The World is Flat – and We Can Help
By mid-summer 2015, it is reasonable to expect AWWA will have an expanded international presence outside of North America. In addition to our Sections in Mexico and Canada, the Association will bring closure to a two-year due diligence process where we explored the opportunity to take our knowledge base overseas to the country of India.
This initiative is being done to fulfill the goals of the AWWA Strategic Plan, and for the primary purpose of increasing AWWA's presence to help water professionals improve health by providing solutions to effectively manage water in India.
AWWA has determined that we cannot easily achieve this goal without a physical presence. Secondarily, a presence in India will allow North American AWWA members to learn from Indian water professionals and to share technological solutions to water problems.
While the challenges are steep, the opportunities to expand international membership and knowledge exchange are significant. To understand the water needs in India, one only needs to consider the following which is from a 2007 survey of 20 Indian utilities conducted by the Asian Development Bank:
- Water availability = 4.3 hours per day
- Unaccounted water = 31.8%
- Connections metered = 24.5 %
Certainly these statistics are far cry from what we enjoy in Nebraska and it is difficult to even imagine what life might be like with such limited access to this precious resource.
So what does this International growth of our Association have to do with our humble little Section in Nebraska? How do we benefit or how is this good for our membership? How can we contribute? All good questions and ones that are top-of-mind for me.
As I think about the Association's growth, I draw an analogy to Lewis and Clark and the expedition of 1804. For them, moving across the Midwest and Western US in the discovery of new land and a surface water connection to the Pacific Ocean was about taking some risk to broaden our horizons. Meet new people, learn from them, share experiences and provide an overall deepening of the knowledge base. These are discoveries that may not provide immediate results or instant gratification, but over time, the information exchange becomes very powerful and everyone involved can find more robust and enduring solutions.
We've come a long way in more than two centuries: India, for instance, is accessible via an Internet connection in the blink of an eye, or via 23-hour journey by air. And our proximity and connectivity mean that interaction involves a two-way exchange, not just some Westerners planting a flag and telling the local population what to do. India has an extensive range of collegiate engineering programs. AWWA's presence on the ground in India will not only help the Indian water sector to learn from our experience, but also to help our representatives learn in return. Often, attacking an old problem under new constraints (like budget limitations, a workforce with a different educational background, or even shortages of electricity) can help us re-examine how we do things on our own and find better answers.
As with most growth initiatives, there is risk. The Association has done a good job of putting together a solid pro-forma budget which suggests AWWA-India can be self-sufficient in three years. We will monitor the operation and take corrective action as needed. In the meantime, we should all take pride in knowing that we are part of an organization that is having a worldly impact in the area of water.