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World Water Day Summit: Innovating for Clean Water

March 22 @ 8:30 am - 12:00 pm EDT

During this year’s UN World Water Day Summit at the Reservoir Center attendees heard from leaders in the public and private sectors share their vision for how to strengthen the connection between investment and technology. Their goal —  help advance the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation across the globe.

The speakers described four important steps that need to take place to achieve water security for all:

  • Bring water into the broader conversation around sustainability and climate action
  • Collaborate across the private and public sectors to achieve progress in water access
  • Ensure water is seen as a climate problem
  • Continue to focus on investing in underserved communities and nurturing innovation

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Event Speakers

Keynote: Henk Ovink

Executive Director, Global Commission on the Economics of Water

Henk Ovink was the first ever global water ambassador for over 8 years, appointed in 2015 by the Dutch Cabinet as Special Envoy for International Water Affairs. In this capacity co-leading the second UN Water Conference in 2023 , the first since 1977, he helped bring the world together in New York, with more than 10.000 people from every continent, background, and profession. Together they showed the world that water matters for all and everything, that it stands for something much bigger than our individual and institutional divides. The world committed to over 800 actions, across geographies in local to global coalitions for a water secure world for all.

As the Ambassador for Water, Henk was responsible for advocating water awareness around the world, building institutional capacity and coalitions amongst governments, multilateral organizations, private sector and NGO’s, and initiating innovate approaches like Water as Leverage and actively engaging with, supporting and empowering young water-professionals and -youth to address the world’s stressing needs on water.

Henk served on President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force where he led the long-term innovation, resilience, and rebuilding efforts. He developed and led the ‘ Rebuild by Design ’ competition and initiated the National Disaster Resilience Competition.

Before joining the Task Force Ovink was both Acting Director General of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs and Director National Spatial Planning for the Netherlands after multiple roles in the private sector, from his own start-up for planning, design, and innovation.

Henk holds an honorary doctorate at Delft University “for his pioneering work on transformative design for climate change, and for his leadership in communicating and practicing the importance of water for peaceful global co-existence”. He is affiliated to the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes at Columbia University’s GSAPP and Climate School and is lecturer at the University of Groningen. His book – written together with Jelte Boeijenga – “Too Big. Rebuild by Design: A Transformative Approach to Climate Change” explores his climate and water work for the Obama Administration.

In 2023 Henk Ovink was the 10th recipient of the Foreign Affairs Decoration of Honor in Gold, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for his unique and outstanding water diplomacy work and leadership. At the World Urban Forum in February 2020 Henk was awarded the IHS Urban Professional Award 2020. And in 2018 Henk Ovink was awarded for his ‘transformative global water work’ an honorary membership from the Royal Institute of Engineers of the Netherlands.

Panellist: Tom Ferguson

Managing Partner, Burnt Island Ventures

Tom is the Managing Partner of Burnt Island Ventures, an early stage venture fund focused exclusively on the water sector. They closed their first $30m fund in February 2021, and have invested in 18 companies, supporting founders building solutions across the water value chain. Previously, Tom was VP Programming at Imagine H2O. He holds an MA (Hons) from the University of Edinburgh and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Panellist: Stephen Sena

Senior Technical Advisor, USAID’s WASH-FIN-2

Mr. Sena has over 20 years’ experience in program management and technical assistance in finance and delivery of basic urban services, enterprise development, and local economic and community development. He has worked in Africa, Asia, and the Americas on behalf of the private sector, USAID, the World Bank and others. He has been with USAID’s WASH-FIN since 2017 in senior roles providing technical oversight and project management with global and country teams. Prior to WASH-FIN Mr. Sena was associated with TCG International, which pioneered several WASH blended finance initiatives in Asia on behalf of USAID. Mr. Sena holds an International M.B.A. from Brandeis International Business School in Massachusetts and resides in Washington DC.

Panellist: Sivan Zamir

Vice President, Early-Stage Innovation & Corporate Venture, Xylem

Sivan Zamir builds products, teams and companies, by the mantra “To go fast, go alone; to go far, go together.” A self-described creator of order from chaos, Sivan’s professional strength is bringing innovation and technology to conservative industrial markets. She currently leads Xylem Innovation Labs, Xylem’s global innovation and venture team whose mission is driving growth by accelerating development and commercialization of innovations solving critical customer challenges.

Before joining Xylem, Sivan spent 10+ years in Israel as a founding member of IoT and digital twin startup companies. Prior, she managed major commercial and infrastructure construction projects across California. Sivan holds a Bachelors and Masters in Civil Engineering from University of California Berkeley and Stanford University respectively. Outside of work, she can be found cheering in the stands while her husband coaches collegiate volleyball or hiking with her puppy Bamba Lulu.

Moderator: Radhika Fox

Principal, North Star Strategies
Xylem Senior Advisor

Keynote: Nancy Eslick

Senior Deputy Assistant to the Administrator, Global Water Coordinator, USAID

Nancy J. Eslick is the Senior Deputy Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Resilience, Environment and Food Security (REFS), supporting implementation of the Water for the World and Feed the Future initiatives. She serves as the USAID Global Water Coordinator, leading the agency’s implementation responsibilities under the U.S. Global Water Strategy.

For more than two decades, Ms. Eslick, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has demonstrated effective leadership in advancing foreign policy and development objectives with USAID and key partners. Most recently, she was the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Assistance, Private Sector, and Donor Coordination focused on developing initiatives for Ukrainian efforts, in the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. Ms. Eslick served as Mission Director in Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and (Acting) Jordan. As a champion of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility, she developed a pioneering Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Minorities Strategy to integrate across the Cambodia portfolio. While serving in Bosnia-Herzegovina she led a complex portfolio working to expand economic prosperity, combat corruption, and strengthen the rule of law. In Jordan, she led one of USAID’s largest development programs as Acting Mission Director and Deputy Mission Director. During her tenure, she guided long-term strategic efforts to address the Syrian refugee crisis and developed innovative partnerships to promote regional security and stability. Ms. Eslick has also served overseas for USAID in Burma, Pakistan, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

Before joining USAID in 2001 as a Presidential Management Fellow, Ms. Eslick began her development career as a Peace Corps Volunteer, helping establish Uganda’s Kibale National Park. She holds Masters’ degrees in Public Affairs and Environmental Science, with a focus in Water Resources, in addition to an undergraduate degree, from Indiana University at Bloomington.

Panellist: Tjada D’Oyen McKenna

CEO, MercyCorps

Tjada D’Oyen McKenna has grounded her career in the simple belief that, no matter where someone is born, no matter where they live, they should be able to lead a thriving and successful life.

As Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps, Tjada leads a global team of over 6,000 humanitarians, who provide immediate relief to help save lives and livelihoods and work to support transformational change in more than 40+ countries. Previously, she served as Chief Operating Officer of CARE, where she oversaw the organization’s programming and global operations. Tjada spent more than a decade working to end world hunger in roles with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. government. During the Obama administration, Tjada served as the Deputy Coordinator of Development for Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and the Assistant to the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Food Security in Washington, D.C.

Tjada also brings a passion for innovation to her work, developed early in her career, through various roles at McKinsey & Company, American Express, and General Electric.

In addition to leading Mercy Corps, Tjada sits on the Climate Migration Council and is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Tjada earned a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. When she’s not working, Tjada enjoys reading and spending time with her family.

To learn more about what Tjada is up to as CEO of Mercy Corps, she can be followed on her Twitter handle @Tjada.

Panellist: Genevieve Edens

Senior Director of Impact & ESG, WaterEquity

Genevieve Edens leads on impact and ESG at WaterEquity. In that capacity she develops policies and tools and is involved at all stages of the investment process. She brings 15 years of experience in impact management and research to this role.

Previously, Genevieve was Director of Research at the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, a global network that supports entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Prior to ANDE, Genevieve spent several years living in Tanzania where she worked for the coffee importer Sustainable Harvest, sourcing coffee from smallholder farmers for the specialty coffee market.

Genevieve received her Bachelor of Arts with high honors in History from Wesleyan University and holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on analytics and responsible management from George Washington University.

Panellist: Aidan A. Cronin

Senior Advisor (Results & Resources) Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF

Aidan Cronin trained as a civil and environmental engineer and holds a Ph.D. in water resources from Queens University Belfast. He has almost 30 years of experience working in the WASH sector across consultancy, academia and the UN. His academic research focused on the threats to water resources and water quality in the EU and developing country contexts. He started working with the United Nations as a Water and Sanitation Officer at the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees in their Public Health Section in Geneva. He then worked with UNICEF Country Office WASH programs in India, Indonesia and Zimbabwe in a variety of functions from WASH Specialist to WASH Chief. He currently is Senior WASH Adviser (Results & Resources) with the WASH, Climate, Energy, Environment and DRR (CEED) Programme Team in UNICEF New York HQ with oversight on the global monitoring, reporting, budgeting and talent management of the UNICEF Global WASH programme that operates in over 100 countries. He has published on the health, nutritional and social impacts of inadequate WASH service provision as well as on positive interventions and solutions related to these challenges.


March 22
8:30 am - 12:00 pm EDT


Reservoir Center
301 Water St SE
Washington, 20003 United States
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