"A little less conversation, a little more action" are not just the words of a catchy Elvis song, it is also the slogan for the youth programme of the Amsterdam International Water Week (AIWW) 2015 and Aquatech Amsterdam. We use this quote to highlight the need for conferences to go beyond the endless repetitions of stating the major water problems we face on a global scale – followed by applause and then simply going back home. Instead we want to strengthen the AIWW as a platform for taking measures to achieve real results. We want to see commitment. Although dialogue is a key for progress to be made, words should always be seen as a means to an end. Words should create discussions which stimulate concrete actions, and how these actions can be implemented on a local level. So what is the role of youth in this context? And what can youth contribute with for the future of the water sector? To answer this, there are three major factors I would like to point out:
Firstly, youth ARE the future of the water sector, and being young naturally gives you a longer time perspective. On the global agenda nations and companies mostly represent themselves, but what is missing is someone to speak on the behalf of future generations. I think this is one of the responsibilities of youth. There are a great number of environmental challenges that are begging for solutions, and youth and their concerns about the future is an important part of the answer.
As young people growing up in these times we are weary of hearing dystopian predictions on poverty, population growth, climate change and conflicts. We believe that there are solutions to these serious challenges and a sustainable future is possible, but at the same time we are not naïve and we do not believe in quick fixes. We believe in working hard and taking serious action. And we believe we have to act before it is too late. We don't see 'the environment' as a duty or a threat. The environment is, as its name implies, what surrounds us. And logically, by acknowledging the interdependence of humanity and nature, we can create systems, societies and solutions for the benefit of both. We need integrated approaches that take the whole picture into account. We need to act based on the fact that there are limited resources on this planet. Thus it is obvious that processes and infrastructure – also for water and wastewater – must be planned with a circular approach.
To achieve this, business as usual is not the solution. This brings us to the second reason why youth involvement in the water sector is important: Young people have a fresher perspective. They are more open to new ideas and can see things from new angles. This means they can question and challenge current mind-sets. Altogether, this makes youth an important resource as they are extremely innovative. Although I encourage youth to stay as curious, restless and eager as possible, they should also retain some patience, and show respect and willingness to learn from the experiences of seniors. The extensive knowledge of the water senior professionals, in combination with the open-mindedness and fresh ideas of the younger generations, is perfect for creating new possibilities and insights. This is why bridging gaps between generations is of great importance for the future of the entire water industry. We need to take the "best of both worlds", to quote another famous song.
The significance of bridging gaps leads us to the third reason why youth are an important contributor to the water sector. Youth are more online on social media, many are travelling extensively at a young age, and youth are usually not settled in one specific field or company. Altogether this makes youth more open and highly capable of, more than seniors, communicating across sectors, education fields and cultures. More and more I am realising how these connections and perspectives are one of the greatest strengths of our youth today – especially in a time where the water sector is increasingly focusing on avoiding silo mentality. Youth and their capability to connect more freely is often an untapped resource when it comes to increase the necessary cross-sectorial collaboration. During the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille in 2012, the youth attending came to the realisation that there is a lack of continuity between the various conferences in the water sector. Because of this, youth are now – by their own initiative – in the process of connecting the different events. To build on results from other conferences creates momentum and promotes collaboration beyond a single conference. Working together produces even stronger and more innovative results. Together with Water Youth Network, I am lucky to be a part of connecting the AIWW and its youth-organised workshops with the Stockholm and Singapore Water Weeks as well as the Korea World Water Forum. And this is just the beginning.
One problem at water conferences until now is that the involvement of youth has often been restricted to either serve as a decorative role or to attend activities in a separate room far away from the remaining activities - just like that separate table for children you have at big family dinners. This is one of the things that are different with the young AIWW. In Amsterdam 2015, the youth programme is an integrated part of the total programme, and instead of having many separate youth events, we aim for a few high quality ones that stimulates dialogue and connections between youth and seniors. In addition, we will be using the youth pre-conference day to empower youth to engage and be more active during the entire conference events. The AIWW is a conference that acknowledges that youth involvement is much more valuable if it involves connecting youth and seniors and allowing them to learn from each other.
By the Young AIWW program, we create a place where young water professionals can be heard and where senior professionals can come in contact with an ambitious and enthusiastic young crowd. We are working towards an AIWW that is a place that triggers not only inspiration, but also action across generations. We hereby invite you to join us for an even bigger and better Amsterdam International Water Week in November 2015. When you are at the Aquatech exhibition, youth or senior, please follow this sound to join us in the youth pavilion: