Before coming to Singapore, the organisors asked everyone to define what it is they expected from the Young Water Leaders Summit. Working on the one hand on defining the demand and needs for capacity in the South African water sector as a project manager at the Stellenbosch University Water Institute, as well as trying to bring people into the water sector as Vice Chairperson of the South African Young Water Professionals (YWP-ZA), I am particularly interested in creating sustainable networks which meet the growing demand for an adequately capacitated young workforce. My stated expectations for the Young Water Leaders Summit, namely to find out about other youth water networks and connect with them, were met and I hope this will increase the reach of the YWP-ZA network and my horizon.
Although I hold German citizenship, I have centred my life in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Living and working in the southernmost tip of Africa where internet can be slow, other youth initiatives seem remote and inaccessible at times. The Young Water Leaders Summit in Singapore was my first exposure to other international water youth networks and really brought their activities, mandates, goals and objectives onto my radar. Coordinating mandates, avoiding double dipping, and sharing information seems long overdue, considering the transboundary nature of water and global challenges facing our generation.
I really hope that YWP-ZA can make a meaningful contribution to the on-going conversations around water issues in the international water youth networks. Since it was in my capacity as Vice Chair that I came to Singapore, it was fantastic to get positive feedback on our experiences and activities. On one hand, it positively reinforced what we are already doing and encouraged me to go back to the rest of the Committee and our members and encourage them to carry on, and on the other hand, I was really inspired by my fellow water leaders and will return with many new ideas.
These ideas were mainly inspired by the discussion sessions which were led by different youth initiatives from around the globe. I was introduced to a new model of thinking about interrelated issues in water which addresses the positive and negative relationships between variables. I also learned about Water Stewardship, a concept I had previously only heard in passing. I am convinced that I can translate that concept to some of the organisations I currently work with. Since many people in my group have had some work experience, we were able to provide achievable activities and objectives.
My role as team leader was to guide these discussions and I tried to give everyone the space to express their opinions. Crossing language and cultural barriers is not always easy but particularly the team building games, led by local high school students, were great to break the ice (especially since we won first prize!). The scavenger hunt was organised in such a way that I not only learned a lot about Singapore’s water programme but also prepared me for the amazing session with the Rt. Hon. Minister Fu next morning. It was absolutely fantastic to see how serious Singapore is taking its young water leaders. This was reflected to me once again when I had coincidently ate lunch with the Singaporean Director of the Water Policy Division. I wish other countries would prioritize their young water leaders with equal priority.
It is in this vein that I would like to thank PUB for bring us all together and affording me the amazing opportunity to take part in the global water youth movement.
Throughout our discussions, the concept of innovative young water leaders emerged time again. I would like to challenge the notion that youth is inherently innovative. In order to truly affect change, what innovative solutions can we as water leaders come up with? Or is it for us, the leaders, to create youth water networks that provoke and channel innovative ideas?