By setting the EU goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, whilst aiming at zero pollution of our air, waters and soils, restored biodiversity and a cleaner and more regenerative economy, we have an inspiring agenda that needs manpower for many years following. In devising and implementing the necessary, cross-generational change, the older generation needs more than ever younger brains, skills, talents. Yet, working in the water sector is challenging for the youth. AIWW asked our member of the organising committee Veronica Manfredi and European Junior Water Porgramme (EJWP) participants Manon Berge, Rhys Hellin and Ioana Dobrescu what we can do to help youth thrive in the water sector.
Veronica Manfredi is Director for Quality of Life at the Directorate General for the Environment of the European Commission, and Ambassador for the European Junior Water Programme: “I am also an enthusiastic supporter of Amsterdam International Water Week, one of the most important yearly, international events on water taking place within the EU. Since my department has now the privilege to sit on the AIWW Organising Committee, we try to ensure that, on the one hand, EU policy developments are made known also to a non-EU audience and that, on the other, EU proposals are made fit for the global water agenda, building upon the concerns and experiences we hear from other countries.”
Manfredi: “President Von der Leyen has set in motion an inspiring agenda, which calls for a systemic transformation of the way we live, move, produce and consume. A policy agenda, where water is central – as water symbolizes what we have polluted, what we have stopped from flowing free, what we have over-abstracted, to the point of leading to dramatic land degradation and even desertification. And water seems to be the first in line when it comes to harmful climate impacts, in the form of much intensified storms, floods and droughts. I see it as my job to help the EU achieve the objective, enshrined in the Water Framework Directive, of stopping our 1 million kilometres of rivers deteriorating, whilst making sure they are in good status by 2027 – just 6 years from today. Six years to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, whilst ensuring good and enough quality water for all of our citizens, for our farmers, for our businesses.”
Veronica finds it an honour to be one of the Ambassadors for the European Junior Water Programme (EJWP). “Indeed, I strongly believe that all Green Deal policies we are now shaping, at EU level, are key for the next generation, and can lead to new, interesting socio-economic-cultural opportunities for prosperity. Thus, being an EJWP Ambassador for me means that I take full responsibility in my role as a EU civil servant, in trying to design effective policy approaches and legislative proposals that help the EU in ‘building back better’, right in the midst of this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. I very much count on the support, creativity and entrepreneurship of many young professionals to find solutions to the huge water challenges we face.”
Actually, currently Manfredi’s Department is finalizing work on a Zero Pollution Action Plan, and it is clearer now more than ever why they need young people on board. “Because the zero pollution, biodiversity and climate-friendly, circular world we are aiming at is their future. Because to ‘build back better’ and overcome the resistance of more risk-adverse forces, people like me need youth, to forcefully demonstrate that today is not what we need, and that a fairer future is beyond the corner.”
She also lists these advantages of hiring young people:
- Young people often master digital technologies that can help us all envision that future we cannot yet see – and in which many thus do not yet believe
- They embody the cost of inaction, versus the cost of action
- As users of social media, young people can influence many others in an effective and appealing manner
EU Green Week
This year, the EU Green Week (June 1st– 4th) will be entirely focused on the Zero Pollution Action Plan. Manfredi: “We wish to look far and dive deep with all participants on the key challenges ahead of us. We will also have a bespoke session co-organised with the EJWP, on young people’s views on water. It will be a rather unique opportunity to bridge the gap between generations’ perceptions and expectations. Join us! Let us learn from each other to avoid mistakes of the past, mutually strengthen our wisdom and face the risks ahead with strategic determination – whilst always caring for the most vulnerable, the less vocal ones.”
What youth needs to thrive: AIWW asked three EJWP Participants how the AIWW Community can help.
In an ideal world, what would the water sector look like?
Manon Berge, Participant EJWP2, ACTeon, France: “We would think of water management not only as a sector, but as a part of many other sectors, like land and urban planning, agriculture, energy, ecosystems, cultural heritage, etc. This would require even more interdisciplinarity, and to think about water challenges as societal challenges. I would like to help involve professionals from other sectors and various stakeholders in water management, facilitate mutual understanding and cooperation between them. We need to ask ourselves what world we want for the future and orient our work towards the answer.”
Rhys Hellin, participant EJWP1, Dwr Cymru, Welsh Water, Wales: “An ideal water sector would be much more collaborative – beyond project specifics and localized practices. We need broader connections for solutions that already exist to problems that we’re individually working on. It’s really not rocket science, but interactive programs, especially for young professionals, help bridge this gap. The technology is there in many cases to support solutions, I think with EJWP we’re creating connections for the right kind of implementation. I would bring the ‘can do’ attitude and commitment to implement change and positive outcomes.”
Ioana Dobrescu, Participant EJWP1, Water Footprint Implementation, Netherlands & Romania: “Ideally, we’d have at least reached SDG6. With the range of both low-tech and high-tech solutions available over the past decades, it is surprising how billions of people worldwide still lack access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. I don’t accept the simplistic answer that the biggest barrier to achieving this SDG is lack of financing. I believe the core of the problem lies in our improper governance. As humanity, we have failed to put in place honest and efficient governance systems, be they state, market or otherwise. I believe it’s of paramount importance that we work with the younger generations to create more honest and caring leaders for the water sector and our future as a whole. Our global society is still going through its growing pains. I hope to use the knowledge and understanding that I have to help alleviate some of those pains.”
What do you need from current members of the water community to optimize your contribution to the sector?
Manon Berge:“I would love to see the water community include more social sciences. This would help investigate how water challenges that we strive to tackle with new technologies are in fact social and political. Humanities allow a step back to consider an issue differently.”
Rhys Hellin: “What is needed is an open mind to allow the acceptance of change from the norm. Change can still be seen as a threat rather than an opportunity to improve, but I feel that this is slowly shifting with new younger professionals in the industry. Secondly, there needs to be opportunities for people to explore different approaches, with a platform for them to be presented.”
Ioana Dobrescu: “Honest collaboration. I’ve been active in the water sector for a little under a decade now, and ever since the beginning I have often heard the call towards both intra- and inter-sectoral cooperation. Unfortunately, that need for open cooperation and open innovation is still present. Again, the problem here lies not necessarily within the sector itself but within our societies as a whole. More often than not, people are doing the jobs they do because of pure happenstance or because they need an income, not because they love or believe in what they do, let alone in their daily office tasks. Organizations are made out of people, it therefore follows that organizations collaborate when they see a direct benefit for themselves in the form of profit or status, and not because cooperation would benefit the (water) cause. This is what EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe have partly tried to address, but unfortunately we see that when cooperation is a requirement on paper, it becomes forced and extremely bureaucratic, running counterproductive to its goals.”
What can AIWW and our community members do to help?
Manon: “Organize more interdisciplinary events and projects, develop an intersectoral professional culture for water management, invest into governance and coordination of actions. Be open to alternative thinking, and be inclusive of young professionals, other sectors and disciplines. Don’t only communicate to raise awareness, but involve the general public into the reflections on water management as a mean for a sustainable future.”
Rhys: “AIWW could provide accessible platforms for the water sector to share ideas and create new connections. I feel this will allow much greater knowledge sharing in the water industry which in return will create successful innovation to allow the industry to continue to evolve and achieve superior performance outputs.”
Ioana:“Continue putting the spotlight on and laying the grounds for new forms of cooperation, such as was done through the Amsterdam Agreements. You are already doing a great job representing the water sector, but you can always be more daringJ Go beyond reporting on ‘successes’ and strive to portray and give the stage to as diverse of a range of voices as possible.”