IWRA Newsletter Editorial – December 2021

Gabriel Eckstein, IWRA President (2019 – 2021) 

Thank you IWRA partners and Members for a great 3-year life-experience!         

While the last few years have been some of the most challenging for IWRA, they also have been some of the most successful in its fifty-year history.  As my term as President comes to a close, I want to reflect on these achievements and look forward to the hopeful future that I foresee for the Association. Over the past three years, IWRA has experienced some tremendous successes.  We are proud to say that during this term, the Executive Board was the first truly gender-balanced Board in the Association’s history. This Board was also distinguished as one of the most active ever. 

With the support of the incredible staff in the Executive Office, we completely revamped our membership structure, developed a more robust membership benefits model, lowered membership dues, and grew the Association from just over 600 to almost 3,000 individual members–all since the current Board took office in January 2019. We also added a new online conference and hosted two successful editions in 2020 and 2021. These brought together a combined total of more than 4,000 registrants from at least 130 countries and featured more than 225 speakers and poster presenters. 

Both events were free for participants, thanks to the generous support of IWRA partner organizations, UNESCO and UN-FAO.  In addition, after a number of delays and ongoing restrictions caused by COVID-19, we finally held our XVII World Water Congress in Daegu, South Korea, where we had around 1,200 registered participants, more than 100 hours of online and onsite content, 60 hybrid sessions, and over 350 speakers. Furthermore, over the past three years, we launched new task forces and national and regional chapters, we attained observer status with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties, we held more than 30 webinars, launched a new Master Class program, undertook research and publication projects in conjunction with UNESCO i-WSSM, K-water, and the Asia Water Council, and developed short-, medium-, and long-term strategic priorities that help guide the Association as it strides further into the 21st Century. 

Most importantly, we celebrated IWRA’s 50th Anniversary, reflecting on our past, present, and future with a series of select interviews, high-level webinar panels, a dedicated plenary session at the XVII World Water Congress, an awards ceremony to recognize significant contributions to the Association, and a birthday cake serving at the Welcome Reception of the Congress in Daegu.  As you can see, the Association has been incredibly busy and active over the past three years, and it has truly been successful! This is not to say, however, that IWRA hasn’t experienced its share of challenges.  The COVID-19 pandemic has nearly halted all in-person meetings and conferences, placed serious constraints on international travel, tightened IWRA’s coffers, and has even taken a direct toll on our colleagues and friends. It has also made it more difficult for many of you to engage with the Association, to draw on its many benefits and networks, and to further develop your careers and interests in the water sector. But it hasn’t dampened our spirits.  In fact, as the pandemic began to take hold, many in our community stood up and tackled these challenges head on. 

First and foremost, the outgoing Executive Board has been incredibly engaged and active in the life of the Association, providing new strategies and ideas that have allowed us to work around the pandemic, propelling IWRA to new heights.  It has been my privilege and honor to lead this group of dedicated professionals who have volunteered so much of their time and energy to this worthy cause.  Thank you, all my dear friends and colleagues who so ably served on this Board! No less important has been the efforts and commitment of those in the IWRA Executive Office.  These dedicated professionals have spent long hours planning and scheduling, programming and organizing, drafting and editing, budgeting and accounting, and much, much more. They are the backbone of the Association!  It has been an absolute pleasure to work with all of you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your tireless support and skills in managing IWRA’s daily affairs.

In addition, I must acknowledge the numerous partners who have been engaged with IWRA during the term of this outgoing Board.  Among other things, they have provided financial, intellectual, and human resources in an effort to support IWRA’s programmes and activities and to improve water-related conditions world-wide.  We are all incredibly indebted to your generosity and look forward to continuing in our common cause. Lastly, I want to thank all the members of IWRA.  In the past three years, many of you have become more engaged in the life of the Association, involved yourselves in its various task forces committees, national and regional chapters, and in various research projects, webinars, and conferences.  I truly hope that you have found your participation rewarding, both professionally and personally.  And I personally thank you for the opportunity to lead IWRA these past few years.  I hope I have lived up to your expectations.

Where do we go now?  It may be a cliché to say, “the sky is the limit,” but I truly believe that the best days for the Association are still to come.  IWRA is more relevant today than at any time in its history.  So many of the world’s water challenges have yet to be addressed, and much more needs to be done to alleviate not only water-related shortages and contamination, but also the concerns that are highly interrelated with water, like poverty, environmental protection, food scarcity, climate change, and of course, pandemics. There is a tremendous need for an Association like ours. As such, IWRA continues to serve as the leading global platform and community for researchers, educators, policy-influencers, and managers who seek to address local to global water-related challenges and ways of improving water outcomes for all.  That is not just our vision–it is our collective raison d’être: to serve humankind and build a better world for our children. It is always sad to say goodbye, especially when the experience has been so rewarding.  But it is also exciting to turn the page to a new chapter.  

I very much look forward to working with and supporting incoming President Yuanyuan LI and our new Executive Board.  This is an incredibly energetic group who I know are dedicated to the ideals of the Association, who come with their own distinct strengths and wisdom, and who I know will take IWRA to new heights.  Congratulations to the new Board!  May your successes be counted like drops in the ocean!