By Bhavna Basin, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education
Policy interventions for water related-challenges 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.
“Diplomats, lacking a deeper theoretical knowledge of water challenges, often suffer from an imposter syndrome, while natural scientists often lack skills such as communication and personal relations, which can lead to uncoordinated and fragmented efforts (…) and deepen the rift between hard soft sciences,” said Bota Sharipova, an IHE Delft Institute for Water Education 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, created a six-month, hybrid, educational program for early-career diplomats interested in transboundary water cooperation.
Young Water Diplomats Program
The Young Water Diplomats Program (https://www.un-ihe.org/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 15 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 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 15 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 stakeholders from five countries that shared a fictional river basin, with others representing international organizations. 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.
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 (https://www.un-ihe.org/stories/4th-water-and-peace-seminar-emotions-and-human-relations-key-water-diplomacy), an annual science-policy dialogue organised by IHE Delft.
This program is partly funded by IHE Delft’s Water and Development Partnership Programme (https://www.un-ihe.org/dupc3-ihe-delft-partnership-programme-water-and-development), supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
About IHE Delft Institute for Water Education
IHE Delft, the world’s largest international graduate water education facility, was established in 1957 in Delft, the Netherlands. Since then, the Institute has provided water education and training to professionals from over 160 countries, the vast majority from Africa, Asia and Latin America. It carries out numerous research and institutional strengthening projects in partnership to strengthen capacity in the water sector worldwide. IHE Delft aims to make a tangible contribution to achieving all Sustainable Development Goals in which water is key.