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International Youth Day

A celebration, the LinkedIn feeds that I was tagged as part of the International Youth Day last week and the loss of one of my emerging water professionals champions, invited me to reflect. Saying goodbye to the so called “Youth age” recently, I started to wonder what I learned from my youth years and my time advocating and working with youth. My cross-gen collaborator, Wouter, invited me to join the call with the Global Water Partnership colleagues to learn from their experiences working with youth. During the call, he invited me to share my experience and instead of doing so, I paused and stopped myself from doing that. Instead, I decided to ask a question “what are the barriers that hold our senior professionals back from becoming youth champions?” I was keen to understand their perspectives. Dani expanded my knowledge bank when she shared that it could be a combination of reasons including the feeling that by giving youth an opportunity to be on the same platform –“table”, senior people are doing youth a favour. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to learn something new from youth or believing that youth have something valuable to offer. Secondly, it could be about fairness. Senior professionals may feel that they have worked so hard and for a long time to get to where they are, so why should they give up a space to someone who has only been working for a short period of time? Fair call, I think.

I believe for cross-gen collaboration to work, we need to challenge ourselves to be more curious about each other.

The more I reflect on this conversation the more I realised that it is about respect. How can I be respectful to those that came before me, their place, and contributions in the history? How can I better leverage and build on their years of experiences and wisdom instead of thinking “I know it all and you are just old and irrelevant”? I remember so well many years ago when I was studying Master of Integrated Water Management. I came home so excited about the concept of Water Sensitive Cities. I shared with my father-in-law who is 50 years older than me. He listened actively and calmly and at the end of my story, he said with a gentle smile, “that was really good. I remember we did that a while back. We didn’t have a name for it”. Right there I realised what was so new and “innovative” to me was not at all a new thing! Only when we learn to respect by listening more and asking more questions, I believe, we will unlock so much wisdom to fast track our efforts, energy and resources to address the challenges we are confronting today. If you are curious about why we need to work together across generations and need more convincing, I invite you to read Jen’s article here.

To my senior professionals, please bear with me as I am sharpening my respect skill. While we are all learning and improving ourselves, I would like to invite you to reflect on “what are the barriers that hold you back from becoming youth champions? And what are you doing or willing to do about it?” Please continue to open doors for our younger professionals so we can better learn and work together.

To my young professionals, please take some time to reflect and pause. Perhaps you can start to listen a little bit more and ask more questions before assuming no one else has the answers. If we are all doing our part to be more respectful, I believe we can achieve great things faster.

I believe for cross-gen collaboration to work, we need to challenge ourselves to be more curious about each other.

Image credit: ABC TV iview

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