Lessons Learned from the Inaugural Young Water Leaders Summit at SIWW 2014

Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) is a fantastic venue to exchange ideas with industry and thought leaders from across the world. The innovation extended beyond the senior water leaders with this year’s inaugural Young Water Leaders Summit (YWLS). The recently concluded YWLS and SIWW drew to a close a week in which youth had the opportunity to learn from senior water leaders, one another, but also experientially by exploring Singapore and seeing the sustainability embodied by the Super Trees. A dialogue session with Singapore’s Minister Grace Fu, highlighted best-practices such as: water reuse, investments in R&D, technological adaptation and pricing strategies.

The value of learning from fellow participants is not to be underestimated. PhD Students, undergraduate students, junior professionals shared knowledge on Singapore’s water policies, flood prevention, and case studies from water management back home. The disciplinary and geographic diversity of the youth at YWLS created a truly inter-disciplinary forum in which issues could be discussed from multiple perspectives and towards varying actions and outcomes.  The difference in perspectives challenged the conversation in a way that helped us think deeply about the topics at hand.

Session Summaries

Session 1 – Water Security for the Future

The Water Youth Network (WYN) organized a session using principles of systems thinking to help participants think holistically about water security challenges. As urbanization and globalization sees the world’s population and productive activities concentrating in cities so too is water security heightened in these areas and their peripheries. Flood Risk Management, Water Governance and Water Security were breakout group themes that guided discussion on potential youth-led actions.

Session 2 – Sanitation for All: Empowering Youth to Improve Sanitation in Asia

ADB Youth Initiative & Asia Pacific Youth Parliament for Water organized an action oriented session to address sanitation challenges. Case studies from fellow youthful social entrepreneurs were shared and the Open Defecation Free Asia Project and “maptivists” were introduced.  In groups, we were challenged to think about what we can do to improve sanitation in Asia and abroad.

Session 3 – Water Stewardship

World Youth Parliament for Water facilitated a session on Water Stewardship – something which was distinguished from Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) for being user driven. Breakout groups discussed Stakeholder Engagement, Social Impact, Environmental Impact and Transparency. We talked in terms of practical scenarios a business would encounter and actions which could be taken to address these. The terms themselves were questioned; one participant raised the issue of the term “stakeholder management” and what it would mean for the quality of the engagement with affected water users.

Water Professionals Panel

Senior water leaders, entrepreneurs, and Ministers shared their experiences. The crowd of young water leaders responded well to the mentorship that was provided in the form of succinct advice on actions that could be taken to build our careers. This included things like determination, knowing how to generate buy-in, and focusing on peak performance.

During YWLS, and for the remainder of the summit as well as during the convention, youth had the opportunity to mingle and meet with senior water professionals including high-level decision-makers in industry and government. We even had the opportunity to attend discussions concerning the development of the post-2015 sustainable development goals and the upcoming 7th World Water Forum in Daegu (which WYN is working hard with other young water leaders to build youth capacity and ensure that their space within the WWF7 for inter-generational dialogue and knowledge sharing).

The value of youth driven networks was stressed during the past week for shaping future water diplomacy, for opening up career opportunities, and for helping to forge partnerships that amplify youth driven initiatives.

Perhaps most importantly, YWLS helped solidify old friendships and forge new ones between future water leaders who may one day meet each other across the negotiation table.

The final session outcome document and action summary will be out soon.