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Ripples of Collaboration: Long-term Impacts of International Partnership

2023 WA ‘Water Professional of the Year’ Cristiano Carvalho discusses the Long-term Benefits of International Water Utility Partnerships. Cristiano is a mechanical engineer with 20 years’ experience in technical and management roles in the water sector and has worked in metropolitan and regional Western Australian contexts and is actively engaged in volunteering in water projects in Australia and overseas.

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From the outset, my involvement in the Water Utility Improvement Program alongside partners in Vietnam had purpose. Early in 2016, the Australian Water Association's (AWA) invitation to join the program, supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the Australian Water Partnership (AWP), marked a significant moment for me personally. 

As the selected representative of Water Corporation, I soon found myself in the culturally rich historical district of Hue in central Vietnam, learning from and collaborating with my new partners at the Vietnamese water utility HueWACO. 

Our partnership started at the 2016 Vietwater conference, where water sector representatives from across the region shared aspirations and challenges. Supported by AWA and the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association (AWA’s Vietnamese sister-association) and driven by a shared commitment to enhancing our impact in the water sector, collaboration on shared concerns, including Human Resource Development, Asset Management, Water Quality, and ICT, was natural. 

Beyond the conference halls, over the next few years of immersive site visits and cultural exchanges in Australia and Vietnam, we fostered our personal and working relationship. As I learned more of Hue's rich culture and history, trust and understanding grew, laying the foundation for a long-term partnership rooted in mutual respect. 

Throughout the partnership, our collaboration yielded tangible achievements. HueWaco's adoption of advanced asset management systems, facilitated by our work together, was notable. Witnessing their rapid integration of digital solutions, I was impressed.

Our successes extended beyond technological solutions - collaborating with colleagues at Water Corporation, we established role profiles and performance indicators, fostering professionalism within HueWaco's HR and finance departments. HueWaco's pioneering efforts in water safety planning in the Vietnamese context underscored our collective commitment to best practices and innovation. 

Even post-program, our relationship thrived, with WhatsApp messages and emails facilitating ongoing knowledge exchange. Then, when I was invited by the HueWaco Chairman to present at an international conference in May 2019, I realised the far-reaching impact of our collaboration. Our partnership had evolved into one of professional growth, friendship, and mutual support. 

In 2023, as my family and I planned a holiday trip to Vietnam, the prospect of reconnecting with our partners in Hue was exciting. During the trip, I facilitated workshops and joined site visits, extending our collaboration and reaffirming our commitment and shared aspirations.

Family picture

Reflecting on the evolution of our partnership, I am struck by how it has endured. What began as a formal program focused on expanding water knowledge and building HueWACO’s capacity has evolved into a deep appreciation of the transformative power of relationships in achieving long-term success. 

As the water management landscape changes, our ongoing relationship continues to serve as a source of ideas and strength. Amid challenges from aging infrastructure to climate change, it is our human connections that provide inspiration, commitment, and the momentum to sustain and improve our work. 

Looking ahead, I am excited to see what comes next. As our friendship grows, I hope that we are creating a positive legacy, defined by our shared values and enduring relationships.

I hope that my experience with HueWACO and the connections we built serve as inspiration to others in the water sector, highlighting the powerful potential of collective action in shaping a sustainable future. 

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