| ACE23 keynote speaker challenging the water sector to “get curious”
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ACE23 keynote speaker challenging the water sector to “get curious”

Shawn Kanungo, bestselling author of the book The Bold Ones, is a disruption strategist who has worked with hundreds of organizations on their path to innovation. He’s also been recognized in Avenue Magazine as one of its “Top 40 under 40.” Forbes called him the “best virtual keynote speaker I’ve ever seen.”

ACE23-opening-general-session-speaker-shawn-kanungoDuring the Opening General Session at the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) 2023 Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE23) in Toronto June 11-14, Kanungo’s keynote address will focus on the theme of “Creating the Future, Together.” He will integrate concepts from AWWA’s Water 2050 initiative to explore how organizations can become more adaptable, experimental, and collaborative in navigating the future – and, ultimately, creating the sustainable and resilient future that Water 2050 envisions for the water community.

He answered some questions about his work, his definition of a “disruptor” and a sneak peek at his keynote address.

In your words, what is a “disruptor” and why do we need them? A disruptor is someone who isn’t afraid of change to the status quo. The world was built by disruptors. A disruptor is someone who can see a new way to do things, or a new technology, and that person can embrace it and find ways to grow from it personally or professionally.

What did you do during your time at Deloitte? Has your work ever intersected with water? At Deloitte, I was a management consultant in strategy and innovation. I was with them for 12 years. I worked with our leadership to help them better understand our clients. Over time, I became known as the innovation guy at Deloitte. My work crossed almost every industry – from the public sector to financial services to utilities. I believe the water sector touches everything, but I haven't worked directly with the water sector.

What role does water play in your day-to-day life? I feel fortunate to have access to clean water. When my family turns on the water, it's there for us. My father grew up in a small village in Bangladesh, and he wasn't so fortunate. So, I try to impress upon my three kids that we shouldn't take water for granted. 

How would a disruptor look at today’s water utility model? A disruptor would look for opportunities to improve the water sector models. Water is one of, if not the longest-running utility in the world and people cannot live without it. It's easy to be content when you're in that position. New technology, whether it is artificial intelligence or something else, is coming and I would encourage the water sector to get curious about it.

Water 2050 is AWWA’s initiative to envision a sustainable water sector in 25 years. What is one of your visions for 25 years from now? That's a great question. I think Water 2050 is a great idea! It is very important to think about and prepare for the future. Obviously, water will still play an integral role in our day-to-day lives in 25 years. This initiative is great because it is an opportunity to look at innovation and technologies. If we don’t look at innovations or new technologies, we’ll all be left in the dust by those that do, so it is very important to keep an eye on the future.

Without giving anything away, what can people expect from your keynote address at ACE? I am really looking forward to presenting for AWWA's members at its Annual Conference and Exposition. I hope to challenge the status quo. I might take some people out of their comfort zone a bit. The keynote will provide specific, actionable techniques for disrupting yourself — from uncovering ‘secrets’ within your industry, designing experiments, to creating an unstoppable flywheel.

How can each of us incorporate some disruption in our lives? I think it's important for all of us to disrupt our own lives now and then. It's important to try new things, look at new and innovative ways to do things. 

What energizes you to come to work every day? I have been blessed to be in the position of challenging leadership in organizations to embrace change.

What call to action do you have for the water sector as a whole? My call to action for the water sector would be to embrace change and advancements in technology. I want to reinforce the idea that you can make a big impact with little resources today.