Workshop organized in Cairo by the Water Youth Network (WYN) and the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network (NBCBN) on the role of young people in cross-border water issues

What was the Workshop purpose ?

To illustrate the way to involve young people in governance questons, and to see how they manage, together, to pool their strengths, it is interesting to come back to the organization of a concrete foresight session, with young people. This session took place during the Workshop organized in Cairo by the Water Youth Network (WYN), on the role of young people in water diplomacy, more specifically issues of cross-border water cooperation. This workshop was held in Cairo, Giza, and was coordinated by teams from WYN and the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network (NBCBN), a regional network aiming at building the capacity of water professionals in the Nile basin. Organized in nine sessions over five days, this event brought together twenty-four young people from fourteen countries and four different continents.
These young people were part of national youth networks working on issues related to water and / or development within their country (such as the Central Asia Youth for Water Network, Sudanese Youth Parliament for Water, African Youth for Development Organization… ), training platforms such as Water Innovation Labs. Other young people were researchers, PhD candidates, founders or members of associations like iWASH Africa, SafeDrop, All About WASH, or Drop of Water.
Thus, these young people all met in Cairo for a week, from June 24 to 28, 2019, in order to share experiences, identify obstacles and effective practices related to the role of young people in cross-border water cooperation, the final goal being to write a Recommendations Note which can be distributed to governments, institutions, companies, NGOs, networks, associations, allowing them to strengthen the role of young people in diplomacy and water governance.

What happened in Session 6, focused on foresight, and which lessons can be learned from it?

Session 6 of the workshop was a foresight session seeking to answer this question: what common vision of the future for the Nile Basin governance by 2040, and how to achieve it? To carry out this exercise, the group of twenty-four young people was divided into three sub-groups. The working method was essentially the same as the modular method of MED 2050: four steps:

  • Analyze trends and weak signals emerging on the Nile Basin;
  • Propose your vision for the future, and discuss it with others, in an attempt to build a common vision;
  • Draw up, then, several possible scenarios, ranging from the most trendy to the most disruptive;
  • Finally, come back to the common vision built in step 2 to take it as a desirable horizon, and reflect “by going back”: what steps – obstacles – opportunities will pave the way towards the desired horizon (the common vision of the future), and how to try to prepare for them, to anticipate them, or to bypass them?

The ease with which the young people managed to dialogue was very impressive. Indeed, while a large majority of them were not coming from the Nile Basin, the participants managed to discuss the challenges of the region, and each made their contribution. This foresight session showed that an extremely constructive dialogue can emerge between people coming from the Basin and others who are foreign. Here, young Egyptians, Sudanese and South Sudanese helped enlighten others about the context of the area, its history and its challenges. The other participants also enriched the discussions, bringing new ideas, sometimes more technical or specific knowledge on certain aspects, or simple feedback from situations they have experienced at home, which may have common features with the governance situation of the Nile Basin.

Stage 2 of the session aimed to bring out contrasting visions. It was very productive, thanks to the inclusive dialogue space created by the participants. In fact, thanks to listening to and respecting each other’s words, each young person was able to express himself and describe his vision for the future of the Basin, according to his knowledge and aspirations. Thus, the participants were able to compare their contrasting visions, and bring out common visions.

The last step of “backcasting”, or how to focus on the desired horizon and then go back and think about the concrete steps to get there, was also very interesting. First, backcasting forces you to ask yourself concrete questions: how do you get to the desired vision? What do we need? What will be the obstacles in our way? It also requires bringing in the central question of temporality: what can we predict, anticipate right now? What, on the contrary, can only remain in the realm of uncertainty? What can we still avoid, minimize? What is too late, on the contrary, to avoid, and what can be done in this case to minimize the risks? What weak signals could emerge in our path, and cause structural changes?

It was also interesting that there are many different paths that can lead to the same vision for the future. Some have turned more to the financial aspect, advocating an increase in financial incentives so as not to pollute the river, the establishment of financial “rewards” for companies or organizations managing their water in a sustainable way, or even the allocation of additional funds for water research and data collection to move towards more informed governance. Another group instead emphasized the legal and regulatory aspect, arguing that it would first be necessary to strengthen and harmonize regulations and sanctions, if governance sustainability is to be achieved. Finally, the third group took the entry point of building a sense of community to achieve the desired vision. How would this translate into practice? For example, by organizing collaborative projects around water and its representations, creating regeneration areas on the Basin, spaces dedicated to cultural exchanges and the celebration of diversity on the Nile, or still some very innovative ideas, such as the creation of a “Nile mobility passport”.

This feedback on a concrete foresight session shows that it is possible, in fact, to bring together young people in order to make them think together about building a common future, in a particular area. Here, it took the financial support of the Water Youth Network and its partners to organize the workshop, and the willingness of young people to discuss and learn from each other to go towards recommendations to disseminate to the greatest number, to give ideas, raise awareness and lead the way for others.

  • Links to the Recommendations Note published after the Workshop, and a Video presenting the participants and their perceptions of the role of Youth in diplomacy and water governance.