Last weekend I enjoyed reading Tao: the watercourse way by Alan Watts. One reviewer summed it up: “The Tao is like a river, a river of non-duality. A great river banked by duality, yin and yang…Taoism is neither a religion nor a philosophy though it has aspects of both. Taoism is about living a balanced life”. 

Akvo means water in esperanto, and, for me, being Dutch, I feel as if water issues are in my DNA. For almost a decade Akvo has been participating in strategic water events such as World Water Week (every year in Stockholm) and the World Water Forums (every three years at different locations). As I prepare for the upcoming World Water Forum 7 in Korea, I can’t help thinking about Akvo’s relationship with the water sector and how we are finding our way – our new equilibrium – with new activities in different sectors such as conservation, agriculture and palm oil production. 

Doing some googling about Akvo’s history, I found some interesting information about our roots. In the August 2007 issue of World Water Council magazine (No.27), Akvo was dubbed “the water wiki”.  And a news item at World Water Forum 5 in Istanbul (2009) described us as “an open-source water and sanitation web portal”. I wonder what one-liner we will leave behind as a legacy in Korea… “The smartphone as a lab” might be one aspect at least. 

WWF5 Istanbul Blog

Above: the Akvo stand at the fifth World Water Forum in Istanbul, March 2009. Photo by Mark Charmer.
Top left: Akvopedia now features articles in Korean, among numerous other languages. 
Top right: we’ve created a survey on Akvo FLOW to capture information about visitors to our stand at World Water Forum 7 in Seoul. Photo by Frodo van Oostveen.

Akvo’s water events timeline
It’s quite an impressive ‘watercourse way’ if you go through the Akvo timeline and filter on Water Weeks and Forums. 

  • 2006: Akvo initially started in 2006 during Stockholm World Water Week where Thomas and Jeroen first met and conceived an idea to improve the water and sanitation sector. 
  • 2007: Akvo is enthusiastically received at Stockholm World Water Week, where the idea was conceived just one year earlier. Nearly 200 delegates get in touch and express interest in working with or funding us.
  • 2008: Akvo leads a discussion on “Delivering big: using internet tools to transform the pace of water and sanitation development”. We launch the beta version of our platform. We create a dynamic internet lounge that helps to extend our global brand as we share our platform with high level speakers from partners including UN-Habitat and Arghyam. 
  • 2009: the prestigious World Water Council invites us to showcase our work in its pavilion at World Water Forum 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey. We host an event called “Thinking outside the water box” which brings together leading technology innovators such as Google and IBM alongside a new wave of pioneers like Charity Water and Africa Interactive. Check out Mark‘s Flickr set.
  • 2009: for our fourth summer at Stockholm World Water Week, we develop a dazzling new concept to front our presence in close partnership with SIWI and IRC. Our Stockholm World Water Cube is a sensation, putting the power of online video onto the congress floor, and capturing and posting online over 100 video interviews from the event. 
  • 2010: our unique approach to simple, event-based video proves a hit once more, with the team bringing over 130 interviews online in just five days. Reporters from India Water Portal join those from Akvo, IRC and SIWI for the first time. National Geographic describes it as one of the highlights of the event. 
  • 2011: Akvo attends its fifth World Water Week in Stockholm and hosts its first evening reception at the Dutch Embassy.
  • 2012: Akvo attends the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille and signs an agreement with IRC.
  • 2013: Akvo is present at World Water Day, a UN-backed global event that aims to highlight the issues the world faces in relation to water. We take the opportunity to present Akvopedia’s new WASH Finance Portal.
  • 2014: at Stockholm World Water Week with a simple stand where people can see what we’re doing around the world, Akvo shows how partners are using Akvo RSR, Akvo FLOW, Akvo Openaid and Akvopedia, and previews some new things in the fields of dashboards, data visualisations and water quality testing.
  • 2015: World Water Forum 7 in Korea – tbc…

Why Korea?
As we evolve over the years and develop a substantial track record in the water sector, we ask ourselves whether we should now focus more on events in other sectors. And as each Forum approaches, we find ourselves debating the most effective approach to be present at these huge conferences of up to 10,000 people.

We definitely believe its important to connect with our partners and share our what’s gone on over the previous three years – a lot happens between each Forum. At WWF6 (Marseille – 2012), for example, there wasn’t yet even a formal agreement in place with Water for People about FLOW, but now our partners have used it to collect over one million data points. And over the last few years we have grown in a decentralised way and expanded our operations significantly in Africa and Asia. We’re also now working in multiple sectors such as environmental conservation and food security. So it will be a great opportunity to get our hub managers from around the world together and showcase the regional work we’re doing.

I’m also looking forward to this edition of the Forum as there will be a lot of attention from the World Water Council, the Forum’s organising committee, on regional processes, science & technology and thematic approaches to conservation and food security – all of which is highly relevant to our own work. As 2015 is also the year of the Sustainable Development Goals, we’re keen to deliver our contribution to the framework sessions.

Nothing beats personal connections, so I am very curious to see what the upcoming Forum will bring. It’s a great opportunity to strengthen mutual ideas through dialogue, and to hear about new innovations. Let’s see what new tools from the water sector we can bring to other sectors – and of course the other way around.

What to expect from us at WWF7

– Joint session on Water-Quality monitoring with NWP, UNSGAB, UNEP, Deltares / PUB Singapore (Tuesday 14th of April: 5.00 – 7.00pm)  
– Presentation of more than one million data points mapped with Akvo FLOW
– Demonstration of Akvo Caddisfly: smartphone as a lab
– Narrowcasting of Dutch Embassy water sector portfolio in Kenya 
– Demonstration of new features in FLOW such as continuous monitoring and land-plotting
– Spotlight for heroes in the water sector: we will host real hero shoots at our Akvo booth
– Akvopedia pages in Korean 
– Quality-time with our team / hub managers (Amitangshu, Jeroen, Luuk, Peter, Anna-Marthe) 

Where’s home?
Where can you find us in Korea? We will be present in The Netherlands Pavilion, Hall 1F B-330, but to be honest it feels rather strange to be there this time. Most of our team are non-Dutch and work outside The Netherlands and we have regional operations in West and East Africa and Asia Pacific. We are all connected and one country pavilion just doesn’t say all that. 

Of course the Netherlands Pavilion will always be our home at the Forums, but we would like to balance it more as well – yin and yang. We were even thinking about a flexible mobile demonstration concept: Akvo Cart. This would give us the flexibility to move around and show the work of our partners in Ghana at the Ghanaian Pavilion or our work with WWF Indonesia at the Indonesia Pavilion. Perhaps something for the next event or in a different sector.

akvo cart sketch tweet 850
World Water Forum 7 takes place in Daegu and Gyeongbuk from 12-17 April. You can follow us there via our specially created Korea WWF7 project in Akvo RSR and of course via Twitter #AkvoWWF7. And you can find us in the Netherlands Water Pavilion, Hall 1F B-330.

Frodo van Oostveen is a programme manager at Akvo, based in Singapore. You can follow him on Twitter @frodo1977.