Water Champion Antonella Vagliente on Youth Participation in the Water Community
Article | 20 November 2017
The Vice President of the World Youth Parliament for Water Antonella Vagliente shares her insights on the role of youth in the water community.
You co-founded Young Water Solutions. What motivated you to start this initiative?
We realized in the water community that there was a lack of youth organizations focusing on youth empowerment. There were many young professional organizations and advocacy organizations but there was a gap.
There was a need for a youth organization providing technical and financial support to enhance local innovative water solutions in communities. The Good Planet Belgium organization in Brussels was a host organization for our project but later on, we created our own legal entity.
The main reason behind this initiative was a keen interest among young people to implement their water projects. We wanted them to succeed and so we provide concrete tools to help them achieve their goals.
What are the most effective ways of engaging with youth in the water community?
In the water community, many organizations focus on what young people lack but a very effective way of engaging young people is to focus on what they have, what they are good at, and what they bring to the table. Often these are ideas, experiences, connections with communities, as well as time and resources to contribute to projects.
When I was given opportunities to show what I can do as opposed to just receiving knowledge or other kinds of support, I felt greater motivation to contribute more meaningfully. It is important to consider youth as not only beneficiaries but also as partners.
Three concrete ways to effectively engage young people are:
- Providing them with capacity building experiences through training and programs that help them build their skill set;
- Partnering with youth organizations and building collaborative relationships since they also bring skills and knowledge to the table;
- Engaging with youth as decision-makers—it is important that young people are represented in policymaking and they are invited to provide the youth perspective.
What are some of the key challenges youth face in contributing meaningfully to the water community?
Youth need mentorship and the space to experiment. They have the commitment and good ideas, but they often don’t know where to start or are not aware of the network they need to carry out their projects. Some might have the technical expertise and Young Water Solutions has a lot of young engineers that have a very sound technical background, but they lack the platforms and sometimes the funding to make their ideas come to life.
How can institutions like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) support initiatives like Young Water Solutions?
They can contribute in numerous ways, primarily through leveraging resources. Organizations like Young Water Solutions are very small, and we lack resources.
ADB also engages with wonderful senior water professionals and youth need mentors. Stressing the need for mentorship at ADB can be very beneficial for programs like Young Water Solutions. Most water organizations in the Asia Pacific region are linked to ADB in one way or the other. Bringing people together is very meaningful.
What inspires you to work with young people?
I started working with an environmental NGO when I was 15. My family encouraged me to identify a group where I could implement my projects, and the environment was my key area of interest.
I realized later on how important it was for me at this young age to get support from my family and senior experts. If they hadn’t helped me, hadn’t given me seed funding and mentorship when I was 17 to implement my ideas, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It was all this support that opened numerous doors for me.
I realized that every young person has so much unlocked potential. Fifty percent of the world’s population is less than 30 years old and therefore it is imperative for the youth to be engaged and motivated to be a part of development. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s decision makers, if they are not engaged at a young age, progress will be delayed.
What advice would you give young people starting out in the water community?
The first step is to look around specifically in their own communities and find out what needs to be improved. Every young person wanting to contribute to the water community should ask themselves what it is that inspires them to make a positive change. They don’t have to force it, but they have to find out what it is that they are passionate about.
Engaging with more senior people that have gone through the path they want to take is important, they should insist on meeting with them over a cup of coffee and conversation. Mentorship is very important.
I also find that many young people have ideas, but they start from zero. On many occasions there already exists an organization or a group of young people where something similar is taking place. Instead of starting from scratch, they should collaborate.
About the Champion
Born and raised in Argentina, Antonella Vagliente started running environmental projects when she was 15 and specialized in WASH (water supply, sanitation and hygiene) projects. She is currently Vice President of the World Youth Parliament for Water and a member of the Global Shaper community, a network of hubs of young professionals across the globe working together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems (a World Economic Forum Initiative).
Antonella is director of Young Water Solutions and coordinates the Young Water Fellowship program that provides training, mentorship, and funding to young people with project ideas to solve local water issues. The program received 800 applications from 95 countries in its first call for proposals, demonstrating a huge demand for support for youth projects.
The Water Champions series was developed to showcase individual leadership and initiative in implementing water sector reforms and good practices in Asia and the Pacific. The champions, representing ADB's developing member countries, are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries or communities. The series is regularly featured in ADB's Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.
This article was submitted by Shruti Mehta, Youth Project Designer, ADB Youth for Asia.