Creating space for human to human connections – An experiential Blog

by Anna Goubert (, Rozemarijn ter Horst (, Natalija Vojno (, Tim Nolden ( & Maitreyi Koduganti (

The attention on the many roles young people can play in water cooperation is growing. Also during the Stockholm World Water Week, water, peace, cooperation and young people were on the agenda. Also, many organisations experience it as a challenge to providing space for meaningful cooperation of young people in water cooperation.However, there are many opportunities to involve young people in water cooperation. The Water Youth Network undertakes research about the role young people play, and had organised a workshop with more than 20 young people from 14 different countries and 4 continents in Cairo to discuss the topic from 24th-28th June, 2019. The workshop was supported by the DUPC2 programme of IHE Delft and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network.

However, we have more to share. One of the lessons the young people shared was ´Create space for human to human connections´. The participants to the workshop added: It is through genuine connections that meaningful understanding and opportunities for cooperation are fostered. It is also through these deep connections that safe spaces are made to try, to fail, and to learn. This includes creating an inclusive environment and dedicated time for healing historic traumas.´

The Stockholm World Water Week is about coming together. However, at a big conference, or even at smaller official meetings, it may be difficult to make genuine connections. Taking time to ask questions, listen with intent, taking time to answer, or just acknowledging each other is crucial to make these connections. During the workshop in Cairo, 23 young people who did not know each other made genuine connections. The photos show how in a short time, meaningful exchanges came to be. It shows the power of young people, being an inspiration for those moments we feel we have less time to listen, to answer, or just to be. 

The workshop was organised by young volunteers of the Water Youth Network. They have learned a lot from the week, and from the interactions with the participants. This is why we have asked the organisers to share what they learned from the week: 

Anna Goubert:

Sometimes, we get the impression that the issues are too big, serious, that we have too many people to convince, that it is impossible to make things happen. Then it’s really easy to freeze, get depressed and see our future as all dark! But there, thanks to this workshop, I felt like I got the tools to counterbalance this idea: this opportunity to gather and share allowed us all to learn about topics we did not know, to develop new ideas, to be more confident. When we all went back home, we could take more initiatives, talk more easily with people to explain what’s going on regarding water-related issues, have the courage to develop our new ideas, by setting up a concrete project, for instance, or creating solutions at the local level. We did not solve the water crisis, young people do not have the answers to everything, they do not hold all the knowledge, it is a certainty. But thanks to their dynamism, desire to work together and their ability to see the bigger picture, they manage to find concrete solutions and to give themselves the means to put them in place.

Anna, sharing her views in one of her sessions

The ability of young people to create connections through inclusive spaces of dialogue allows them to move beyond administrative boundaries and build trust and understanding among stakeholders. It is through this gateway that we will get off the beaten track and think otherwise, outside our shackles. The ease with which young people immediately discussed, and the links we created during the week do not lie. I am definitely convinced that young people and young leaders are the lever of change towards the desirable future we want. 

Maitreyi Koduganti:

Water has always been a subject close to my heart. Given that we are in a  world of severe conflicts, I believe that there is definitely hope in how we can sail across these conflicts in a way that was more meaningful, cooperative and fun. This was my objective as a communications lead for this workshop! I attempted to experiment using games in order to explore how can we, as young professionals, connect differently. And I felt it worked, because it was one game, 23 people, 23 interpretations, but with a common goal of bringing a change that includes all. Sharing responsibilities, understanding, giving space for innovations, being empathetic, and most importantly standing up for each other have been some of the most prominent responses to the game that was based on how young professionals can bring about a change for a better future. 

Maitreyi, facilitating a game as a different way of learning

It is quite often that young professionals are not taken seriously, because we are inexperienced and perhaps lack certain expertise. But this workshop has shown me a different picture altogether. Indeed, young professionals lack certain expertise, but participants of this workshop showed me that we have a vision to change, we have the knowledge to build on and we have the energy and strength to pick ourselves up when we fail and get back into the change-making process. This workshop helped me build confidence, trust and meaningful relationships, not just professional but also personal. It gave me the belief that we, as young people, embody a vision for our futures and I am more than willing to be a part of this process of building a better future for me and for generations to come. 

Natalija Vojno:

As my final contribution to the Water Youth Network the workshop was a bittersweet gift to deliver and receive. Facilitating space for young people, most of whom did not know one another, to come together and engage openly on serious topics required keeping in tension their safety as well as their ability to form genuine connections. Peace building is very much a team sport, and it was essential that we demonstrated from our own WYN team to the broader workshop participants, what cooperation looks like in action. It is by embodying the principles we wish to see in the world that we can make them happen. For instance, the three horizons exercise, as part of the foresight activity, was essential in helping participants not only develop a vision for an ideal future but also the steps needed to project the idea into reality. My final takeaway is that when people trust each other, communicate with each other, and work together that they can align to build healthier and more prosperous futures – ones in which we live in good relations with each other and with nature. 


Natalija, sharing her views in a ‘fish-bowl’ exercise

Rozemarijn Ter Horst:

Organising a workshop for more than 20 people from around the globe, who have never met, is a lot of work. However, on the first evening together with all participants, it was like we had never not known each other. Trust was shown through little and big things – from leaving your bag without checking whether your wallet is safe, to being a buoy for someone who could not swim (literally being trusted with someone’s life). How is it that these young people connected so easily, and had such rich exchanges and experiences because of it? I was also inspired by the atmosphere, and much easier shared my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I was yearning to connect. 

Roos, sharing moments of connectedness

Of course, one of the reasons is that people came with an open mind, were curious, that everyone had loads to gain and very little to lose. Yet, I hope that we can bring a bit of this atmosphere to official meetings, acknowledging that all of us are first of all human beings – yearning to connect, to share, to be acknowledged. 

Tim Nolden:

Water has a memory” it remembers and gives back. This insight into water and its deep connection with cultures was very interesting for me. As part of the organisational team I learned a lot about the roles, skills and different world views of each of the participants and about mine as well. I learned how to react when you have to involuntarily share a hotel room with two brothers from Uganda at 4:00 AM and manage to have a genuine conversation about their last week and their country in the most friendly and open way I would have never deemed possible in this situation. Not only due to this lack of sleep, I felt the week in Egypt was quite demanding physically and emotionally for us as a team. But I am glad we managed it and I am really looking forward to making this event happen again in the future to connect more young people over water resources. As a last point, I only hope my memory is as good as the memory of the water to keep the experiences made alive for a long time. 

Tim, exchanging gifts with participants of the workshop

You can read more about the workshop and lessons captured here.

Video of all participants:

Short video of the walking exercise that Dona- one of the participants, did