This has been a big month for WaterNow's Emerging Leader Program! Together with our partners at the Water Center at Penn, we gathered in Philadelphia to extend our congratulations to the 2024 Emerging Leader Award recipients. From the Awards Ceremony to the Emerging Leader Convening, our time with these extraordinary Emerging Leaders was a celebration of our shared dedication to advancing sustainability and equity in the water sector.

Since the program’s launch in 2021, WaterNow’s Emerging Leader Program has spotlighted the contributions of early career utility staff who champion principles of sustainability and equity. This year, we recognized seven outstanding individuals who exemplify these values, bringing the total number of Emerging Leader Awards that WaterNow has presented to twenty-one. Each recipient of the Award has also received a $1,500 stipend to further their professional development. The stipends have been spent on everything from conference registrations to public speaking courses, and many other opportunities besides. By supporting Emerging Leaders working across the country in a wide diversity of utilities in building their careers and furthering their futures, WaterNow aims to support a stronger, bolder, and more sustainable next generation of water leaders.

The Awards Ceremony

This month in Philadelphia, at the Spring Water Policy Conference hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, we had the privilege of presenting the 2024 Awardees with their well-deserved honors. The keynote address by Randy Hayman, CEO and Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department, emphasized the vital role of local decision-makers in steering us towards a sustainable future. The Emerging Leaders shared some heartfelt words, along with the short videos we produced highlighting the projects and initiatives for which they received our recognition. Visit our YouTube channel to see for yourself! Combining the Awards Ceremony with the first annual Policy Forum provided an opportunity to highlight the value of supporting the next generation of Emerging Leaders as the water sector faces a wide variety of challenges, including a shrinking workforce, aging infrastructure, and changing pressures due to climate change.

Our 2024 Emerging Leaders with their Awards!

The Convening

Following the Awards Ceremony, the Emerging Leader Convening provided a space for the Emerging Leader Awardees and members of the Water Center’s Regional Network Collaborative to engage in insightful discussion on fostering trust with local utilities, innovative workforce development strategies, and effectively managing water in the face of a changing climate. The Convening featured a range of excellent speakers from city governments, utilities and nonprofits across a variety of areas of expertise, who were able to participate in the discussions and share their expertise with the Emerging Leaders. Dedicated time for close discussion of the issues faced in their work is hard to come by for utility staff, and its something we’ve repeatedly heard from our participants that they especially value, so we worked hard to make sure that productive and participant-guided discussion was a core component of the program.

We are so thankful to all of our speakers, who were essential to making the program a success. Maura Jarvis of the US Water Alliance and Korin Tangtrakul with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability shared their expertise on building long-lasting equitable relationships between utilities and communities. Paula Figueroa-Vega with New Jersey Future and Tim Alston of the Gary, Indiana Sanitary District did a fantastic job leading a discussion on supporting the water workforce's development. And Amy Motzny with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and Abby Sullivan with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability brought the focus to the big picture with an examination of how water management intersects with climate change mitigation. We were excited to have Travis Loop, producer and host of the waterloop podcast, join us to conduct brief video interviews with the Emerging Leaders – keep an eye out for them in an upcoming episode of the podcast!

A photo of a small discussion group at the Emerging Leader Convening.

Participants engaged in fruitful discussion.

What's Next for the Emerging Leader Program

While the events WaterNow held in Philadelphia this month form the cornerstone of the Emerging Leader Program for the year, our work isn’t over! Throughout the coming months, we’ll hold a series of peer calls and virtual networking events to continue solidifying the relationships the cohort has begun to build and to allow them to continue connecting with past Emerging Leaders and other members of WaterNow’s broader network. We see the development of a long-lasting network of support as one of the key modes of value the program delivers, and we look forward to supporting the Emerging Leaders in benefiting from these relationships across the broader landscape of water industry events and conferences.

WaterNow believes in the power of collaboration and diverse perspectives to drive meaningful change in the water sector. Lifting up the water utility staff who are doing the work every day to create a sustainable and equitable future for the industry, celebrating their achievements and supporting their continued professional growth, is just one piece of the work we have ahead of us. Thanks for reading, and consider signing up for our email list, getting involved, or becoming a member of WaterNow (it’s free!) to learn more about everything we do.

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