By Younoussa Abbosouka
About a month ago, I was in Brasilia attending the World Water Forum. It was an absolutely enriching experience for me. As a young water professional from Cameroon, it was the first time I ever participated in an international water event. I met with many young water professionals – both from Water Youth Network and outside, senior experts and representatives of various international organizations. I had a chance to meet and interact with seniors from Deltares, IHE Delft, Global Water Partnership, and Asian Development Bank, among many others.
Personally, I think this conference was very well organized and WYN’s participation brought many good results. I enjoyed this entire week of networking, learning and getting to know so many international water professionals and experts. I attended many sessions at the forum and found the discussions to be very informative and insightful. I learned many new things such as the importance of relying on solutions proposed by communities in solving issues related to water and sanitation. I attended a session on “nature-based solutions for water”, where experts suggested an approach which is totally different to what I am used to see in Cameroon. Here, the approach proposed by a community to solve their problem is never taken in consideration. Why? The decision maker tends to ignore what they have to proposed or sometimes believes that the community members are not able to come up with a valuable solution for their own issue. That’s a huge mistake. However, during that session, from what was presented and suggested by experts, the key message is to absolutely work hand to hand with community, consider their approaches because they are the ones that are most affected and sometimes know better what to do.
At the forum, I did not only attend the sessions, I also actively organized a number of activities. One of my major contributions was during the Youth Forum, a forum of young professionals and students prior to the official forum. I had a chance to share my experience of raising awareness among youth at the community level in the far north region of Cameroon and also engaging them in the decision making processes. As one the objectives was to encourage youth attending the forum to engage in the Youth declaration and understand its role and relevance.
As it was my first ever appearance at a major event, I was quite stressed. Some of my colleagues tried to destress me. I remember Laura (one of my teammates in WYN) called me and said “Hey Younoussa, calm down, it is going to be ok” while Shabana added, “You are going to do well”. These words had a positive impact on me and helped me present confidently on the stage. After the presentation, I had a very pleasant team building conversation with other members. I realized that Water Youth Network is not only about volunteering and networking, but it’s a family, a team committed to the success of every member, even beyond the activities related to the organization. That’s another face of the network that I discovered in Brasilia.
Inspired by what I learned from this session, I also participated in a networking coffee meet-up we co-organized with Josh Newton, a Consultant at GWP and founder of Josh’s Water Jobs, a site designed to connect talented individuals with opportunities in the water sector. We invited seniors from different international water organizations to share their experiences and advise us as young water professionals regarding our careers and future job opportunities. Personally, it was a privilege to have the chance to discuss with them and ask many questions. During that meeting, I asked Mr. Newton, “How to deal with failure in job applications?” He answered “Failure is a process of getting what you want, so you should not be discouraged by that. However become stronger and improve yourself everyday”.
Furthermore, we had a booth at the Dutch Pavilion, where we experienced a warm welcome. I had the chance to meet Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We had a conversation about the vision of the Dutch water sector and his personal opinion on the potential of youth in the water sector. From his insight, I learned the importance of networking, and the impact that we have as youth in the water sector. He told me, “This domain needs youth that are not afraid, youth that look at the future”.
In the same vision of connecting young water professionals and seniors, we organized a side event “Water and Jobs” where I was one of the moderators. Before the event, I had a brief meeting with one the panelists, Dr. Nemanja Trifunovic, Associate Professor of Water Supply Engineering at IHE Delft. We discussed his presentation and as well as opportunities in water sector, challenges, and how to include youth in the decision making processes.
I enjoyed the overlap in our perspectives on these matters, and I especially appreciated the fact that intergenerational barriers seemed imperceptible during our talk, in contrast to my home country. Through this experience, I rediscovered myself personally, expressing confidence when engaging people in conversation. I also grew professionally, consolidating the objectives of my future career. I hope my continued interactions with my network around the globe will lead to further insight and action to address the challenges faced by many young water professionals. I also look forward to spreading what I have learned to my network here in Cameroon, and engaging my local and regional colleagues in discussions about the effective measures and practices of other countries.
In conclusion, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all members of the Water Youth Network for their hard work, flexibility and diligence in pulling together our very successful participation in Brasilia. You guys are amazing! I would like to address a special thanks to Deltares, which made possible my participation in this event. To Laura, I wholeheartedly appreciate everything you’ve done for me; I am speechless! To Camilo, you rocked the coordination of this event, you have been there to support everyone in the best of your ability. Last but not least, to Shabana, thank you for your guidance, support, and helping me improve. I have benefited very much from this fantastic event.