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Water Innovation Summit ’19: The Next Generation

What happens when professionals who have been doing a job for decades retire? What does that mean for their organization? In most jobs, their colleagues can pretty much carry on as before. If a water operator retires without a suitable replacement in place, the optimal performance of the system they operated walks out of the door with them. In California, 80% of Tier 3–5 (the largest and most complex) facility operators are already eligible for retirement. This “Silver Tsunami” is a big problem.

Imagine H2O is best known as an Accelerator. We support founders to develop and deploy innovations, assisting them to solve water resource management challenges at scale. Each year, we gather our network in San Francisco for the annual IH2O/WEF Water Innovation Summit. This year, rather than promote action on technical issues like resource recovery, or infrastructure renewal, we have chosen to focus the Summit on preparing the water sector for the Next Generation of water leaders.

This is not an obvious choice, so why are we taking on this challenge? First, we see innovation as a mindset, not a technical accomplishment. You can be innovative about anything, from your hiring process to the way your organization deals with hexavalent chromium contamination. What matters is that you’re constantly trying to improve the way you’re doing things. Sometimes it’s a technical fix, sometimes it’s a process fix, sometimes it’s a people fix. We want to help Summit attendees understand the universe of benefits that come from getting the best out of your people.

Second, this is kind of subject that is a panel at a Summit, but not a Summit theme itself. That was bizarre to us. Nothing happens without people. Things can go backwards and sideways if people leave, take their expertise with them, with no plan for how to replace them and improve. Imagine H2O can apply the experience and insight of our network to illustrate how utilities and other organizations can smooth the transition to the Next Generation of leadership.

Third, we knew it would challenge our team and our audience. We talk all the time to people about pushing the boundaries, working to get comfortable with makes us uncomfortable. That’s how progress works. We’re comfortable with technology, with entrepreneurs, with talking to organizations about the deployment of innovation. We’re far less comfortable talking about hiring, retention, growth, culture, policy and controversial issues in the people realm, and how innovative approaches can help relieve some of the pressure on utilities.

That meant mobilizing an amazing slate of speakers, including Cathy Bailey (GCWW), Ifetayo Venner (Arcadis), Steve Ritchie (SFPUC), Carla Reid (WSSC), Emily Hicks (FREDsense), Norma Camacho (SCVWD), Adam Tank (Suez) and many more to provide insight that is as relevant to Imagine H2O in our work as it is to the people we’re inviting. We have insight from IDEO and Google, from Moulton Niguel Water District and Hampton Roads Water District, from startup leaders and industry veterans. The potential for significant, concrete outcomes from the Summit is deeply exciting.

Last year’s event at Google.org was a milestone for Imagine H2O. The sell-out crowd made over a hundred individual commitments to action, and the feedback encouraged the IH2O team to push on and take on a large, risky, often uncomfortable subject. The session leaders are in place to make sure the tough issues are raised, and that the Next Generation tell the truth to the Current Generation of leaders and vice versa. March 21st in San Francisco is shaping up to be pretty special for all involved.

Join us for the third annual IH2O/WEF Water Innovation Summit, part of Imagine H2O’s Water Innovation Week 2019