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238 water stories and counting: Highlights from the 2020 IWA/AWA YWP Conference

The 2020 International Water Association and Australian Water Association Australia-New Zealand Young Water Professionals Conference (or IWA/AWA ANZ YWP if you know your TLA’s) saw a record 238 of our future leaders of industry, research and government gather to share their water stories in Brisbane on 12 to 13 March 2020.

While large gatherings seem a long distant memory in present circumstances, the sold-out event held at the Hotel Grand Chancellor attracted speakers and delegates from across the globe. A change from the usual cohort of engineers and scientists, delegates at this event included teachers, architects, researchers and community relations officers.

The theme of the conference was ‘What is your water story?’ and sought to provide an opportunity for people to bring their whole selves to the event, to intertwine their career and technical story with their own personal challenges and successes. The conference theme was readily embraced by the cohort and created a very inclusive and supportive platform for young professional to share their passion, collaborate and challenge ideas.
YWP Conference 2020 audience

Highlights of the conference included:

  • Sarah Smith from SA Water discussing her experience as a proud Narungga Kaurna woman and the connection that she had with water from her upbringing on the Yorke Peninsula, that she has been able to bring to her role as an Environmental Scientist and SA Water’s first Reconciliation Action Plan Coordinator.
  • Safaa Aldiwari, who unfortunately was not able to attend the conference from her native Palestine due to issues of security and politics, provided a powerful video story of her work providing water and sanitation services to communities in the Gaza Strip.
  • Brendan Moore and Geraldine Terada-Bellis providing the entertaining and powerful dinner address. The pair were matched through a LGBTIQ+ mentoring platform and talked about some of the challenges they have faced through their careers. The natural story telling abilities of Brendan and Geraldine navigated the crowd through the highs and lows of their Rainbow Water Stories and was tremendously well received.
  • The Day 2 keynote session, featuring one of our Youngest Water Professionals, with 8-year old Rosie Barber from Kelvin Grove State college sharing her water story and that of her family. Rosie was followed by Ashleigh and Jaine Morris of Coreo, who have overcome personal and career challenges to be leading lights in pioneering circular economy approaches with some of the biggest organisations around the world.

    8-year old Rosie Barber from Kelvin Grove State College sharing her water story 8-year old Rosie Barber from Kelvin Grove State College sharing her water story

  • The closing Amazing Race, which saw delegates form teams and test themselves physically and mentally on a course through the Roma St parklands, building their knowledge of Brisbane’s rich history.

While judges had the unenviable task of trying to draw a standout presentations and posters from so many excellent contributions over the two days, honours deservedly went to Kristy Ratcliffe for her paper Learning with Schools to Change our Water Future, detailing how she brought her perspective and skills as an educator to shape the Hunter Water collaborated and engaged with schools and the community about the value of water. Thais Pimenta, Water Architect and Urban Designer from Spiire, earned the Best Poster award for her work on Knowledge Empowering Community towards Sustainable Water Management.

This conference would not have been possible without the support of sponsors from Queensland and around the country, in particular principal sponsors SMEC and Unitywater (who also took honours for bringing the largest delegation to the event).

Special thanks must also go to the conference organising committee, led by the impeccable co-chairs Diana Gonzales Botero and Jannah Baker, and Elyse Bishenden and Kirsty Blades from the AWA. The success of this conference was the result of almost a year of hard work in planning, organising and delivery on the day.

While the future may seem uncertain there is little doubt that the success of this conference, and its theme of inclusiveness centred around the commonality all people share in their relationship with water, will persist long into the future. There is little doubt that this event will become a regular feature of the Australian-New Zealand water industry calendar.

Urban Utilities' William Spiers was on the conference organising committee. Alice Connell is a Senior Engineer – Water Infrastructure at SMEC.