It is often a daunting task to attempt something new and unique. YWP decided to turn the tables on what a conference can and should look like post-pandemic, by having four online symposiums and two in-person events spanning the month of March.

A traditional WISA Young Water Professionals South Africa (YWP-ZA) conference has always been a biannual, in person, conference hosted by one of the YWP provincial chapters over the course of three to four days. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the long-established format of the YWP conference to change.

YWP learned from WISA’s conference in 2020 and created a hybrid in-person/online series of events named the YWP Symposium Series.  In another change to the traditional conference format, it was decided that instead of having a single provincial YWP-ZA to organise and host the conference in their province, multiple YWP-ZA provincial chapters would organise and run different online sessions.

The event adopted the World Water Day (22nd March) theme of “Making the invisible, visible”.

‘Invisible’ topics

Each online session would tackle an ‘invisible’ topic in the South African water sector. A number of vital and often overlooked invisible topics were discussed like governance, innovation, entrepreneurship, water resources and infrastructure management, soft skills, public-private partnerships, financing and investment.

The YWP Symposium Series was a resounding success, drawing over a hundred registered participants over the course of the month, largely in part to the free registration that YWP-ZA could offer participants. This was made possible by the sponsorship by USAID and the South African Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA). The support of these two sponsors greatly assisted YWP-ZA in delivering a comprehensive and successful month-long symposium.

The month-long symposium began with an opening plenary session with two keynote speakers:

  • Lynesha Pillai, representing the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN), detailing how to prepare for a sustainable water sector transition by future proofing your professional skills
  • William Moraka, representing the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), highlighting how we can plan for the future by learning from the past with a specific focus on the lessons learned from the implementation of past water infrastructure projects
YWP-KZN online session

On the 15th March 2022, the YWP-KZN provincial chapter ran the first of the technical online sessions of the symposium series titled “Bringing the invisible to the forefront: governance, water resources management and infrastructure”.

Covid-19 drew a spotlight onto the water sector, particularly vulnerable communities in informal settlements and rural areas. To meet this challenge, there were numerous interventions amongst stakeholders in the water sector.

The objective of this session was to discuss the status quo, challenges and success stories in the context of Covid-19. The session further amplified the invisible voice and role that communities play in fast tracking the service delivery of water and sanitation projects. Moreover, the session also highlighted the role that businesses play in ensuring the provision of sustainable water and sanitation as an economic resource.

The YWP-KZN chapter was honoured to have industry experts and academia as part of the discussion. These included:

  • Thobani Khumalo, a member of the Inanda community in KwaZulu Natal. Khumalo shared the struggles and challenges that his community faces daily to fetch water and presented photographic images that tell a tale of inequality, water scarcity, poor infrastructure, low community awareness and limited water access.
  • Johann Lubbe from Development Bank of Southern Africa showed the funding opportunities for water related projects in South Africa and how communities, particularly women and the youth, can access funds for water related projects.
  • Siya Myeza from the Environmental Monitoring Group also shared the role of water governance structures, and the role of community engagement.
YWP-Gauteng online session

The Gauteng provincial chapter focused on soft skills. Speakers included:

  • Kirsten Kelly, editor of WASA, who provided valuable insights into the importance of publishing, how to get published as well as some basic writing tips
  • Lucky Litelu, a prolific serial entrepreneur and the head of the YWP Imvelisi Enviropreneur programme and Zamokuhle Thwala, the founder and CEO of Agrikoo presented on entrepreneurship
  • Nora Hanke-Louw, former YWP national lead gave a talk on enhancing your presentation skills and advice on tools to use
  • Michelle Hiesterman, coordinator for the implementation of the social learning and knowledge management component of the Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security Project (EI4WS) at the Water Research Commission presented on how to maximise your opportunities as a young water professional
  • Dr Josh Newton, the founder of Josh’s Water Jobs highlighted the non-traditional paths that one can take into carving your own niche in the national and international water sector.
In-person events

In Africa, women and girls spend an average 200 million hours collecting water for household consumption, walking an average of 6 km a day to the nearest water source. To highlight this plight as part of the “making the invisible, visible” two in-person events were organised:

  • The Gauteng provincial chapter’s yearly “Walk for Water event saw participants meet at Moroka Dam in Soweto with five litre bottles of water that they would carry 6 km around the dam. All bottled water, as well as extra bottles sponsored by Kusini, Aquelle and 62 Waters, were donated afterwards to a local primary school.
  • The KZN provincial chapter had a similar event at Nagle Dam near Cato Ridge where 70 professionals from the provincial Umgeni Water Board and local community members also embarked on a 6 km hike around the dam. However, this event had twist in that it was only the men, cheered on by the women present, were asked to walk the distance in solidarity to their female counterparts.  YWP-ZA thanks Msinsi Holdings, Umgeni Water and EWSETA for the support and partnership in making this event so successful.
Related story: WISA welcomes new division: modelling and data (MAD) | Infrastructure news

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