Youth innovators stepping up to help communities around the world solve urgent water challenges

Solutions-based thinking” from young leaders drives action on water accessibility and security

A “growing” global movement of young innovators is helping the water sector make progress against urgent challenges like water accessibility and security, by developing innovative ways to manage water and educating others in their communities about water challenges.

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At World Water Week 2022 in Stockholm, Sweden, Canada’s Annabelle Rayson received the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) for her research on treating and preventing harmful algae blooms using micro aquatic organisms called zooplankton. The project looked at the biomanipulation of different genotypes of a particular species of freshwater zooplankton to determine the best type to eat the algae and control blooms. Her findings could help influence freshwater protection and conservation efforts.

Rayson is among the tens of thousands of students from more than 40 countries that engaged with the SJWP, as young leaders come together and solve water in collaboration with industry experts on climate and sustainability solutions.

“Young people need to be involved with water because this is our future, our planet. What inspires me is the fact that people are becoming more and more aware of water issues. People have taken water for granted, but with climate change, people realize that we need to do something,” said Rayson. “Participating in the SJWP, I met 58 phenomenal students around my age from every corner of the globe. Seeing their passion, research, and drive to make the world a better place gives me hope.”

Among the building movement of young innovators is Team WatApp, which recently won the HackZurich Xylem Water Challenge. In September, the team won the non-stop 40-hour hackathon event in Zurich, Switzerland, with a social gaming app that helps people make smart water choices in their everyday lives, build long-term water-saving habits, and share their results with friends.

Other notable projects showcasing youth leadership include UpLift, a participant in last year’s Xylem Ignite Innovation Challenge. The project uses a machine learning model that can train existing data to predict flooding severity. Through a dedicated app, users can input discharge, gauge height and rainfall values to generate accurate rainfall and flooding predictions. The application also explains common flood terminology for greater awareness and education, and has a portal where users can provide feedback to promote community engagement.

Xylem has a history of promoting youth engagement through its long-running sponsorship of the SJWP, its partnership with HackZurich, and the Xylem Ignite Innovation Challenge. Last year, the Xylem Ignite Innovation Challenge invited more than 800 students from around the world to design and develop solutions to real-world water challenges.

Engaging and empowering the next generation is critical to ensuring a sustainable water future,” said Austin Alexander, vice president, sustainability and social impact, Xylem. “That’s why we’re leaning into the passion and creativity of young people through Xylem Ignite, our global youth innovation program that launched in 2020. This initiative connects us to some of the brightest and best young minds – and unleashes their potential to change the world.”

Xylem also recently announced the renewal of its partnership with Manchester City Football Club, an alliance that aims to inspire young people to act on global water issues. Since 2021, the Club and Xylem have reached more than 6,000 students globally through the Water Heroes Academy – an initiative that supports water education activities led by young leaders in São Paulo, Mumbai, Cape Town, New York City and Shanghai.

This year, the Club and Xylem announced an expansion of the initiative to include youth-led projects in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Cape Coast, Kuala Lumpur, and Melbourne. This November, Manchester City fans will have a chance to learn more about the five new projects and vote for their favourite young water heroes. The Water Heroes Academy network aims to positively impact 20,000 more young people over the next four years.