153 students from 57 countries were welcomed by the Rectorate and speakers at the official opening of the academic year 2018-2020 on 18 October. Prof. Assela Pathirana, Associate Professor of Integrated Urban Water Cycle management, discussed his own experience and lessons learned throughout his career. The Alumni Award winner, Tatiana dos Santos Silva, made a heartfelt speech about taking action and the power of the young water professionals’ voice.
Water and climate
Dignitaries from 18 Embassies were among the audience at this year’s Opening ceremony and many met the newly arrived students afterwards.
Professor Eddy Moors opened the ceremony and welcomed the students to the Institute which, he said, with its diversity, sometimes resembles the United Nations. He pointed out that IHE Delft also has diversity in its water related disciplines and that an interdisciplinary approach is the most effective approach. He mentioned that the theme selected for 2019 at the Institute is water and climate and that the focus will be on the Institute’s work in all areas, relating to this topic, which is also the theme for World Water Day 2020.
´Looking around´ and becoming aware of others
Associate Prof. Assela Pathirana gave the students the benefit of his own experience as a staff member. His theme was Plurality and the importance of ´looking around´ and becoming aware of others´ views and disciplines. He summarised his ‘learning moments’ into four main points:
- Look around you – learn from and work with others
- Learning should go beyond disciplines – you have a responsibility to the society to help others learn what your expertise
- There is no single best – every situation requires a different appropriate solution
- Vision in only part of the job. Establishing a process for continuous improvement is much harder.
The voice of youth
The Alumni Award was then presented by the Rector. The award is given annually to an alumna/us who has proven to be an excellent role model for other water professionals. The 6th Alumni Award was given to Tatiana dos Santos Silva from Brazil, Co-Founder and currently Projects Director at FA.VELA, a non-profit organization in Brazil and a Youth Delegate at the World Water Council for the period 2016 – 2018. Where in the past the Award was given to someone at the height of their career, in the case of Tatiana, she has created significant impact in a very short time.
Only four years after completing her MSc, she co-designed and is running a successful not for profit organization, building resilience in vulnerable areas in Brazil. She had a central role in raising and managing over one million Brazilian Reais in 3,5 years to offer entrepreneurial education and business acceleration for residents of favelas and ghettos, to build sustainable enterprises.
She spoke passionately about the need for those in privileged positions to recognise and make use of their advantage, to change others´ lives for the better. “Who are you? Which groups do you represent?” she asked the audience. “Learn who you are in this world and make use of the privileges that you have – of studying here, of speaking English, of acquiring strategic contacts - to properly represent them”.
She encouraged the students to be active and to get involved, mentioning the Water Youth Network with as a great way to get the voice of youth heard.
Charlotte de Fraiture concluded the speeches by talking about the complexity of water problems. These are often called 'wicked' problems, sometimes needing an answer before all the information is available and ideally tackled by talking and listening to others from different disciplines and backgrounds. She encouraged students to take advantage of the many opportunities for participation in activities outside their subject area, to gain a broader insight and have a better chance at solving wicked problems.