Australia’s young water professional lead on sustainable development

Sustainable development will only be achieved through connecting, collaborating and accelerating ideas to action, and Australia’s Young Water Professionals have the ability and responsibility to lead the way. This was the key message during the fifth Australian Young Water Professional Conference in Melbourne last week.

Working in water is diverse, vibrant, challenging and inspiring. It cuts across a multitude of other sectors and it is at the centre of both our greatest opportunities and greatest challenges. How do we achieve sustainable development and prosperity for people and the planet as laid out through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), without water at the heart of our efforts?

In Australia, water security continues to sit centrally in the political, economic and social psyche of our nation. We know that addressing water issues requires innovation, new technology and new ways of thinking and managing water. Finding solutions to these complex, cross-sectoral challenges will require holistic, whole-of-water-cycle solutions that combine the technical and ‘soft’ skills of water practitioners. Young water professionals are capable and eager to contribute to tackling the wicked problems the sector faces, and emerging water leaders should have a seat at the table.

Last week almost 200 young water professionals (YWP) from around Australia met in Melbourne for the fifth Australian Young Water Professionals Conference – the biggest one yet. This year the Conference theme was Connect. Collaborate. Accelerate. Co-branded by the Australian Water Association (AWA) and the International Water Association (IWA), it sought to explore opportunities for collaboration between industry, research and government and highlight the value of connection. The conference also sought to accelerate YWPs’ professional development, and explore how ideas could be accelerated into action for a sustainable water future.

International WaterCentre Project Officer and YWP Conference Organising Committee Member Diana Gonzalez Botero was at the heart of the action leading up to – and during the event and reflected that the conference felt different from most she had previously attended.

“Perhaps it is because for the first time I was on the other side of the conference, being part of the organising committee. After putting this conference together for months, seeing it come to fruition felt like a major achievement.  This conference emanated genuine collaboration and a desire from those attending to make a change in the water sector. They were vibrant and inspiring few days of showcasing young people in water and I believe we all left inspired and humbled to see what other young people – emerging water leaders – are achieving,” she said.

The conference was a full house made up of a very diverse group of people and Diana believes this is what created an energising, safe space to share, learn, inspire and be inspired. The event covered a wide range of topics, from algae research, to mapping of real-time customer complaints, to intergovernmental frameworks for transboundary water management and to WASH and sustainable development; and participants were genuinely interested in every presenters’ work, in learning from others and collaborating.

The International WaterCentre (IWC) staff, students and alumni were actively present at the conference with four presentations, a poster presentation, a facilitated leadership workshop sponsored by the organisation and representation on the SDG panel on day two.

IWC CEO Mark Pascoe was part of this panel along with WaterAid Australia CEO Rosie Wheen, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Special Advisor on Water Tony Slatyer, and RMIT PhD Candidate and IWC MIWM 2018 Scholar Lachlan Guthrie. During the panel Mark emphasised the critical importance of partnerships to achieving sustainable development and the risk of not prioritising the SDGs in Australia. His message to YWPs was that Australia has a lot to offer in the form of partnerships and that YWPs need to rally together to lead and strengthen the development of partnerships across sectors within Australia, our region and beyond.

On attending the conference, Mark reflected that the energy of Australia’s emerging leaders was visible to all in the room.

“Beautiful noise! My way of describing the atmosphere for the two days that I spent with the Young Water Professionals at their conference last week! The energy was tangible and I have great confidence in the industry’s ability to continue to stay at the leading edge of development of innovation in water management as these emerging leaders take hold of key positions. The conference was a great blend of a broad range of technical and management issues that are being addressed by the conference participants. Current leaders must continue to provide these and other platforms that ensure that we keep developing talent within the sector.”

IWC YWP and alumni strongly represented

Water Leadership Program alumnus and City of Melbourne Climate Resilience Team Leader Vicki Barmby facilitated a professional development workshop on water leadership. Vicki introduced us to the six common leaders we come across in the sector and ran an activity to explore what traits and skills do these leaders possess, who we knew that reflected these leaders and which we felt we most identified with.

We also had a number of presentations from current students including a keynote address from Kathryn Silvester, Sydney Water Process Engineer and IWC MIWM 2017 Scholar. Kathryn shared her story on how she came to work in the water sector and spoke strongly to the need of finding your Ikigai (or ‘why’ – the intersect between what you’re good at, what you love to do, what the world needs and what you can get paid for). Her message for YWPs was to get your central bearings of what motivates and drives you, find your support team and also be in other people’s support team, or ‘rebel alliance’.

Julia Bauer and Jake Robson, final-semester candidates for the IWC’s MIWM program, shared their challenges and triumphs of starting up Australia’s first Youth Water Parliament Chapter, and the vision they have for this opportunity. Lachlan Guthrie shared his experience of working with Engineers Without Borders and how he used human-centred design to build the capacity of the team he worked with in Cambodia. Fellow MIWM candidate Xuli Meng also shared a poster on his work relating to a community engagement project that students completed in Cairns in 2017.

Rounding out our strong representation was our very own IWC Project Officer and member of the AWA YWP Conference Organising Committee, Diana Gonzalez Botero. Along with assisting organise the event Diana also presented on her work at the IWC, sharing her passion for achieving SDG 6: ‘ensure sustainable water and sanitation for all’, and her experience working on water, sanitation and hygiene in the Pacific.

The future of water management looks bright

In Diana’s own words the take away from the Conference is that young people are insightful, resourceful, a mighty power for progress and innovation, and truly emerging leaders in the water sector and beyond. We are passionate, dedicated and genuinely interested in changing the world around us, and most importantly we are ready to take action!

Faith-based Organisations and WASH in Solomon Islands: A missing link?

Join us in developing 1000 water leaders globally!

“Wai Tamata” (Water for Peace): World Water Day in Vanuatu