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Water professionals are key to advancing sustainable development

Australian water professionals are in a unique position to drive change and promote sustainable development in the communities they serve.

With water vital to achieving all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), water engineer and consultant Suzy Goldsmith said the profession needs to build new capacity to meet these challenges.

Speaking ahead of her presentation at Ozwater’19 next week, which she will co-present with the Managing Director of ICE WaRM Darryl Day, Goldsmith said most water professionals have an inherent desire to engage with the SDGs.

“Caring about the goals of sustainable development is in the DNA of water professionals,” she said.

“People often choose to work in water for quite personal and deep-seated reasons; that’s what makes the sector different.”

During a workshop at Ozwater’18 last year, Goldsmith and Day asked participants what the Australian water sector could do to help achieve the SDGs.

The 80 attendees came up with 300 ideas. From these, four high-level recommendations emerged: influence community attitudes for change; measure sector contributions to change; make change; and collaborate with other sectors to support change.

Goldsmith and Day will present a more detailed analysis of these ideas at Ozwater this year, emphasising the importance of developing greater professional and cultural capacity for change-making.

Delegates at Ozwater'18. Delegates at Ozwater'18.

Responsible professionals

Goldsmith said the views expressed by workshop participants represent a call to arms for water professionals.

“The responsibility to lead progress on the SDGs through action on water lies with us, personally and collectively,” she said.

“People have started to forget what it means to be a professional; it’s quite a serious and profound thing.

“For professionals, their recognised capacity to tackle challenges within their domain of expertise confers on them a responsibility to act in the public interest.”

Water professionals can also create valuable connections on an individual level that move beyond organisational and sectoral efforts.

“We need to reinvigorate that sense of individual professional responsibility to lead, enable and support progress on the SDGs,” Goldsmith said.

“Individual connections are more open and flexible, more inclusive, extensive, serendipitous and potentially disruptive.

“They are relatively unconstrained by organisational and institutional agendas.”

With participants in the Ozwater’18 workshop calling for the water sector to facilitate better engagement across sectors and among stakeholders, Goldsmith said Ozwater’19 will see deeper exploration of these themes.

“The proposals were more intentional than simple introductions, focusing on diversity, shared knowledge, strong evidence, co-development, flexibility and agility,” she said.

“We are carrying these ideas forward in the Ozwater’19 workshop.”

To participate in the discussion, don’t miss the ‘Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals under climate change: New partnerships for transformation’ workshop, hosted by the Australian Water Association’s SDG Specialist Network and the International Water Association at Ozwater’19 on Tuesday 7 May.