October 13, 2015 Society

How to Play the International Water Field as a Young Professional

As a young professional in the water sector I know how difficult it can be to get yourself, and your work noticed. Together with other Young Water Professionals, I’ve put together the Technology and Social Media to Engage Water Users workshop at the IWA Water and Development Congress in Jordan for the IWA Public and Customer Communications Specialist Group.

Below I’ve outlined eight lessons I’ve learned along the way. Hard learned lessons I hope you’ll find useful.


1. Asses your strengths

What is your field of expertise? You might not even realise it yet, but there’s much you can share with the water community, even as a student. If you’re passionate about a topic you will quickly find other people who also want to talk about the same topic at conferences, online and in journal articles.

2. Get involved

It might sound simple but this is the biggest hurdle – finding the best avenue for you to get involved. The IWA offers Specialist Groups, the Young Water Professionals Programme, their online platform, leading conferences and more..

Then there are networks, organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) student groups which all address different issues and have their unique take on things.

Take some time to find out which one best suits you.

How much can you contribute? How open are the organisations to input from young people? Are they an advocacy group, an academic organisation, a professional network?

Many young people are drawn towards founding their own organisation. Personally, I’ve found that few add something truly new. So, do careful research and get involved with people already active in the space you find interesting. You can learn invaluable lessons from them instead of repeating the same mistakes they made.

3. Don’t be shy

There is no such thing a stupid question. Write emails to everyone with everything you want to know. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that assuming everybody knows something you don’t is a fallacy.

For example, abbreviations are the enemy of all people entering the water sector. You’ll sit in meetings where everyone throws around abbreviations like its free candy, and somehow you seem to be the only one that doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Don’t be too self concious to ask your neighbour, on your right or your left, and, unless they’re bluffing, one of them can help you. In the international context there are few abbreviations which are common knowledge. Use this to serve as a reminder for yourself: don’t use abbreviations and assume people know them. They might just be too shy to ask.

4. Read the guidelines carefully

Want to present at an international conference and share your experience with others?

Follow the guidelines carefully. Each conference, workshop, organisation has different guidelines on how they want your abstract, summary or presentation outline sent to them. Make sure you familiarise yourself with these and don’t try to put a personal mark on them.

5. Plan your output

What is it you want to achieve? This is very difficult and yet will guide all your activities. It’s very similar to defining your research question. Your output will also determine your format.

Do you want to answer a question? Get an expert panel or interactive discussions going at a conference by preparing an abstract.

Do you want to share your views on a topic? Prepare presentations which you augment with presentations from other experts. Write a paper or blog post to engage people.

Do you want to shape the agenda? Join committees, specialist groups or advocacy groups working in the same or similar fields.

6. Prepare to invest time

Don’t expect other people to do your dirty work for you. The greatest thing you have as a young person is the freedom to allocate your time as you see fit. In order to really be seen and heard on the international scene you need to put yourself out there. Again and again. At conferences, in committees, in long-term relationship building with specific people, in writing papers, planning events…in short, by contributing.

7. Publish your results

Not going to lie – I am terrible at this! I have done my dirty work, the conference is settled, and now WHAT? I have to sit down and write a funky, interesting piece about it? Go away, leave me alone, no, I don’t want to. Truth is though – writing about your successes, lessons learned gets you noticed and you pass your knowledge on to others. Some of them even listen.

8. Get started now!

Yes, yes, I will just quickly make myself another cup of coffee, check Facebook or Instagram…

No! Start now. Start having a say now.


Discover more about the Young Water Professionals programme at the Water and Development Congress (Jordan 18-22 October):

Young Water Professionals Forum

Date: Sunday 18 October, 08.30 – 15.00

Achieving Water Security for Sustainable Growth is a major global challenge. Delivering the much needed change will not occur without motivated and dedicated people inspiring and steering it. The human resources in the sector are currently in short supply, and the sector loses professionals every day to more competitive sectors and retirement.

If you are a Young Water Professional who wants to contribute to delivering the solutions for Water Security for Sustainable growth; build your networks; and to develop your water career, the YWP Forum at the Congress provides a unique opportunity.

Want to connect with the IWA at the Water and Development Congress? Find us in the Exhibition, Stand #108

Nora Hanke

Vice Chairperson of the South African Young Water Proffesionals