Written by Rudi Botha, Process Engineer
Hi Rudi, you’re the lucky draw winner for completing our survey. You have a free pass to the conference in Glasgow.
I wanted to be part of the digital transformation of the water sector because I had experienced firsthand the massive impact that even basic smart systems could have on a utility that was depending on manual monitoring. I had gone searching for more information on what is possible in the smart water industry and came across RiSWP, SWAN, and their survey asking about the role of young professionals in smart water. These were the questions I had too, and I wanted to find out more about what answers they would be collecting and what they planned to do with this information.
Rising Smart Water Professionals (RiSWP) are the young professionals community of Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN). SWAN is a global membership-based non-profit, that brings together water utilities, solution providers, and proactive industry experts to advance the adoption of “smart,” data-driven solutions for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater.
When I got in contact with Emma Weisbord, the chairperson of the RiSWP Leadership Team (LT), I thought I had found someone who would have the answers. However, the RiSWP LT was only just starting out, exploring its vision and mission. Emma told me that there was space for one more LT member if I was interested, and I took the opportunity.
The first few members of the LT had joined a few months before me and were starting to define the strategy and goals of RiSWP. Key focus areas of career development, mentorship, governance, communication, and knowledge management were being explored. We knew there were many more things we needed in a young professionals program as we took inspiration from the survey feedback, but we were only 5 volunteers planning the first events in our spare time.
I was uncertain whether I would know how to set up a leadership team, community, or young professionals program, but the team was reassuring and with our diverse strengths we could support each other. We also had guidance from the SWAN leaders, who helped us to align our visions and provided concrete examples and foundations on which to build our own programs.
I soon realized that it was an incredible opportunity to be mentored through the process of formulating a strategy, and goals and establishing programs. Each LT member took one of the key focus areas and explored what they wanted to create that would be both beneficial to the RiSWP community as well as to the LT member’s personal growth. I chose mentorship as I have always really valued it as a key to growing my career and finding career opportunities in water. I also wanted to create a space where mentorship could happen across typical career tracks because the smart water sector was seeing engineers become developers and data scientists and vice versa. There was no mentorship for these unconventional career paths that seemed more common than conventional career paths in smart water.
There was an opportunity for RiSWP to host a round table discussion at the online SWAN conference in 2020, and I volunteered to host it on the topic of mentorship. I was hoping to find ideas of what makes a mentorship program successful, and what to avoid. Not only did I walk away with many ideas that I had not found anywhere in my research, but also the experience of hosting an international discussion, improvising to build engagement, and learning that stories bring energy and flow to the conversation.
In the following months, the mentorship program concept came together, inspired by the Tribe of Mentors book by Tim Ferris. Over the course of 2021, we interviewed 11 smart water professionals about mentorship and its role in their careers. The sessions welcomed audience member questions throughout, and many pieces of valuable career advice were recorded into our library of smart water mentors to inspire future RiSWP community members.
The other LT members also launched incredible programs. Lisa set up the ambassador program, which gave 16 applicants the opportunity to grow the RiSWP community through the hosting of events and activities either online or in their local communities with the support of the RiSWP and SWAN leaders. Jessica hosted career development workshops, which shared knowledge on skills such as job searching, interviewing, and entrepreneurship. Emma workshopped and drafted our RiSWP strategy and governance plan, creating the internal structures for continuity and growth.
My 2-year term on the RiSWP LT is coming to an end in a few weeks. Taking the time to reflect on the growth I have experienced through being part of the RiSWP LT has reminded me of how grateful I am for all the opportunities. Beyond the leadership experience I gained, I also met so many incredible people in smart water or want to be involved in smart water. The RiSWP community is also how I came to know about Transcend and the career opportunities in water here.
If any of this has inspired you to know more, here are a few places to explore: