October 10, 2016 Society

It is time to listen to emerging water leaders

In September 2015 world leaders adopted an ambitious and challenging agenda for sustainable development: 17 goals and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030 without leaving anyone behind. This agenda provides an unprecedented opportunity for the sustainable development, management and use of water resources in the broadest sense. The dedicated water Goal 6 is complemented by references to water-relevant targets in several other goals.

The hydrological cycle, in all its aspects from freshwater resources, to water supply and wastewater management, will be central to sustainable development in the coming 15 years. Never before in human history have governments committed themselves to make such progress on water issues.

Reaching these goals will require changing our entire thinking of the water sector’s management in the next 15 years. It also presents a gilt-edged opportunity for the water sector to embrace the next generation of water leaders who will have to face the future we are creating today: young water professionals aged 35 and below.

The discussions have started, but those young professionals who have grown up in this changing environment, and may have great innovative ideas, still remain outside of the circle. This is partly, I believe, the result of viewing young water professionals as having too little experience in the sector. Experience is important, but in an ideas economy, so is new, innovative, and creative thinking. We are faced with a new paradigm in ideas are paramount.

Many young water professionals I’ve worked with over the past 3-years are mid-level management; quite a few are senior managers or, in certain cases, (sub)directors. The labour market is not how it used to be. Professionals don’t get promotions because they reach a certain age, and the water sector needs to broaden its thinking around how it recruits, supports and utilizes youthful talent when it comes to developing solutions.

The stigma of being ‘young and inexperienced’ can be a cause of the disconnect between senior and young professionals. Evidence of this disconnect is seen by the growing number of youth networks mushrooming in the water sector, trying to raise their voice, trying to be heard and taken seriously.

My solution: recognise and involve emerging water leaders.

As part of this change of thinking, young water professionals need be recognized for what they are, the emerging water leaders of tomorrow. Regardless of the position they are in, and level of experience today. This is the best way to engage with young professionals who want to contribute their ideas, and whose ideas may offer the solutions the water sector needs. More experienced professionals need to be brought on this journey, to support their younger colleagues and help them learn from past experiences; but also to recognize that they too might gain from the experience. Old dogs can always learn new tricks!

The IWA Emerging Water Leaders Forum at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition takes this approach, allowing emerging water leaders to develop actions addressing challenges and obstacles to achieving key goals in the water sector. It will provide a platform for dialogue between senior and junior professionals.

Lets see if the water sector wants to listen to the outcomes of this Emerging Water leaders Forum (stay tuned to find out more about IWA’s work with emerging water leaders).