highest carbon emissions behind the US, China, & India. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor & Debra Tan question why the industry is not under the spotlight like coal and call for faster disruptions
  • Where Is The E In ESG Disclosure In China? – China is moving to mandatory environmental disclosure with a tentative 2020 deadline, but where are listco’s now? China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor & SynTao’s Dr. Peiyuan Guo share 8 key takeaways from their newly released joint report, “CHINA PRIORITISES ENVIRONMENT: More Disclosure Needed To Match Rising Risks”
Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
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