Youth & Transboundary Water Cooperation: What we learned from the Youth in Water Diplomacy Workshop in Cairo

Youth & Transboundary Water Cooperation: What we learned from the Youth in Water Diplomacy Workshop in Cairo

Young leaders from across the world gather in Cairo, Egypt, from 24 -28 June 2019 to present on and discuss the impact of Youth in transboundary water cooperation. Representatives from WYN Water Governance thematic working group reflect on key outcomes and lessons learned.

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


From the 24th to the 28th June 2019, the Water Governance team of the Water Youth Network, in collaboration with the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network, had the great pleasure to welcome a group of 20 young leaders of water diplomacy, coming from 14  different countries to Cairo, Egypt, in order to share experiences, identify hurdles and best practices related to the role of young people in transboundary water cooperation.



Left: Representative from Egypt presenting Cairo World Water Week. Right: Participants from South-Sudan and Azerbaijan greeting at the workshop.


The Workshop was divided into 9 sessions, each one adopting a specific angle to help young people understand and tackle transboundary water-related issues at different scales (the workshop and session details at the end of the document).  After each session, participants were assigned to smaller groups to exchange experiences from home, to brainstorm together, and design solutions.


The participants bonded very quickly, connecting naturally, even though they didn’t know each other and were coming from very different countries. They realized that they shared similar experiences in their activities related to water cooperation; their commitment to water issues and their will to make things evolve was a unifying factor. Activities beyond the workshop such as visiting the pyramids and the boat trip on the Nile fostered even stronger bonds, mutual understanding, and cultural appreciation.



Two different visions of desirable futures for the Nile river basin


The applied foresight session, using the three horizons model, was a good example of youth maturity and efficiency to think together: in groups, the young leaders anticipated emerging trends within the Nile River Basin future and designed a shared vision for the area by 2040. Around the table were young people coming from Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, among others from West Africa and Latin America who had never worked on the Nile Basin. Together, as a team, they pooled their knowledge, brainstormed about trends and drivers of change, imagined more ideal futures, and defined the policy steps to make these a reality. In the end, we noticed that there were lots of different paths to reach the same vision. That’s why it is essential to gather as many people, with many different backgrounds, as possible around the table in order to see broader and move further.


Insight from our participants

“In my experience this workshop has been a space of hope, a space of sharing and a space of being more inspired by knowing that there are more youth with the same goals, the same spirit, and the same passion to protect our natural resources and water…

Young people have the power to inspire new generations and to offer policy advice … Now, is the time to give Young People a formal space in the places where the decisions are taken, in order to build a more sustainable world.”

Alejandro López Tamayo, 29, Mexico


What we learned as the WYN Governance team

During the workshop, one of the participants made an essential remark: what is important is not to just bring people together, but to design how we do it.


As the team organizing and facilitating this special event, we found this to be fundamentally true, especially when we were also discovering each other’s working styles for the first time in the Water Governance team! From the first day, we ran through an exercise to develop the island of cooperation where participants expressed the values, tools, and ways of engaging that we wanted to keep – as our code of conduct – and “off the island” behaviors and practices that would be left outside of the room. This helped to align norms and allow for more flexibility with letting participants lead.


Members of the Water Governance team: Maitreyi Koduganti, Natalija Vojno, Rozemarijn ter Horst, Tim Nolden & Anna Goubert


During all the sessions, we created a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable to share and bring his/her ideas to the table. For example, on the first day participants presented case studies and projects from their homes. And, during the Unconference on Thursday, 3 young leaders ran their own sessions on a subject that was important to tackle for them. The results were beyond what we would have planned. Thanks to a really fun practical exercise on systems thinking, led by Dona Geagea, we realized how difficult it could be to focus on a set target in a dynamic rapidly changing complex system. The lesson: we need allies! Thanks to Alice Michelle we discovered how essential it is to think beyond our technical relationship through stories and legends about water practices and beliefs in Cameroon. Additionally, we held space to discuss the meaning of “leaving no one behind”.


As a team, this Workshop was a great practical exercise that showed us the importance of harmonizing across scales. We need to apply to the smallest organizational scale what we would like to see applied to manage water on a larger scale: be coordinated, respectful, trust each other, be a “crutch” when an ally or teammate needs it, but also to leave him/her the space to shine. Cooperation is about expanding the circle, sharing benefits, and making  room for all.


Finally, we have to say goodbye to one of our team members, who is leaving WYN to take on a new role with a new set of aspirations. Natalija, we really appreciate the role you played in organising this workshop and a host of other activities within the Water Youth Network, especially within the governance group in the last years. For sure, nobody can replace you, and we will miss you as a mentor and friend. However, we will continue to learn and inspire each other! Farewell!


We invite you to read our jointly drafted recommendations paper here. This is a living document to which we welcome suggestions and sign on.


Watch the video where participants share insights from the Youth in Water Diplomacy workshop:


For further information or if you would like to stay connected with other youth in water diplomacy, sign up here.


Overview of the workshop programme

Monday 24th June:
  • Session 1: Showcasing youth activities
  • Session 2: Researching the role of youth in transboundary water cooperation
Tuesday 25th June:
  • Session 3: Sharing lessons and refining levers for youth partnership, prevention and participation in transboundary water diplomacy
  • Session 4: Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
  • Session 5: Cooperation Game
  • Session 6: Applied Foresight: the Future Water-Energy-Food-Environment Nexus & visions for the future (steps 1 & 2)
Wednesday 26th June:
  • Session 6 (continuation): Applied Foresight: 3 horizons exercise and backcasting (steps 3 & 4)
  • Session 7: In the shoes of Young Water Diplomats – discussing tools for engagement
  • Session 8: Framing Water Challenges & Co-Creating solutions
  • Session 9: Thinking like a water-preneur — using the five whys
Thursday 27th June:
  • Unconference
  • Drafting Table
Friday 28th June:
  • Finalization of drafting table