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Outgoing AWA CEO Jonathan McKeown reflects on seven years in the water sector

As he prepares to depart the Australian Water Association (AWA), Jonathan McKeown reflects on his time as CEO – and the changes he has seen.

The world has fundamentally changed in recent months. COVID-19 has changed the way we work, interact and even how we function as a society. No one could have guessed that we would need to deal with this so soon after the drought and bushfires. As we move beyond the initial phase of public health and employment concerns, the water industry will play a major role in re-booting the Australian economy.

The COVID-19 crisis has already fast-tracked many innovative changes for the water industry, including more flexibility in how we work, integrating more digital technologies for communication, updating procurement practices and streamlining the management of supply chains. Implementing further industry reform is needed and the ‘economic rebuild’ phase following COVID-19 will provide the setting needed to maintain the political support required for reforms of the urban water sector.

In the more immediate months ahead, AWA will play an important role in referring challenges and opportunities faced by the water sector throughout the COVID-19 crisis to government. To facilitate this communication, our National President Carmel Krogh OAM and I have been invited to join a National COVID-19 Coordination Commission Utilities Working Group to provide feedback and recommendations from the water industry.

We have established a mechanism for members to refer their own issues and recommendations through AWA so we can share the direct impacts on industry with the COVID-19 Coordination Commission and, through the Commission, to the Commonwealth Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister. 

During this time of remote working it is vital that AWA shares, connects and inspires members through an increased range of digital platforms. As face-to-face meetings remain prohibited, we have established new podcasts, webinars and digital ways of interacting with members. This includes assembling a completely digital Ozwater’20 Online program of webinars, live-streamed sessions and podcasts, as well as a virtual exhibition. For 2021 we have committed to return Ozwater to Adelaide. 

I step down from the role of AWA CEO after seven rewarding years. It has been a period of considerable change at AWA that has continued to modernise what we do and how we operate for the benefit of our members.

Working with our elected volunteers and staff, AWA has undertaken a digital transformation of its own as we upgraded our website, transferred from print to online publications, created an info hub called Water Source, and built a new intranet with ‘workspaces’ and faster internal communications. We have upgraded our financial systems and reporting capabilities and our offices have been renovated with improved technology and a contemporary layout.

Membership has grown significantly over the past seven years, providing us with a strong and stable level of corporate and individual membership. A review of the membership categories has commenced to ensure our membership model retains maximum relevance and efficiencies.

Our Branch events and activities across the country are well recognised for their high quality and have achieved record levels of participation. All Branches are now embracing new ways of extending the reach of AWA into regional areas. We have engaged members on diversity through the Channeling Change program, offered mentoring and personal development for our active young water professionals and explored new markets through our International Program.

The International Program has helped diversify our revenue base with more than a million dollars per year of revenue, while serving an ever-increasing number of members. 

Our premier event, the Ozwater Conference and Exhibition, has grown to attract more than 4000 attendees each year.

As I step down from the role of CEO, I am pleased that we have an organisational culture that is open and supportive, that recognises the importance of diversity and nurtures innovation. I am confident that, even in the difficult environment of COVID-19, our organisation is well positioned to continue its own evolution as a leading member association serving Australia’s water industry.

As an organisation we are united under our shared Strategy’22 to collaborate with other organisations and governments, to serve our members and to guide us in the next phase of development. 

It has been a privilege to work with so many volunteers from our industry and I pay special tribute to the elected Board Directors over the past seven years who all spend considerable time and effort to ensure AWA is governed to the highest standards. In particular, I thank the four Presidents that I have had the pleasure to work with: Graham Dooley, Peter Moore PSM, Francois Gouws and Carmel Krogh OAM. Their leadership, contributions and support to AWA and the wider industry deserve much wider acclamation.

I also want to acknowledge the generosity of our volunteers on all the AWA committees, including the Strategic Advisory Council, the Branches, Specialist Networks, IWAA, YWPs, Editorial and Ozwater Committees. These volunteers provide their expertise willingly, while also keeping AWA grounded in the interests of members.

Finally, I thank the AWA staff team who have shown such exemplary dedication and loyalty to the organisation. It has been my greatest pleasure to see how the staff confidence, skills and recognition have grown to benefit all our members and so many of our stakeholders.

Any accolades of achievement over the past seven years are directly attributable to this group of individual staff and our elected volunteers from whom I have learnt and experienced so much.

I wish Corinne Cheeseman every success in her appointment as our new CEO and I know AWA and its members will benefit from her leadership and highly relevant industry and business experience.

Jonathan McKeown

From the AWA staff

Jonathan, thank you for all the support and leadership you have given to us over the past seven years. You have been a trusted leader, mentor and colleague, and have made a lasting impact on us and the association as a whole. We wish you good luck and all the very best.