Impact, Water & Attracting Young Talent: a conversation with the next generation of impact leaders
During the spring 2021 semester, six students from University of Southern California’s Impact Investing Group (IIG) collaborated with Imagine H2O on a consulting project. Their scope of work focused on evaluating how Imagine H2O communicates the impact of the organization, the ecosystem and of the portfolio. They focused on our 2020 Impact Report, our portfolio companies, and recommended a new program to engage Gen-Z.
Following their well-researched and informative presentation, we asked the students to weigh in and share why people should care about water innovation and how to attract young talent to the sector.
- Zoe Hickey Juárez
Sophomore, Economics & Mathematics
- Rohan Nishtala (Project Manager)
Sophomore, Industrial and Systems Engineering & Business Finance
- Arnav Kanodia
Freshman, Business Administration & Accounting
- Ambar Dange
Sophomore, International Relations Global Business
- Mackey Guenther
Freshman, Business Administration & Politics, Philosophy and Economics
- Miriam Son
Junior, Business Administration
Why should more people care about water, and specifically water innovation?
Simply put, we have yet to fully establish water as a human right! Significant investment and infrastructure development on a global scale will be necessary to improve access to clean water, particularly as climate change exacerbates existing water-related disparities. Additionally, aligning public interest with this effort would be highly beneficial in well-resourced countries where effective altruism can kickstart implementation. Water innovation will be particularly important in reducing cost and maximizing reliability for these projects, expanding access to safe, reliable water at the fastest pace and broadest scale possible.
The majority of the human body is made out of water! If that doesn’t tell you how much we rely on water then I don’t know what will. Since many of us in the United States are fortunate enough to have access to clean water, it is easy to take it for granted. The reality is that over 600M people in the world do not have this same access. Innovation is necessary to bridge this gap because different regions in the world have different challenges that prevent universal access to clean water. As a result, water solutions must be complex, adaptable, and sustainable.
Growing up in a country where for the most part, clean water is readily accessible, people take for granted how easy it is for us to access this resource. For many countries and parts of the world, access to water, and especially clean water, is almost impossible. The need for water innovation will help solve this issue by streamlining the process of supplying clean water, building cheaper filtration systems, and moving one step closer to creating universal clean water systems. These initiatives will also help generate more awareness in taking care of the environment and using more renewable energy sources.
According to the World Health Organization, in Low and Middle Income Countries, 22% of health care facilities have no water service, 21% no sanitation service, and 22% no waste management service, and at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. Moreover, lack of access to water plays a role in the perpetuation of gender inequality. This means that people spend a large portion of their day searching for it, a burden that usually falls on young girls and women, which further hinders their ability to be educated. This is why water innovation is needed, so that we can figure out clever and cost effective ways to provide clean water! Or, so that we can match water saving ideas with capital to build infrastructure that allows the 2.2 billion people who lack access to safely managed drinking water to live a dignified life. And allow young girls to spend their days in school rather than searching for water! If you ask me, water innovation seems like the key to providing people the universal human rights that they are entitled to.
How can the water sector attract more young talent (like yourselves)?
Young talent and students look for professional opportunities that correspond with their college studies, that will allow them to develop their own skills, and that will allow them to make a real impact in the world. With the rise of water innovation and successful start-ups and companies in the sector, there will undoubtedly also be new professional opportunities that align with these aspirations of young talent. Advertising these opportunities and investing in recruiting efforts, such as university recruiting events, will allow the water sector to attract more young talent. I also believe that it is important to raise more attention around water innovation, as this is a topic that many students already know is critical but may not have at the top of their minds amidst the multiple types of industry advertisement they encounter. A combination of educational events and recruiting opportunities will be likely to pique the interest of the younger generation.
When I first visited the IH2O website, I was amazed at the plethora of VC-backed accelerator alumni working to solve problems associated with access to clean water. Be it water efficiency & conservation or digital water, all start-ups in this sector are generating significant social impact. And that is exactly what needs to be highlighted better by the water sector in order to attract top talent. Our generation has consciously been educated about societal problems such as climate change, income inequality and racial discrimination. While this education has instilled a desire to work for the betterment of society among youngsters, the career opportunities to pursue such an objective appear limited. Start-ups need to make a conscious effort and ramp-up social impact showcasing while recruiting for young talent. Consequently, by realizing how they can build and sell life-changing water products, young talent will flock to the water sector.
The water sector is a high-impact space — it lacks the glamour and prestige of historically more desirable sectors, but there’s no denying the transformative impact that safe, accessible water has on communities and their residents. Younger generations are increasingly interested in pursuing careers that make a difference, so if the challenges and dynamism of the present global water crisis are communicated effectively, I think water-related opportunities could find high resonance with them. Firms operating in water-related spaces could attract talent by emphasizing their human impact in career-related messaging, establishing water as a space well-suited for those looking to serve the world with their work (especially as climate change magnifies the necessity of water-related innovation).