Volunteering at IWA Events – Engaging and Learning

After many years of attending IWA events, my involvement at IWA’s 6th Water and Development Congress in Colombo, Sri Lanka  two weeks ago took a different turn.

Being part of the Organising Committee of the Emerging Water Leaders Forum and my new role as an advisor to the Congress rapporteurs, gave me the best view of how other Young Water Professionals were taking opportunities, building new skills and delivering tasks at the Congress.

Most of the rapporteurs were very young and relatively “new” to engaging with IWA and many had not volunteered at events of this scale. 24 people divided in 4 themes were reporting back the key lessons and take away messages from the five-day IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in December 2019.

This made me reflect on my personal IWA journey and my first time as a rapporteur at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition, in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2014. I remember the scale of the event being scary, and the task of being a rapporteur was not easy. Luckily I had some experience in volunteering before then.


Arlinda Ibrahimllari, the author, engaged at round table discussions at IWA Water and Development Congress & Exhibition in Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Everything started back in 2010, when I was employed by UKKO JSC, a mid-size Water Utility in Albania that gave me the opportunity to learn technical skills through working at the Wastewater treatment plant. However, I felt I was missing something professionally.

Perhaps, it was the lack of information for the water issues in my region or even globally, the feeling of being outside the loop of developments, and or lacking the skills to do better at my job, but undoubtedly, I was not exactly aware of this ‘missing factor’ at that time. It did not cause me to change my career as I loved “water”, but it pushed me to ask my manager to guide me to get more involved in the sector at the regional level.

Fortunately, I found an online announcement about the 2010 IWA Young Water Professionals (YWP) Conference in Moscow, Russia, published by Maryna Feierabend. The Conference focused on young water professionals, with a spotlight on oral and poster presentations on water issues. I knew very little about technical issues, since I had only two years of practical work experience after completing my undergraduate studies.

So I thought it could be wise to attend this Conference that had the branding of a well-known organisation like the IWA. I immediately contacted the main organiser and expressed my great wish to attend the event, only for me to receive the disappointing answer that the conference was only conducted in Russian language and that there was no simultaneous translation. Of course, this made my participation in that event impossible.

I really wanted to get involved in the activities of the water sector at the regional level and I felt IWA activities presented a good opportunity for that so I didn’t give up. During the following year, I contacted Maryna again several times. I was desperate for more information on the water sector and also wanted to make sure the next conference was organised in English, so I (and others) could participate.

A year passed quickly and the next event of the IWA Eastern European YWP Conference was announced to be in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2012, with simultaneous translation from Russian to English.

Immediately I approached the organisers with the interest to volunteer. And this volunteering experience – meeting and working with YWPs from different countries, backgrounds and with different perspectives – opened my mind to what was truly important and helped to bring connections and bridge knowledge gaps.

As a matter of fact, it helped me to get to know myself better. Despite feeling unsure about how others perceived me as “different” and experiencing some heart-wrenching situations, I had the opportunity to practice and develop soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and furthermore exploring “networking”, practically.

This confirmed a saying by my Mentor- Philip Giantris that “Volunteering abroad changes how you see the world”. When I returned to Albania, I felt more comfortable and confident going about my responsibilities at my workplace.

Having that experience back in 2010, gave me the boost to apply for the first time in the World Water Congress in 2014 as Rapporteur.


YWP/emerging leaders at IWA Water Development Congress & Exhibition


In the just ended IWA Water and Development Congress in Colombo, I saw myself in some of the IWA YWP rapporteurs as they were really experiencing and developing a keener sense of self-awareness like the amazing transformation many volunteers’ experiences at such events.

It was quite a nice impression seeing them keep an eye on notes about the sessions, making sure that nothing went uncovered. Most of the data was stored directly in their notebooks, some kept handy notes and others used new giggle technologies such as recorders to play back and extract the key messages of the respective keynotes.

I am confident that the final congress report will be a great read and these young enthusiastic rapporteurs will go back home fulfilled and equipped with more skills that will help them rise to the top in their career.


Arlinda Ibrahimllari

Chair IWA Emerging Water Leaders Steering Committee & Technical Director of the Sanitation Dept. - Korça Water Works Utility (UKKO) Albania
Arlinda Ibrahimllari, Technical Director of the Sanitation Department in UKKO Joint Stock Company in Albania, has over 8 years’ experience in the water industry. Her roles have included Water and Sanitation project management, technical support... Read full biography