In September 2017, I had an amazing opportunity fall into my lap: Waterlution’s Water Innovation Lab (WIL) in Porto, Portugal. This program brought together young professionals from all over the world to form connections, share their knowledge, build leadership skills, and learn about other disciplines in the water industry. WIL Porto was part of Porto Water Innovation Week 2017, which also included the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Water Conference.


Area surrounding the Ribeira Square in Porto. Photo by Leandra Rhodes


In the months leading up to WIL, I tried to keep my expectations in check as I knew that it could be extremely instrumental for me and my future career path in the water sector. In the end, the program blew all my expectations out of the water (pun intended). The participants were all incredibly optimistic and enthusiastic, and the program was so well organized and facilitated thanks to three women who helped us open up and bond in a very short amount of time. Together, we were called “Future Leaders in the Water Sector”.


The first day of the program consisted of field tours around Porto. We began with the hydraulics laboratory at the Hydraulics, Water Resources and Environment Research Centre at Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto (FEUP), or the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto. A representative discussed some of the work the centre is involved in and described several of their projects including wave energy and water delivery systems. Our second tour took us to Granja Stream, an urban river that had been buried underground. The stream has since been rehabilitated with the help of Águas do Porto, the city’s main water organization. Finally, we traveled to Port de Leixöes, a cruise terminal whose architecture reflects the sea at every turn. The terminal, designed by architect Luís Pedro Silva, won the 2017 Building of the Year award in the “Public Architecture” category. Port de Leixöes is also home to the Science and Technology Park of the Sea, managed by the University of Porto and CIIMAR – Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research.


(L to R) Presentations from the hydraulics lab at FEUP, wave simulator pool. Photo by Walter Weingaertner and Leandra Rhodes.


(L to R) Granja Stream, comparison with photo before rehabilitation project. Photo by Walter Weingaertner and Leandra Rhodes.


(L to R) Ship access at Port de Leixöes, upwards view inside terminal. Photo by Walter Weingaertner and Leandra Rhodes.



The next two days were spent learning from resource guests and scenario planning for 2050. Our resource guests came from all over the world and included professors, a water magazine editor, and a member of a national Water Board (to name a few). Their topics were extremely educational, varying from water analysis in industry to promotion of clean waterways; sensor development to social innovation; water resources management to the Sustainable Development Goals. After having the opportunity to hear more about their work, we were taught about Scenario Planning and how it can be used for innovating. We broke into groups to brainstorm the future of water and come up with scenarios for the year 2050 based on various factors and possibilities. We were prompted to consider scenarios that might take place in a conflicted world, a peaceful world, and a technology-driven world.


“You cannot innovate without being uncomfortable or sitting on an edge of discomfort.” – Karen Kun, Co-Founder & Executive Director Waterlution


We were also lead through a Pro-Action Café in these days, where eight WIL participants were able to pitch a project or idea to the group. Teams were then assembled to help with feedback and provide further inspiration. The pitches touched on topics of youth participation and training, contaminant detection, water treatment with bioproducts, marine pollution, drinking water in small communities, and improving quality of life in cities. As conversations between WIL participants evolved, new insights and innovative ideas emerged. In fact, it was this process that gave me the inspiration to start Words Over Water.



(L to R) Group presentations of 2050 scenarios Team-building activity at Praia de Ofir. Photos by Walter Weingaertner and Leandra Rhodes.


On our final full day of WIL, we went to the EIP Conference with over 1000 other attendees. Presentations at the conference discussed water in the circular economy, legislation, wastewater as bioenergy, water use in agriculture, innovation financing, global market needs, and many more. Several WIL participants were able to act as chairs for the presentations, challenging speakers on various topics. An exhibition area with over 100 companies, start-ups, research and development, and non-profit organizations showcased leading-edge developments in the water industry. Many of the exhibitors held Tech Talks, and delegates from start-ups were able to pitch innovative projects on the SPLASH Innovation Stage.


WIL participants at EIP Conference. Photo by Walter Weingaertner


To have been a part of such a wonderful program – meeting amazing people all present for a fantastic cause, and in a city as stunning as Porto – was truly an unforgettable experience. The program itself was so powerful and I highly recommend future WILs to anyone keen on expanding their horizons. I hope that the friendships garnered during this experience continue to grow and that we continue to take motivation from each other, inspiring us to ever increasing heights.


“What does water need right now?” Photo by Walter Weingaertner


A note on the participants of WIL Porto: participants ranged in age, nationality, and experiences. There were several young leaders working to or having just completed their undergraduate degrees, countless graduate students with research spanning across the water sector, and various consulting professionals. Among us was a man who has helped design a solar panel for water sanitation, a couple keen on improving quality of life by integrating nature into urban planning, a woman working to train and fund aspirational young people in their water projects, and many more. All of the participants were so inspirational, and I hope many will join me in sharing their experiences and stories here.


WIL participants in Ofir. Photo by Walter Weingaertner.


And for those I met, I said this on our closing day and I repeat it here. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for getting involved with this program. Thank you for sharing yourselves, your motivation, your inspirations, your hopes, your dreams, your quirks. Thank you for your optimism, and for allowing yourself to be fueled by this process. Thank you to our resource guests who shared themselves and what they do. Most importantly, thank you to the organizers who gave so much of themselves and who created an environment for us to all come together.


Until we meet again.

Leandra Rhodes
M.A.Sc. Candidate, E.I.T.

If you enjoyed reading this and want to be kept up-to-date on new Words Over Water content, sign up for our email notifications!

Have a story you want to share? Contact us at  

Cover photo: Porto, Portugal, 2017. Photo by Leandra Rhodes

Porto Water Innovation Week’s video on WIL Porto: