After receiving the UNESCO-IHE Alumni Award 2013, Mr. Michael Mutale gave an inspiring lunch seminar about his experiences and his personal view on the water crisis. He had some useful advice for current students on how to reach and influence people at all levels.
"Awareness is not a one-time event! We need to repeat the message that water knows no boundary and is cross-cutting sectors." According to Michael Mutale, it's important that water-experts are aware of the fact that they are not the ones making major decisions about water-issues. Therefore, it's important not to preach to the converted, but try to convert people and institutes that manage finances, strategies and policies. "And what we need is not calling them in, but we have to go out there and we have to be more proactive."
And if someone knows how to be proactive, it's definitely Michael Mutale. He initiated the establishment of Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM), after he attended a side-event of the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2010 where he saw that hardly any water-experts where included to discussions about climate change issues. Mutale always strived for more interaction between decision makers and the water sector. "The water had no voice", says Mutale. "Eventually, you saw more encouragement of interaction with water experts and I felt like ZAMCOM needed to be brought to life."
His efforts to empower water experts being heard in discussions and decision-making processes were one of the reasons for becoming the first winner of the UNESCO-IHE Alumni Award. "I have been fortunate to always be the first", Mutale said when being asked how it is to be the first Alumni Award winner ever. "I was the first to develop a strategic action plan for the Global Water Partnership in Southern Africa, I was the first to set-up an Africa Water Forum and I was the first to establish the Zambezi Watercourse Commission." Mutale thinks that this can't be a matter of luck of coincidence. "You just need to be proactive and grasp the opportunity when it arises." That was also one of his main messages towards to new batch of MSc students that recently arrived at UNESCO-IHE.
In addition to his advice on how to approach decision-makers, Mutale had a clear view on how to implement plans at grass-roots level as well. "You should value the people", he says. "You should realize that life exists with or without you. The only thing you can do is adding some value to that life", was his message. According to Mutale, a bottom-up approach is very important when you want to implement new policies. "I've learned one thing while working at the ground. If people don't talk and don't answer your questions, you are in trouble. However, if they insult you you're lucky because that means they accommodated you and what you've said." He believes that you should see feedback, even if it's sometimes insulting, as a free gift from them that will help you implementing policies. As practical advice he recommended the current UNESCO-IHE students to never give 'terms of reference' for feedback. "Give the same document, but call it guidelines. And give them a chance to interact about it without you being there, because they might even criticize you. So give them space", he says. "Then whenever you'll come back, they'll have concrete feedback which will help you finalize the document. And by sharing their comments they have accepted it and it's no longer your document. It's theirs!