Gaia: “I want to stand up for the inclusion of young professionals”

Gaia Zanzi stands up for the inclusion of young professionals. Photo: EJWP.

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Gaia Zanzi participated in the EJWP Water-Smart Bootcamp from 19-22 June as part of Water Innovation Europe 2023 with Water Europe. She realised how inspiring a boot camp with young professionals is and she shares her experiences with Water News Europe.

What is your current work position?

“I currently work at Water Europe as an implementation assistant in Brussels. I am from Verona, Italy, originally. My duties regard mostly a contribution to a European Partnership called Water4All, and the co-management support to a European Cluster named ZeroPollution4Water Cluster. Through these realities, plus the presence and organisation in flagship events of Water Europe, I aim at bringing forward the dialogue between European entities, which include businesses, universities, citizens, governments, and research institutes, to catalyse the attention for a systemic holistic management of water resources. Particularly, I focus on the Water-Oriented Living Labs tools to foster a territorial integrated, inclusive, and diverse management of water, coherently with Water Europe’s vision. What I find particularly appealing about the water sector in Brussels is the diverse array of opportunities it affords for communication and the exchange of ideas among industry professionals. Nevertheless, it is essential to note that Brussels’ environment may at times foster a spirit of competition instead of fostering collaboration.”

How did you become interested in the EJWP Bootcamp at Water Innovation Europe?

“By working in Water Europe I discovered this opportunity and I was intrigued as I thought it might be an enriching experience. I would like to make significant contributions in the realm of environmental economic analysis and considerations, rather than solely focusing on technical aspects. Thanks to Naomi’s exceptional abilities, I came to acknowledge the underlying issue: while the potential for multidisciplinarity is present and essential, to effectively apply it, one must think creatively and sometimes step outside conventional boundaries, or literally ‘outside of the box’, and not be afraid to try. It would be interesting to create a cross-sectoral boot camp. E.g.: we all hear daily about different nexuses, and it would be great to merge young professionals from the energy, food, humanitarian help, health, and water sector.”

Were there memorable moments and/or takeaways from the Bootcamp?

“The main takeaway is how powerful it is to create a fertile environment with other young professionals, who share and face the same professional challenges. One of the standout features of the Water Bootcamp was the diverse range of participants, representing a multitude of disciplines. This multidisciplinary approach fostered a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives, allowing all the participants to gain valuable insights from different fields and challenge conventional thinking.”

What value would you expect to bring to Water Europe, your career and/or your community from external training-networking events like with EJWP?

“I would like to foster and question core necessities even more, such as collaboration and inclusion, to provide a young professional point of view that could be implemented. Moreover, it would be great to create a culture that makes sure that everyone’s experience counts, as well as that everyone who is attending an event is already in the right place at the right time, no matter the age or working experience record.“

What are the opportunities and the challenges of young professionals today in the water sector?

“I believe one of the primary challenges faced by our collective group is the struggle to be perceived as both young and professional at the same time. Often, we find ourselves viewed as youthful and dynamic contributors when it comes to generating innovative ideas and offering our energy to tasks. However, when crucial decision-making processes arise, we are often dismissed as being too young, or worse, invisible. 

I want to emphasize that this is not a one-sided conversation. I understand that our limited experience might prevent us from handling certain situations and I am not promoting unqualified individuals to influential positions. I simply wish for a shift in perception where we can be recognized as both youthful and professional at the same time.

On the other hand, we are deemed professional when entrusted with tasks and responsibilities, or when we need to take ownership of our mistakes. Yet, when it comes to discussing matters such as salary and positions, we are not seen as professional enough and may face scepticism. In conclusion, I hope for a future where we can break free from the dichotomy of either being seen as young and inexperienced or as professional but lacking certain qualifications.” 

What other kinds of activities have you seen as beneficial (or would like to see) in the Water Europe and EJWP partnership?

“I would like to witness the inclusion of young professionals in crucial debates and panels, perhaps as moderators. I believe that it would be nice to have a generational confrontation, when possible in terms of knowledge and experience, and where there is a will by the YP, that questions the Business As Usual solution approach. Generally, I would like to see an increasingly fostered environment for the younger generation to be part of, avoiding the potential threat of the speak in this panel/now or never approach.”

What and where did you study?

“I studied Business Administration in Verona for a Bachelor’s Degree. During that time, I spent two semesters abroad for Eramus+ projects, in Spain and Poland. Then, I obtained a Master’s Degree in Environment and Resource Management with a specialization in Water Challenges, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.”

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