IWA’s Young Water Professionals are an impressive congregation with the drive and determination to meet the challenges of the global water crises. Inês Breda and Farokh Laqa Kakar share their passion for the water sector with Erika Yarrow-Soden.
IWA has Young Water Professional Chapters across the world, providing a platform for those up to the age of 35 to develop their careers, network and collaborate, sharing knowledge between the brightest minds in the sector. Not only does engagement with the Chapters help young members in their careers, but, importantly, it benefits the sector by empowering young members to shape the future of the sector and, in doing so, transform lives across the globe.
A civil engineer from Portugal, Inês Breda completed a PhD in Denmark, in water treatment. She explains: “It was an industrial piece connected with utilities. That’s how I was introduced to the water sector. Since then, I’ve been developing my entire network through the Young Water Professionals (YWP) and IWA.
“As a civil engineer, I studied a bit of water, but it was mostly construction orientated. Then, when I started a career in a new country, IWA helped me to meet other professionals in the field. It has been such a huge benefit and has provided so many opportunities to contribute.
“I have just started on my journey. I’m on the board of YWP Denmark and am on the steering committee for the YWP, as secretary. I haven’t missed a Congress since I started.”
Passionate about meeting the challenges of climate change and population growth, Breda believes that intergenerational transfers of knowledge will be key, and calls for older professionals to work with our younger professionals and respect all that they have to offer.
She explains: “For me, this is the main thing that will dictate the success of the sector. IWA is supporting this. What I think that IWA needs to integrate further is entrepreneurship and how to translate this knowledge into practical solutions. Water is a system of systems that needs strategic thinking to enable us to get to the solutions that we need – and we need that to be integrated with an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Breda believes in the importance of finding solutions that are relevant to communities, explaining: “We need to start by understanding what each community is developed upon. So, if a community has an attachment to water that is very dependent on industry, for example, those are the partners that we need to engage and talk with. If it is cultural or religious, then those are the ones that need to be around the table. It’s not about bringing solutions from one side of the globe to the other; its about enabling local understanding and empowering those that can have a role in decision-making at a community level.”
She concludes: “Some of the most ethical people I have met across my career have been young people I’ve met in IWA. I gain inspiration from that. It makes me think not what I can do for a country, but what I can do for these people who are on their path.”
While Breda is coming to the end of her time as a YWP, Farokh Laqa Kakar is increasing her YWP role. From Afghanistan, she completed her PhD in Toronto, Canada. She says: “I did my undergraduate degree in Afghanistan. I also worked in Afghanistan as an assistant professor, and was running my own company. I came to Canada six or seven years ago. I have done a lot of volunteering and I’ve been with IWA since 2017.”
“I started volunteering at a conference, taking pictures, then eventually presenting and chairing conferences,” Kakar adds, saying that she became a founding member of her YWP Chapter. At an international level, she is on the Young Water Professionals Steering Committee and, through that, a YWP representative on IWA’s Strategic Council. An advocate for women, she is eager to support them within the water sector, explaining: “I was the only female professor back home. It was challenging. So that’s why I advocate for women – because, even in Canada, we lack women in engineering.
“When I was young, I used to have to walk for water. That inspired me to be a water professional, and to work to support others to help people in developing countries to overcome these issues and to work with developed countries to overcome their issues. It’s my goal to see a world of united YWPs, without any disconnection.”
Recognising young talent
Alongside the Young Water Professionals programme, IWA’s support for young professionals includes activities such as the two initiatives announced during the Copenhagen World Water Congress & Exhibition – the Emerging Water Leaders Endowment Fund and the Youth Action for SDG6 Fellowship.
Young talent is also recognised through IWA’s awards programme, with the latest winner of IWA’s Young Leadership Award announced last year, in Copenhagen, as Céline Vaneeckhaute, from Belgium (pictured above).
Vaneeckhaute gained a Master’s (2010) and Bachelor’s (2008) degree in Bioscience Engineering at Ghent University, Belgium. She was inspired to come into the water sector by her lecturer Professor Willy Verstraete, who gave her a passion for water.
Vaneeckhaute has received several awards and nominations for her research. In 2013, she was awarded an Industrial Innovation Scholarship to continue and finalise her research at Université Laval, Québec, Canada, focusing on modelling. She immediately began work as a post-doctoral researcher at Ghent University. She is president and founder of an environmental consultancy and, in July 2016, became professor in the department of chemical engineering at Université Laval, focusing on green and sustainable process systems engineering.