News.Sep 21, 2022

“This generation will make a real difference”

Young people are often better equipped to solve global water challenges than their parents, according to Hayati Yarkadas from Xylem. But more should be done to unleash the potential of youth and programmes like the Stockholm Junior Water Prize can play a vital role.

Hayati Yarkadas, President of Xylem Europe

Hayati Yarkadas is President of Xylem Europe and the company’s Water Infrastructure and Global Services business. He recognizes an innovative water project when he sees one. This year, he traveled to Stockholm to follow the finals of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize live during World Water Week.

“The finalists have come up with amazing projects. I am confident many of these projects will find their way into real applications. It is always a huge highlight for us at Xylem to be here and meet these bright young minds,” Hayati says.

“The [Stockholm Junior Water Prize] finalists have come up with amazing projects. I am confident many of these projects will find their way into real applications.”

Hayati Yarkadas, President of Xylem Europe

Xylem, a leading global water technology provider committed to solving water, has been a partner to the Stockholm Junior Water Prize since the beginning in the late 1990s. Over the years, the number of participating countries has grown from eight to nearly 40 and it is now a truly global event.

“It makes me so proud to have so many young people here, from Bangladesh, from Germany, from Canada, Australia, India… They come together to solve a similar set of issues because the water challenges are not limited to a geography or set of countries anymore,” Hayati says.

His own lifelong passion for water stems from a childhood in the mountainous northeast of Turkey where the day would start with his family walking together to the local river to fetch water in buckets. “At that time, I didn’t think people could have water and sanitation at home because in our village of 50 houses, no one did.”

Later, Hayati decided that water was his calling, and he recognizes the same commitment to solving real-world problems when he meets the 15-20-year-olds participating in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. But in other ways, he feels that they are quite different from his own younger self “I see this both professionally and in my private life. We have two daughters who are 21 and 18, so I guess they are Generation Z. A couple of characteristics differentiate them from previous generations. First, they have a huge environmental consciousness that I think we lacked in my generation. Second, they are very digitally savvy. They have the knowledge at their fingertips and the cost of information is rapidly falling. And third, they are not patient with policy or just talk, they want to be involved in taking actions.”

 

“When you have diverse talent around the table, the discussion is richer, you get better and more diverse ideas, and your decision-making process is more thoughtful and balanced.”

Hayati Yarkadas, President of Xylem Europe

Another important shift, according to Hayati, is the fast-growing number of women among water innovators. In this year’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize, 50 percent of the finalists were women.

“That is huge progress! Diversity is a strength. Companies and institutions should reflect the diversity of their societies. When you have diverse talent around the table, the discussion is richer, you get better and more diverse ideas, and your decision-making process is more thoughtful and balanced. Research shows this over and over again. Without diversity, we will not be able to solve water.”

Hayati sees the potential of this generation to handle major challenges like water scarcity, affordability, and the climate-proofing of infrastructure. But he feels that companies and decision-makers must collaborate with young people in developing new solutions.

In the case of Xylem, this includes maintaining strong links with the Stockholm Junior Water Prize participants: “Over the years we have stayed in touch with our Stockholm Junior Water Prize alumni. They receive mentorships and access to our labs and some of these projects find their way into real applications. When seeing this, I am very confident that this generation will make a real difference!”

Stockholm Junior Water Prize

Stockholm Junior Water Prize is a competition for students aged 15 to 20 who have developed research projects that can help solve major water challenges. The competition attracts tens of thousands of entries from over 40 countries.

Learn more about SJWP
Finalists of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize on stage with HRH Princess Victoria of Sweden, 2022. Photo by Jonas Borg.