The UN 2023 Water Conference

In March 2023 the world will come together in New York during the UN 2023 Water Conference. The Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan, co-hosts of the Conference, are committed to make the Conference a watershed moment that brings stakeholders from all sectors together. 

We aim to create global momentum for accelerated implementation and improved impact to advance the broad challenges surrounding water. This is very much needed, since the world is collectively behind on achieving Sustainable Development Goal #6 on water.

As co-hosts we strive for an inclusive, action-oriented and cross-sectoral Conference. When the team started preparing for the conference we unanimously agreed on involving one particular ‘major group’ from the start: youth. We strongly believe in the benefits of involving youth (organisations) from all over the world during the preparations, the conference itself and the follow-up process.

We need the creativity and expertise of young fresh minds to come up with ideas to overcome water-related challenges. Also, the youngest generation is the one that has to suffer the longest from the consequences of too much, too little or too filthy water. Youth organisations and representatives have strong voices; and we want to listen to these voices.

Youth at heart

Thanks to some helpful tools and advices the Youth at Heart strategy provided us with, we entered into conversations with youth organisations active in the water and climate sector worldwide. Instead of telling them how to get involved, we asked them how they wanted to get involved. Youth organisations mentioned that they often got involved last minute, for example to be a panellist, which made them feel like their participation is a ‘check-the-box’ kind of situation.

In order to avoid this we asked youth organisations in The Netherlands to be part of the Dutch UN 2023 Sounding Board. This board contains of multiple stakeholders and are asked for advice on how to prepare for the conference and commitments from The Netherlands on how we will contribute to the acceleration towards achieving SDG #6. By participating in the Sounding Board the youth organisations get a chance to actually be involved and share their ideas about the preparations and outcomes of the conference.

During the conference in March we want to avoid to treat the ‘youth’ as a separate group and not solely invite them to youth-related (side-)events. We are striving to include youth (organisations) in the official parts of the conference such as the Interactive Dialogues. Besides that, we want to give youth (organisations) the chance to organise events/challenges or other creative ideas around the conference and are offering financial contributions to some of the organisations.


Obviously, we are still facing multiple challenges on a daily basis. How do we avoid tokenism? Which regions have not yet been involved? How can we define our blind spots? Will we be able to offer the youth organisations everything they wish for (considering the formalities belonging to a UN conference..)?

Only time will tell if we will be able to overcome all these challenges, but as co-hosts we will try to do everything in our power to make this conference truly inclusive and actually put youth at the heart of international policy development on water. We will keep engaging with youth organisations worldwide and if nothing goes right, we try to go left.

100% recycled school uniforms

Henk Ovink (Special Envoy for Water in The Netherlands) and Sulton Rahimzoda (Special Envoy for Water in Tajikistan) are visiting many big conferences to promote UN 2023 and are always very keen on engaging with local youth organisations.

In this picture you can see Henk and Sulton in Japan during the Asia-Pacific Water Summit, where a local youth organisation showed Henk the 100% recycled and forever recyclable school uniforms they created for their school. This is exactly the kind of creativity we need in order to save our home, planet earth.

In April 2023 we are hoping to be able to look back at a successful conference where youth participation was not a ‘check-the-box’, but meaningful participation during the preparations, conference itself and outcomes!


The UN 2023 team.

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