How might we: build young water professional leaders through volunteering?

How might we: build young water professional leaders through volunteering?

Exploring how to foster inclusion through volunteering at conferences

By Kimberly McLeod, Natacha Klein, and Diana Yitbarek 
from World Water Women

sourced from



Imagine you are attending a conference and at your fingertips have access to a unique concentration of individuals in your field. These are people you can share targeted ideas with and develop interesting conversations to discover new ideas. Sometimes there are even people whom you can form friendships or business relationships with. In most instances, these gatherings are exclusive for those who have enough resources to attend the event or have the bonus of being sponsored.  To no surprise, throughout your career, you end up seeing the same people over and over again, where the majority who attend are the ones that climb the leadership ladder in your field. 


Through numerous conversations with attendees at international conferences, we conclude the following findings: we believe there is a need to have more inclusion, we believe there is a need for more young people to be able to participate in these gatherings, and therefore, be part of the conversation.


This article aims to:

  • Explore who volunteers and why, the subsequent benefits, both for the volunteer and the organizing entity
  • Provide resources where you can volunteer at conferences pertaining to water and environment topics
  • Inspire other organizations to include volunteer programs at their events.



The Future is Now


Our society is at a crossroad where more inclusion needs to happen. We need to come together to understand our water needs, seek ways to cooperate, and tackle our water issues. Everyone who has the passion, knowledge, and interest for a specific topic must and should demand to have the opportunity to join the conversation. This is one of the reasons why we believe all water-related conferences should have a volunteering program.


Have you ever noticed the conferences you attend include young professionals volunteering?


When conferences have volunteer programs, volunteers become the ‘face’ of the event, sometimes even the face of the organization. After a short training program, they are ready to help with different logistical tasks. These simple tasks can include greeting participants, assisting in running the series of talks, collecting tickets, guiding people etc. By giving this opportunity to volunteers, organizations are opening their doors to people that otherwise would have not been able to join the conversation or meet some of the usual delegates. Also, by having volunteers be in charge of these tasks, takes the strain away from conference organizers, therefore, freeing up their time to focus on more complicated matters such as the ways for boosting audience interaction, ways to measure and ensure “equal” participation, and ways to spread effective and nonviolent communication.


As a volunteer, you are representing the hosting organization and helping  the event run as smoothly as possible, while connecting with water professionals from all over the world, learning about tools and resources to tackle water issues and raising your voice about water issues that matter to you and your communities.

Why volunteer? 

As an exercise for writing this article, we recalled on three queries: reasons why we volunteer, our very first volunteering experience and what drove us to give our free time to a conference. It was really interesting to hear about our experiences since the three of us come from different parts of the world: the United States, Switzerland, and Colombia. Perhaps it is no surprise that we started volunteering in our communities: the library, music festivals, and the elderly nun’s house. We felt useful and proud to be giving back to our communities. As we grew into our career interests, we saw opportunities to participate in events and conferences. But we questioned how? Many of these events were geared towards experts in their field or had high registration costs (even student registration fees can be expensive when you also factor in travel and accommodation). Luckily, we found organizations where you can volunteer your time in exchange for a reduction of registration fees or other perks. 


These experiences were different from volunteering in our communities. We began developing new skills and expanding our knowledge, network and job possibilities. Volunteering for these events and conferences gave us the rare opportunities such as direct access and contact to exhibitions, presentations, and organizations that we wouldn’t have otherwise because of the registration costs or they were by invitation only. 


We feel proud to be giving back to the water-environment communities.


Benefits of Volunteering  at Conferences


The benefits of volunteering at a conference do not stop at gaining new skills or meeting new people. They also include: 


Click for larger image. Sourced from


Short List of Water Conferences 

Below is a list of conferences related to Water, Wastewater, Water Resources, WASH, Stormwater, Ocean Conservancy, Rivers, where the organization accepts volunteers  – with links and when the next conference takes place. Don’t see your organization listed? Perhaps you can let us know (by commenting on this article or by email) about your volunteer program and we can include you here. If you don’t have one you should join the movement!


Name of Conference Organized by Location Tentative Date / Topic Visible Volunteer Opportunity (Y/N) – Application Dates
Stockholm World Water Week (WWW) Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) Stockholm, Sweden 25-30 Aug, 2019/

“Water for Society – Including All”

Y – Approx. from Mar/1 to May/1
The World Water Forum (WWF) World Water Council (WWC) Dakar, Senegal Third week of March 2021/ “Water Security for Peace and Development” Y – Unknown (Registration/website link is not open yet)
World Water-Tech Innovation Summit Future Water Association + UK Department for International Trade London, UK February 25-26, 2020/ “Sustainability. Scalability. Service” Y – Unknown (Registration/website link is not open yet)
ACE19 American Water Works Association (AWWA) Denver, USA June 9 – 12, 2019 / “Explore the Impact of Innovation on the Future of Water” Y – Volunteer opportunity for AWWA members
5th AfricaSan Regional Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) Cape Town, South Africa. February 18-22, 2019 / “Transforming Sanitation in Africa” N
Amsterdam International Water Week Netherlands Water Partnership Amsterdam,


November 5 – 8, 2019/ “Implementation of Integrated Solutions by cities, industries, utilities and financiers: from cases to bankable projects” N
2019 Qingdao International Water Conference  Qingdao Association for Science and Technology Qingdao, China June 25 – 28, 2019/ “Water – source of life and basis of development” N
Aquatech Mexico RAI Amsterdam Mexico City,


Sep 3 – 5, 2019/ “Meet the Mexico Water Technology Industry” N
Latinosan 2019 Costa Rican Government San Jose, Costa Rica April 1 – 3, 2019/ “Sanitation for all: reducing gaps” N


Concluding Remarks


We hope you found our suggestions and recommendations resourceful. Please reach out to us if you have any feedback. We’d love to hear from you whether you would like to start a volunteering program at your conference or rethinking your existing program! Above there are a couple  of conferences that offer volunteering programs – we’d love to see this list grow, therefore, if you know of any water-related conferences, i.e. Wastewater, Water Resources, Groundwater, Hydrology, Hydrogeology, Stormwater, Watershed, Ocean Conservancy, River and Stream Restoration, WASH…please get in touch with us at 


Background on the writers: We are three young women professionals that met while volunteering at a water-focused conference. We found ourselves frequently discussing our conference experiences, as we’ve had the privilege to participate in numerous conferences before we met. After several conversations we decided to team up to join our opinions and suggestions and share our thoughts with you. The three of us value and recognize the excellent work organizations are doing to provide space and time for people to connect. They are spearheading opportunities for people to develop solutions to combat the challenges of today’s world. We think it’s very valuable, and we really appreciate these opportunities. 


Maybe, otherwise, we would not have met!


It’s in the title: “How might we” is a way of reframing the challenge by setting up for innovative solutions.