Young Water Diplomats Program – helping future leaders learn about water

Written by Bhavna Bhasin, on 13 April 2022

Policy interventions for water related-challenges, at regional and global scale, are largely shaped by two groups: water experts, equipped with technical knowledge, and diplomats with a plethora of soft skills. However, while they work towards a shared goal, they inhabit two different worlds that seldom interact. This division means that opportunities for sustainable, ecologically viable and actionable solutions can be missed.

“When it comes to addressing concrete transboundary water challenges, diplomats usually have a good knowledge of the regional context and political possibilities, but lack deeper technical understanding. Engineers, on the other hand, have this technical understanding but sometimes miss skills for communicating and assessing political sensitive issues,” said Bota Sharipova, an IHE Delft PhD candidate who is exploring the role of trust in transboundary water conflict and cooperation.

Sensing this gap, Jenniver Sehring, senior lecturer in water governance and diplomacy at IHE Delft, together with her colleagues created a 6-month, hybrid, educational program for early-career diplomats interested in transboundary water cooperation.

Young Water Diplomats Program

The Young Water Diplomats Program, launched in January 2022, aims to enhance an interdisciplinary understanding of transboundary water challenges and to advance tools for water diplomacy. Ultimately, it facilitates networking among the next generation of water and environmental diplomats.

The program is competitive, with just 14 participants selected from more than 400 applicants. It explores innovative ways of learning and collaborating in a hybrid reality by combining online thematic lectures delivered by leading academics with face-to-face simulation games and seminars. The participants, all working professionals, spend about 16 hours a month on the program, the content of which is often related to their work.  

Program participant Roos Middelkoop, a policy officer in Food Security and Water Management at the Dutch Embassy in Bangladesh, said the diversity of the participants benefited learning.

“The more I grow as a professional, the more I really see the value of these international working groups or programs,” she said. “The fact that this team has 14 participants from different parts of the world provides a very rich learning ground. In every conversation that I have, I learn about the different realities that inform the decisions people make.”

Applying theory in role play

In March 2022, after three months of virtual interaction, the participants met for the first time in the Netherlands, to apply theory in a simulation game. Several participants took on the roles of government representatives from five countries that shared a fictional river basin, with others representing international organizations and other stakeholders. They explored different positions, needs and interests and discussed ways to jointly address these challenges and, finally, they agreed on a joint institutional framework.

“We struggled quite a lot in the negotiations, but at the same time it was reassuring that all these patterns we encountered were actually part of real-life conversations. It was very intense and really added to the whole experience,” said Middelkoop.

The program’s first participants will receive their diplomas in June 2022,  after a round of final presentations, reflections and discussions with a panel of water experts at IHE Delft. The next round of the programme is expected to start in January 2023, with more detailed information being available in September 2022.

Nurturing networks

During the course of the program, besides broadening the theoretical base on transboundary water challenges and cooperation, the participants learn to collaborate in intercultural and transdisciplinary teams. This program also entails participation in the Water and Peace Seminar, an annual science-policy dialogue organised by IHE Delft.

This program is partly funded by IHE Delft’s Water and Development Partnership Programme, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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