Letter from the Executive Director: 2023 and the ‘Strategic Reset’ of the International WaterCentre Network

Karen DELFAU, Executive Director

I was recently asked to reflect on the following question: What is it about IWCAN and what motivation have I had to keep involved for over 10 years?

When the idea of an alumni organisation first came up, it was in a meeting with Peter Oliver in 2011 when I was still a Masters student at the IWC. I immediately expressed interest. The reason then was that I knew I had the skills and experience to build something solid, as an organisation, and the idea of starting something new was always exciting to me. At a deeper level, the time I spent studying at the IWC was pivotal in my personal and professional life, and even though I was about to move halfway across the world, I wanted to remain connected to the incredible experience that I had been able to be a part of during my year and a half in Australia. The Masters gave me an opportunity to explore systemic questions in a field I had been working in for already several years, and the generosity of the IWC in connecting me with the thought leaders in the areas I was exploring was something that I wanted to be able to cultivate among alumni and be able to pass on. A big part of it was about giving back and being able to pay it forward. 

The role and the sustained connection to the IWC has been a gift over the past 10 years. I’ve been able to remain connected with the IWC, with Australian-based alumni, and with other Australian-based water professionals. This community has become my tribe. There is a thread of understanding – of shared values – a worldview almost, that connects us and personally enriches me. This connection is not just with my cohort, but it also emerged with the group I was able to study with in Thailand. There’s something powerful and there’s a strong human connection that forms with the programs of the IWC and having it be a part of my life has been professionally and emotionally enriching. This connection exists beyond the physical, it’s also with people that I have never met in person. 

Definitely IWCAN and the IWC have enhanced my professional development. From the work with the AWP to the SUMERNET collaboration currently underway, to the strong relationships that have been developed with Oxfam and International Rivers, the network has been instrumental in my career development. One of the IWC Professors is the one who helped my find my (incredible) PhD supervisor through her extensive networks. This network is worth more than gold for me, both personally and professionally. 

Recognising that COVID-19 was going to be a long-haul experience from the beginning, a small team of us convened to address one of the biggest needs of the network : an on-line space for collaboration. I dedicated countless hours above and beyond my core duties to support the development of the CDB platform in partnership with alumni and network members Katharine and Fabian. All of three of us wanted to build a space for the collaboration to grow and continue between members of the IWC community. The technical hurdles we had to discover and overcome were amazing and as a team we were able to really thrive. We worked tirelessly to figure out how, to learn, and to create something to support the organisation to blossom. The hold-ups with Intellectual Property, etc., and general board dysfunction, came as a massive blow to these efforts. It has been difficult for me to find the passion to continue to build, and both Katharine and I spent several months in response-mode as opposed to creator-mode in keeping the system going. Then, to save on server costs, we dismantled our work, our efforts.

COVID-19 has dealt many blows, some have been devastating and some have been inconvenient. It has pushed us all into a different mode of operation, and its effects will be long-lasting. For me, not traveling regularly to Australia has been a blessing and a curse. It has been positive for my family, as leaving for a few weeks once to thrice a year has its impacts, and has pushed me to develop additional opportunities here in France. However, it has severed the physical connection that I have had with the community over in Australia and has made it difficult to develop and maintain the relationships. Some of these relationships would also be the ones to provide resources for the organisation to survive in terms of bringing in new projects, new ideas, and new energy. Our board membership has been scaled down to a 4-person life support system, and our website has been stripped bare.

But now COVID is over, and it is time for this amazing network to emerge anew – a ‘strategic reset’ of sorts. We are re-launching as the International WaterCentre Network, dropping the A for alumni – not formally as our constitution will still reflect our origins. As much as we have had tremendous connection and opportunities, we have also experienced loss over the past few years, in particular the loss of Mark Pascoe, the CEO of the IWC, who passed away in the last half of 2022.

Taking stock, getting our systems shored up for the future, and re-building the organisation is what comes next. We are open to ideas and involvement. We want to keep our organisation lean and effective, and we want to continue to cultivate this network of amazing individuals.

We thank our supporters, our community, and we look forward to the next stages of the IWC Network.

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