Vital work in a virtual world

This year, it is – already – 20 years since the International Water Association started to work under its new identity, following the merger of the International Water Services Association and the International Association on Water Quality. In fact, I recall well the first IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition, held 20 years ago in Paris in July 2000, including a fantastic gala reception in the Louvre.

This anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect, and I feel it is appropriate to look back to what the respective Presidents at the time saw ahead.

“I have observed and shared the ever-growing confidence that, by forming the IWA, we shall have a far stronger Association than were the IWSA and IAWQ on their own,” said Nicholas Hood of IWSA.

His counterpart at IAWQ, Piet Odendaal, said: “IWA will be better positioned than either IAWQ or IWSA separately to transfer knowledge to developing countries, particularly working in partnership with international agencies.”

I truly think that IWA has been able to become the reference point in terms of water and wastewater services. We do have more to do to better link research to utilities and to further support developing countries, but the growing success of our membership, our publications, our World Congress, and specialist group events, for example, are proof of our progress.

In the previous issue of The Source, I explored some important aspects of us being a community. Since then, the spread of COVID-19 has continued. The connections between us are perhaps more important than ever.

We have seen huge limitations on physical meeting. We have responded in ways that build on our connections. We have expanded the number of webinars held, facilitated greatly by our Secretariat, with excellent attendance. The IWA COVID-19 Task Force has been meeting by video call since the start of April. Various IWA business meetings have continued virtually, in some cases more frequently. The Secretariat has also increased engagement activities with members, with initiatives such as online induction events.

Also, a series of virtual ‘town hall’ meetings has been held to allow informal discussions with all Governing Members. The Copenhagen IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition has been postponed to May 2021. We usually conduct important business at these events. The meetings allowed discussion of plans for changed arrangements needed because of this rescheduling.

In an approach supported by legal advice, it is expected that some IWA business will be dealt with in virtual meetings later this year, while the current IWA Board will remain in place until May of next year, subject to formal agreement of the Governing Assembly. This means that I would continue to serve as your President until May, and then hand over to Tom Mollenkopf, the current President-elect. A huge amount can be achieved virtually, but a virtual meeting is not ideal for some things. Similarly, we can maintain work and technical exchanges with online meetings. But from time to time, and especially for brainstorming and developing out-of-the-box ideas, physical meetings and congresses remain a need. I, therefore, cannot wait for Copenhagen.

Even so, in this difficult time, I see many ways that we continue to thrive, and I value the efforts of everyone such that we will emerge as a stronger community.

Keep safe!

Diane d’Arras, President, IWA