First Impressions from Stockholm World Water Week

By Patrick Keys

Today was my first full day at Stockholm World Water Week – an event I’ve wanted to attend since I first heard about it several years ago. This year’s theme, Water and Food Security, is particularly close to home for me since I have worked quite a lot on rainfed agriculture issues, not to mention the content of this blog.

AgWater Solutions panel, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved

I thought it would be useful to run down some of my key first impressions from the day’s proceedings. Full disclosure: I’m serving as a Junior Rapporteur for SIWI, the conference organizer (SIWI stands for Stockholm International Water Institute); Junior rapporteur is a fancy phrase for “Junior Reporter” – I’m taking notes and synthesizing key points on the theme “Good Governance for Water and Food” from the many sessions I attend.

So, here are some preliminary reflections:

1. Good mix of technical presentations and high level thinking: At an international water conference like this, it is likely hard to strike the right balance between general, high level discussions and specific technical presentations. I would have guessed that its easier to attract the former, and harder to find audiences for the latter. However, just today I was able to sit in on some excellent sessions that seemed to merge the technical and applied realities on the ground (e.g. an excellent presentation from the AgWater Solutions team) as well as a great overview of a new multilateral, multi-stakeholder initiative named AGWA (Alliance on Global Water Adaptation), with nuanced discussion of the tradeoffs between built and green infrastructure. I’m very pleased to see the breadth and depth of the work here… very exciting.

2. Diversity of attendance: Given that the only other major international conference I have attended was COP15 in Copenhagen (2009), I am very pleased to see both the diversity in nations, cultures, and ages represented. I expected to see a broad range of countries represented here in Stockholm, given the importance of water and food security, and the relatively international bent of SIWI. However, I’m surprised at the range of institutions that are present, and even more surprised by the representation of younger participants (e.g. under 30). Not that under-30’s aren’t supposed to be here (ahem, otherwise I’d have to leave), but that they are so clearly engaged and already a part of important and diverse work all over the globe. Seeing this type of engagement in a substantive capacity (not just ‘interested’ in water, but represented NGO’s, Investment firms, International finance corporations, etc.) provides a different level of energy at the conference than I expected.

3. Casual and approachable: When I went to COP15, I can’t really communicate how profoundly I felt like an outsider. I attended lots of sessions and listened to lots of speakers, but I didn’t ever really feel that I could engage with other participants at the conference without feeling like I was wasting their time. Here, so far at least, there seems to be a real interest to connect with other water professionals and there is a pervasive casual and approachable dynamic. This is so critical to the ‘offline’ discussions and coffee chats that will take place over the course of the week and contribute greatly to the informal outcomes and partnerships between individuals and groups. I’m already looking forward to the many more insightful conversations to be had over altogether too much free coffee.

Thats all I have for now. Not the usual water security pontificating, I know, but wanted to let folks know what the SWWW is like so far.

Also, if you’re so inclined, you can follow my live-coverage on my Twitter account @watersecurity. I also recommend following the event with the search tag #wwweek and the junior rapporteurs are also tweeting with #Jrap. Lots of great coverage!