Wetskills-The Netherland, 8 November 2023 (by Melanie Yu, City of Markham)
Today was the day. The day we had all been working towards. Wetskills – The Netherlands Finals. Five teams, five pitches, five posters, five innovative ideas ready to be presented to a panel of judges. But let’s back it up to the morning.
Out of all the days I could set my alarm for the wrong time, of course, it was finals day that I accidentally set it for one hour later than intended. Luckily, after living in a hostel for 12 days, these roommates I bonded with were never going to leave me behind.
I hopped on a bus with other Wetskills participants and headed to RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre around 8:45am. Having been chosen to pitch for my team, I felt both the honour of the choice and the pressure to represent my team well. I ran the pitch through my head, once to warm up, then again with a timer – one minute fifty-two seconds. Perfect, and ready to go.
Now, the problem was that the pitches were not happening until 2pm, which meant I had approximately five hours and fifteen minutes to internally agonize. Thankfully, there were many interesting sessions to distract myself, including “Water, Culture and Heritage” which highlighted the benefits of using historical knowledge in our modern day practices and even reverting certain areas to its previous models. History and culture truly are some of the strongest tools we have. By the time the session ended, I had finished my third cup of tea and decided to practice the pitch some more.
I stood in a quiet corner, held my water bottle like a microphone, and envisioned an audience. I made space for where my team would be standing beside me, put a timer on my phone behind me, and started my pitch. Three repetitions later, each one feeling better than the last, I stopped practicing to avoid over-practicing. Besides, lunchtime was here so I went to fill my stomach instead of my nerves.
After lunch, my afternoon crash came fast. Listen, Wetskills is an intense program! We work day and night and maybe it was time for a quick little shut-eye. I may or may not have taken a quick 25 minute nap behind a curtain… For what it’s worth, it paid off! I felt rejuvenated and ready to pitch. With just over half an hour until our main event, I grabbed my fifth cup of tea, headed upstairs, and saw our posters hanging in all their glory.
Right there, in front of me, was 12 days of hard work from our team. Seeing our poster next to the other teams’ was surreal and motivating. Of course, we’re all partaking in Wetskills for the experience and learning opportunities, but I certainly like to win, and there was some tough competition.
The next hour was a blur. A presentation about Wetskills. A new Chair of Board is introduced. Judges are introduced. A number is drawn. Five. A pitch and some questions. They sit back down. Another number is drawn. Three. Suddenly, I was standing in front of almost 100 people, holding a microphone, and surprisingly still on my feet despite how horribly my knees were shaking. My heart dropped into my gut, but I knew what I had to do. I just… don’t remember doing it. I finished the pitch just on time (okay, maybe one second over). The judges asked questions, and I was excited about the engagement, but I really needed to sit down. Thankfully, we soon got to sit as team four took the stage, followed by team one, and team two closed the session. Everyone did a fantastic job! The competition was looking tight.
Another cup of tea later, and we’re standing by our poster, chatting with the case owners. It was incredibly relieving to have their support for our solution. Cue the shaky knees as the judges stopped by!
Back in the presentation room, we were formally introduced to YEP – Young Expert Programmes. Each team was joined by YEP participants and got chatting about implementing our ideas. More interesting than brainstorming how to implement our idea was the opportunity to learn about YEP. I’m going to have to look into YEP and see if it’s something I can see myself in.
Time warped between the end of pitches and the start of the closing ceremony. It was both the longest and shortest hour of my life. With my eighth cup of tea in hand, I took a seat in the Colosseum near the rest of my Wetskills family. We all worked hard these past 12 days in creating innovative ideas. And with 20 new friends, I knew I would be happy for whoever won.
“So now, before we go to announcing the actual winner, we also want to make an honourable mention. At the end, the debate was very close between two teams. And the honourable mention goes to team five!”
The crowd erupts! Go team five! I cheer and clap, and although I had nothing to do with their team, I can’t help but feel proud of them.
“And now, the winning team… and the prize goes to… a team who has proposed a solution, they have managed to both increase the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement in difficult situations and to make public consultation attractive. Yes, it’s team three.”
Stakeholder engagement – that’s… my case. Team three – that’s… my team! We won? WE WON! Pride surges through me but also a shadow of dread as I know I have to pitch again, and now on the main stage, to a much bigger audience. No time for dread, it’s picture time! I am elated, thrilled, and smiling from ear to ear. A few words from the judge which is mostly a blur from the excitement, and I’m holding a mic again. Oh right, the dread. I let the team introduce themselves, and I give our pitch one last time. Without a timer, I am much calmer, and I relish in the moment, giving a darn good pitch. One for my books.
More photos, more smiles, lots of congratulations and handshakes. I thought pitching on behalf of my team was an honour, but to pitch as the winning team of Wetskills on the Amsterdam International Water Week stage is another level.
With the event finally over, we make our way to Haddock Restaurant, carefree, to dance the night away. On our final trip back to the hostel, it is drizzling rain, in classic Netherlands weather. However, what better way to end Wetskills than getting wet from rain?