The countries of Southeast Asia struggle daily with this vexing conundrum: ample water, but much of it unsafe or unreliable. UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon states, “Water links the local to the regional, and brings together global questions of food security, public health, urbanization and energy. Addressing how we use and manage water resources is central to setting the world on a more sustainable and equitable path.”
The stakes for addressing this water challenge are high. Water access and safety bear not just on industrial productivity, but on environmental sustainability, urban and rural development, health, and poverty alleviation, among other inextricable dimensions of development. Creating a system to provide sustainable, affordable, reliable, and potable water is as complex as it is pressing. Finding a comprehensive solution demands the best the science, engineering, policy, and enterprise communities have to offer.
The Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) is jumping into this challenge at the request of our partner, the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). UTM is a Malaysian university full of seasoned, ambitious researchers and bright, talented students. A hub of knowledge and innovation at the southern-most end of peninsular Malaysia, UTM has called on GKI to join them in creating a program to better connect these brilliant minds to the water challenges facing communities across Malaysia and within the broader Southeast Asian region. Both parties are thrilled to launch the UTM and GKI Southeast Asian Water Challenge this coming fall.
Recognizing the importance of solutions with broad support and buy-in, GKI and UTM seek close collaboration from stakeholders and students to assure the creation of a program with value to those directly affected by water insecurity. In advance of the upcoming program launch, GKI Chief Operating Officer Sara Farley and Program Officer Courtney O’Brien traveled to Malaysia to begin stakeholder and student engagement with UTM. As a first move, UTM hosted a group of 20+ representatives of industry, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss the challenges and opportunities in Malaysian water. From undervalued water to the potential for international conflict, the challenges that arose in discussion centered on the need to build public awareness about water; and for more robust linkages among universities, communities, industries, and NGOs. Next, the Water Challenge team held a student workshop with 30+ undergraduate and graduate students from across fields of study—environmental and water management, chemical engineering, built environment, education, etc.—to debut the Water Challenge and demonstrate the Collaborative Innovation research tools and methodologies that will lay its foundation.
Both students and stakeholders alike expressed their desire to participate in the program when it debuts later this year. GKI, UTM, and the Water Challenge are fortunate to have this excitement, and look forward to participants’ continuing engagement as we pursue solutions to real water challenges in Southeast Asia.