07 January 2021

After the two-year Young Expert Programme in Bamako, Mali: Interview with Thierno Amadou SISSOKO

Thierno Amadou SISSOKO has been part of the Young Expert Programme (YEP) from November 2018 until November 2020. During this period he worked for our WaterWorX project at the Société Malienne de Gestion de l'Eau Potable (SOMAGEP, the Malian drinking water company). In this interview, Thierno reflects on two years of YEP.

You already worked at SOMAGEP before you started your YEP period. How did you end up in the water sector?

After studying Finance, I started working for a financial company. At that time I was already interested in the water sector, so when I heard that SOMAGEP was recruiting, I tried my luck.

How did you come across the YEP programme?

I heard about the programme through the WaterWorX project that started at SOMAGEP in 2017. As employee of SOMAGEP, I had the opportunity to be involved because I was one of the few people who could speak English and because of all the good things my colleague Aboubacar Diallo told me about the project. The HR Director asked me to join the WaterWorX team, where I started as an assistant local project manager. In this position, I heard about the YEP opportunity through the YEP participants who were working for the WaterWorX project at that time: Isabel van Klink and Aboubacar Diallo. I was very interested in the vacancy and prepared my offer to be part of the project.

You said that you were one of the few in the company who speaks English. How did you learn the language?

First of all, I really like the English language. I used to watch a lot of movies in English and listen to music. This helped me a lot. But especially after I started working for the WaterWorX project, my English has improved very quickly!

The YEP programme started with a training period in the Netherlands. Was it your first time in The Netherlands? What was your first impression?

It was my first time in the Netherlands and my first impression was that it was extremely cold, haha. It was a great opportunity because I had the chance to meet a lot of young people from all over the world working in the water sector.

From 4 to 8 November 2019, I took part at the Amsterdam International Water Week on behalf of the WaterWorX project.

Did you have a lot of contact with fellow YEP participants in the two years that followed?

Yes, I am always in contact with fellow YEP participants. I’m very close to some of them. If I need advice on an issue I’m dealing with at that moment, I will send an email to my YEP colleagues to ask for support. Our YEP batch is a special one (tailor made), because we all work for water companies. This is different from other YEP batches, where participants from the water, agriculture, food and energy sector are mixed. In my batch, we all face the same problems and challenges. This makes it easy to explain the situation and share experience in solving problems. The discussions among us are always very useful.

What were your daily tasks in the WaterWorX project at SOMAGEP?

I’m directly involved in project coordination and I am part of the teams that work on non-revenue water reduction and pro-poor connections.

What project are you most proud of?

We are making great progress on the pro-poor project. This year we were able to provide access to drinking water to 1023 low-income households. Through the WaterWorX project we support SOMAGEP’s social connection programme. We have provided training and bought equipment for the field teams to speed up the progress. An important programme, as we are able to help the low-income people. The normal price of a connection is CFA 120.000 (€180), but with the social connection programme it is only CFA 20.000 (€30). But even with the programme, there are still people who cannot pay this amount. In the near future, we will also try to reach them and support them by donating more connections. See the social connections team on the picture below.

What is your plan for the future?

I now have my YEP network and I am still working in the WaterWorX project. I will be involved in future activities and will stay active in the pro-poor team as this is really important to me.

Do you see yourself working at SOMAGEP for a while?

Yes, especially since I’m now part of this important partnership. In the future I will look for opportunities to be at a higher position, where I will have the opportunity to influence the political landscape and strategies of SOMAGEP.

Looking back on the past years, would you recommend the YEP programme to other young professionals?

Yes, for sure. It is a great opportunity which helped me a lot in my development. I have been able to attend many training courses and master classes. But the most important thing you get when being part of the programme is access to a great network of young professionals. Unfortunately, the programme is not accessible for everyone in Mali, mainly because of the language criteria and the financial cost of the programme. Therefore, as part of the young professionals in water and sanitation Network in Mali (AJPEA-Mali), we are trying to adapt the programme to our context by providing mentorship to new employees or young professionals in the sector.

It is great that besides the YEP network, you also actively participate in your local Young Professionals Network.

I will continue to be part of AJPEA. It a good way to share my experience with young people in the WASH sector and who don’t have the opportunity to be part of the YEP programme.

If you could change something of the YEP programme, what would be your advice?

The training period could be longer. Because our YEP batch was slightly different from other YEP programmes, we lacked budget to have the full training period. Those first weeks of training are very important to build your network and to get familiar with your new colleagues. Some participants pick it up very quick, but others need more time to adapt.

Thank you so much for this conversation. Let me conclude by asking if there is anything else you would like to say that we haven’t talked about?

One thing I would like to elaborate on a bit more is the great value of the YEP network. if I have to tackle a specific issue that I’m experiencing in my work, I would always contact my YEP network first. They are colleagues from, for example Uganda or Rwanda, working in a similar operational context, facing similar issues and challenges.