My “water” story, part II

Share this post: 

(If you missed part I)

On to the second half of how I came to do what I do in the water community…

Back to the prominent academic I had reached out to.  During and after my Fulbright, we kept in touch and at one point he needed two case studies on transboundary waters translated from Spanish to English.  This was my first official water job and the only reason I got it was because I spoke Spanish (keep this in mind).  He then kept offering me short-term projects to help organize conferences and write case studies as well.  The work wasn’t glamorous, but I was interacting with some of the giants in the field of transboundary waters and getting my name out there and them familiar with my work.  It also allowed me to start to get to know my (young) peers.  So much so that I started (unsuccessfully) to try to put together a Young Professionals’ Association on Transboundary Waters.  This is when my drinks night at World Water Week in Stockholm started a decade ago, which you will be getting a notice about next month.  The association never came to fruition, but my water community started to come together. 

I knew that I needed to get a Master’s degree at this point.  While it is perfectly possible to have a successful career in the water space without one, I knew it would limit my possibilities for advancement, especially working on transboundary waters.  I applied to two types of schools: schools that focused on environment/water where I could dabble in international relations and schools of international relations where I could dabble in water.  I ended up with the latter at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  I saw myself working more closely with international affairs people in what I wanted to be doing.

Fletcher ended up being two of the best years of my life.  With a large focus on community and collaboration, the school was perfect for the types of interactions I wanted to be facilitating within the water community.  I actually tried to get out of water during Fletcher (don’t tell), but was dragged back in when asked to organize a conference on water as a catalyst for cooperation, bringing many of the world’s transboundary experts to Fletcher.  Halfway through being there, I saw a job posting, which was for the WWAP Coordinator.  I thought to myself, “Maybe someday I would like to have that position”.  There was the requirement of a PhD, however, so I decided then and there, so as to again not create a ceiling for myself for what I could apply to, that I would do a PhD.  I applied to Fletcher (because I loved it there and they allowed a certain amount of freedom with being or not on campus) and got in. 

During this time, I went to the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico.  How did I get there?  A Japanese NGO needed an interpreter/translator, Spanish to English, who knew water.  I can easily say where I am today in the water community was facilitated by the fact I spoke more than one language.  Maybe something to consider.  It’s events like the World Water Forum (or World Water Week, etc.) where community building/networking (I hate that term) happens.  Because of my transboundary ties, I linked up with organizations doing such work, hung out with them, socialized, talked life and water.

This is when life happened.  Well, in more ways than one, but I will focus on the “work life” side of life happening, although all aspects of life tend to have an influence on our trajectories.  About a year later, in the middle of studying for my PhD comprehensive exams, after keeping in touch with many of the above organizations from the Forum, I randomly got an email from UNESCO asking if I were interested in doing a 5-week consultancy helping with a proposal for the political process of the 5th World Water Forum since they knew I was “only” working on a PhD :)  It was too good an offer to pass up.  I went to Paris, pounded out the work and, well, 5 weeks turned into 2 years, to see through the entire political process.  My boss did send me back at one point to take my exams, but I then I took time off from the PhD, with approval from my committee, because the exposure I was getting was second-to-none.

It was experiencing the Ministerial Process of the 5th Forum that I started to question my PhD topic.  After four years in the program, I could not find something original and that I was in love with to write about with transboundary waters.  This was making advancing very difficult.  I rethought my topic after going through all the ups and downs of the Ministerial Process and thinking, “This is the best the world has for a ministerial meeting on water?” as the UN has no such thing.  This is when I switched my focus to global water governance, which has defined the second half of my water career.  In the end, I did my PhD, on and off, for 8 years while taking on assignments around this subject (6th World Water Forum, Thematic Consultation on Water for the post-2015 Development Agenda, etc.).  The work informed my PhD and the PhD informed my work.  I finished much later than I thought, but came out with many valuable experiences and a PhD (and a book, if I can get my act together on making edits).

Upon finishing the PhD, over two years ago, I had so many consulting opportunities, I decided to just go with that for a while, almost entirely working in the global water arena on different political processes and also with helping organizations strategize how to engage more in this space.  It has definitely been an up and down career choice and where I still am now, although I’m also in the market for a nice fit with a permanent position, but easier said than done!  So, you are not the only ones using this site ;)

Thanks for reading.  The next blog will focus on what I learned from the above in the form of pieces of advice I picked up over the years.