Is Empowering Emerging Leaders the Key to a Sustainable Future?

Young people should be involved in the decisions of today as they will, ultimately, own the outcomes. They also play an important role in driving action towards a sustainable future in their organisations, sectors and communities. This is why in Denmark this month UNLEASH, a not for profit organisation, is bringing together 1000 young people from across the globe to come up with innovative scalable solutions to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. As a ‘Young Australian’ ‘Water Professional’ participant, I have been considering how to make the most of this upcoming experience and what I should be bringing back with me.

Young Australian

The sustainable development goals are not widely spoken about in Australia. The Federal Government appears to be working on their priorities behind closed doors but publicly only discuss the SDGs when referencing actions abroad, like foreign aid contributions. As a consequence, the Australian population knows little about the global goals our Government has signed us up to achieve and there is a misconception that business as usual is enough. When I return from UNLEASH I hope to bring back inspiring stories to share in Australia, showing that everyone has the power to make a difference and that the responsibility lies with us all. I also want to investigate running a similar program in Australia, like the Asia Pacific Exchange Program, so young Australians are empowered to drive contributions to the SDGs.

“Gifted with imagination, energy and optimism, young people should be considered the key drivers of sustainable development” Australian Youth Pledge for the SDGs

Water Professional

Despite Australia’s high rank in relation to SDG 6 (ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) there a many indigenous communities who do not have access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation with girls missing school during their periods due to inaccessible hygiene. The water sector is also being challenged to continue supplying water/wastewater services to our growing cities in an ever-changing climate. We also want to enhance the liveability of our communities, which means we have a role to play in contributing to the other 16 global goals as well.

Within the Australian water sector, there has been a lot of talk and support of the sustainable development goals but a barrier for many organisations is knowing where to start. The International Water Association (IWA) has initiated a SDG taskforce to try and overcome this road block. We are documenting case studies of how the water sector is contributing to the SDGs around the world and developing guidelines to support organisations beginning their SDG journey. At UNLEASH, I aim to add to our collection of case studies and recruit inspiring participants to join the team.

“The role of water professionals — researchers and practitioners alike — will be critical in providing leadership and technical inputs to guide, implement and assess strategies to attain the SDGs” IWA’s Resolution on Achieving the SDGs

I am excited about joining my fellow participants in Denmark next week to co-create and inspire one another but the journey will not be over when I return, it will have only just begun.



Kathryn is an active member of the International Water Association Young Water Leaders programme, she will be attending UNLEASH with six other IWA members focused on the role of water in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Want to know more about IWA’s Young Water Leaders programme? Visit the page


Kathryn Silvester

Sydney Water, Australia YWP Utility Segment Representative Strategic Council & IWA Emerging Water Leader