In late August every year, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) arrange World Water Week, where technical experts, professionals and academics in the water sector meet to discuss current issues in the sector. The theme for this year was Water and Development, and as a student at the MA Sustainable Development programme, and part of WaterAid Edinburgh, it seemed like the perfect topic for my first conference!
Being a Norwegian national I cannot say I was worried about the practicalities of going to Sweden, or as we say, our “sweet brother” (“söta bror”). However, one thing that was plaguing my mind was whether I would be able to break out of my rather shy ways and make the most out of the experience. As I would love to pursue a career in the water sector, I hoped to get to know many new, interesting people and expand my knowledge on current issues in the water sector.
Seeing as I wanted to get to know people in the sector and really make the most of the conference, I offered to volunteer, and was accepted along with almost 90 other international volunteers from all over the world. It really was the perfect start to my little adventure!
During the conference the volunteers were tasked with supporting presenters, giving guidance to participants and managing rooms. In return for our hard work we got to attend workshops, mingles and other events, allowing us to get to know other young professionals. I’d say being a volunteer enhanced the experience as I got to meet so many interesting, passionate people from a wide range of backgrounds, and having a network made attending the conference a lot more fun! We also got to play toilet basket, as toilet jokes are a staple in the water and sanitation world.
Above: Reception at the Dutch Embassy.
When not working we were free to explore the booths, attend seminars and do some networking, and this is where I learnt my most important lesson, namely, that I shouldn’t be afraid to approach people, no matter their title is or which organization they represent. While it sure is intimidating for a country-girl from the middle of nowhere in Norway to suddenly find herself sipping a glass of white wine next to people in leadership positions in UN agencies, the WHO or the World Bank, it is also a wake-up call that they are people like everyone else. This is something that can’t be emphasized enough. Overall it was a great experience, and I certainly learned to respect all the hard work required to organize a conference at such a big scale.
I’m very grateful that the Principal’s Go Abroad fund gave me the grant to go, as this is definitely an experience I wouldn’t be without.
Happy volunteers! You can’t complain when the sun is shining.