Annual General Meeting by videoconference, October 9, 2020

Dear David, members of the IWI Council (and of the General Assembly)

I cannot hide the pride that I was nominated to serve as President of Inland Waterways International for the next three years. And with equal pleasure I would like to accept this personal challenge!

It would have been even more pleasant to be able to share this appointment with you in person, but the Corona virus has decided otherwise. So today we have to meet each other digitally. After all, we are experiencing the greatest global crisis in peacetime.

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone for the trust that has been placed in me, and in particular previous Presidents Dave Ballinger and Secretary Dave Mac Dougall, from whom I have learned a great deal over the past years.

Rudy Van der Ween at Day of the Canals

A special thanks to our now stepping down President David Edwards-May for the extra year he has led the association, and for the many input he has given me, along with Secretary Di Harris, especially to allow me to better understand the profound internal and external operation of IWI.

Being the president of an association is a bit like being a showcase to the outside world, but he or she cannot function without the cooperation and support of the fellow council members. I therefore hope to be able to count on everyone’s support.

For me, by the way, ladies and gentlemen, the members of the Council are the ambassadors and antenna’s of their country in our association. I would like to deepen this role and empower them by making a commitment to systematically forward all information they get that has an interface with our operations from their country or region. But also to look across the border and try to discover what is going on in their neighboring countries. This can only benefit our networking.

It would be good practice to have a member or representative of IWI in every country worldwide where there are waterways. Since we are a non-governmental organization, we transcend international politics and need to act and build bridges with everyone who cares about the waterways, although lobbying certain policymakers who are in charge is a bonus. An important side note is that we should also strive to rejuvenate our membership potential, not only to extend the lifespan of our organization, but also because they can provide us with new knowledge and insights into the various matters we deal with.

I am thinking of real challenges and even threats that are coming our way, such as the rise in sea levels due to global warming and its consequences for inland waterways (and of course the people who live around them), for the pollution by plastic particles in our waterways and where we can attempt, for example, to initiate a global Rivers Clean Up twice a year.

We can be the driving force behind this to start this up and to convince governments to invest in it and to raise awareness among the population. And also the switch from the use of fossil fuels by vessels from large to small to alternative propulsion systems. Something we are already actively working on with a committee and are looking for solutions. A unique project and challenge can also be to get governments to invest in non-navigable waterways. These also need to be mapped and can contribute to the general well-being of the people who live nearby and find relaxation or useful use of them.

For all these reasons, international cooperation with other umbrella organizations is also very important: we immediately think of PIANC, but there are also others such as ICOMIA, the European Boating Industry, the European Barge Union, the Network for Inland Waterways of Europe, the World Historic and Cultural Canal Cities Cooperation Organization, etc. We must not forget to add and attract networks on the American continent. And the national waterway authorities, environmental and heritage authorities, university faculties with water-related links and the academic world should also get to know the name of IWI. We must become an advisory body, a reference for governments or even private companies that want to take water-related initiatives and need information or contacts for this.

Our website and social media can play an important role in this; communication and marketing are not just buzzwords, but essential as the backbone of a well-structured and representative association. The website should not only be a database to promote articles, events or our operations, it should also be a dynamic and interactive tool to build customer loyalty and provide a forum for our members to engage in dialogue with us. We also need to be able to ask them certain research questions in order to arrive at good insights.

Only by pampering our members, in whatever capacity or whatever body they represent, can we convince them to invest in us and safeguard our future as an association.

But the annual World Canals Conferences also help to spread our reputation all over the world. Perhaps we can do better in the area of press relations here, but of course we also need the input of the organizing city or agency. Our contribution to the Conference can and should inspire and guide the candidate organizers that want to launch this prestigious event. It is more than just a conference, by the way; it is the unique bringing together of enthusiasts from all corners of the world and introducing them to each other and to the environment where they are guests. Unforgettable experiences are guaranteed to stay with them.

I would also like to appeal to everyone to participate in relevant conferences, fairs or symposia in their own country or continent and to inform us of the results.

These are a few personal reflections, ladies and gentlemen, about my dreams and wishes to make IWI an even better oiled machine.

I would like to ask you to give me some credit as English is not my native language, but I will do my best to well understand all of you and to work with you to pursue the objectives stated in the constitution of Inland Waterways International. After all, our Belgian national slogan is: Unity makes power. It is sometimes amusing to hear that the vast majority of the Council are English-speaking people, but they almost all talk with a different accent or pronunciation. That takes some practice to get familiar with for a non native speaker.

I am very happy to have ended up in a group of so many interesting people who have built up a lot of wisdom and expertise in all their functions and pursuits, both in the private sphere and in the context of the association. By the way, I am thinking right now of our good friend and previous President Tom Grasso, who I can call my mentor and who convinced me to dedicate myself to organize the World Canals Conference in Ghent in 2015 and then to be active on the Council of IWI. I wish he could be here too and wish him a lot of strength and improvement from here.

I would like to thank everyone again for the trust that has been placed in me and I look forward to the renewed board team to work with. Also a big congratulations to Sharon Leighton for assisting me as Vice President, as well as our rock of strength Vice President Paul Ayres. By the way, I think it would be an enrichment to try to have a vice president in every continent in the future in order to tighten our intercontinental ties even more.

As is Belgian custom, I would now invite you to raise a glass together and sound on a good relationship and the success that we aim for together. However, this is not possible now, but I promise I will do so at the next opportunity that we can meet.

So everyone, keep well and healthy, and I hope to meet you each in person as soon as possible.

Many thanks for your attention and support in my new venture!

Rudy Van der Ween, President, Inland Waterways International