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The day that I met our King crossing the streets of New York

In New York, I walked into King Willem Alexander on his way from the UN 2023 Water Conference. I knew I might see him later that evening at the special event in the Morgan Library, organised by the Dutch Embassy. But this moment came earlier than expected. And I can tell you: he impressed me. Let me tell you why.

King Willem-Alexander walks from the UN 2023 Waterconference to the Waterhouse in New York. Next to the King: me. Behind Mark (with ponytail).Photo: Koen van Weel for NRC, 21 april 2023

I was with my good friend Mark Polane, who also happened to be at UN Headquarters. We felt energised walking down the streets of New York. Surrounded by the facades of skyscrapers, taxis, people rushing, and the streets buzzing. At the corner of 42nd E/ 3rd Avenue we were waiting for the traffic lights when Mark tapped my shoulder: "Look who is behind you".

I turned around, flabbergasted that our King was walking here as well. We shook hands, I introduced myself and told him that I was impressed by his unifying words earlier that day at the opening ceremony, which I had followed via live-stream in the car on my way from Wanchese to Norfolk airport that morning. I told him I especially liked his final tip to all participants:

If you’re a diplomat, seek out an engineer.

If you’re an engineer, talk to a policymaker.

If you’re a policymaker, meet up with someone from an NGO.

If you work for an NGO, have coffee with a finance professional.

If you’re over 50, have a talk with someone younger.

And if you live in Europe, turn your attention to Africa or Asia. Or vice versa.

Follow the example of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Seek collaboration in the murky waters of contrast. Water is our common ground!

Crossing the road together

The King impressed with his skill with which he quickly turned our encounter into genuine interest and some critical questions. As we crossed the road, he asked me about my work and why the cost of energy of marine renewables is still high. I told him my mission through Bluespring is to de-risk innovations and support the scaling up of the sector and that the cost are expected to come down. He acknowledged my work with interest and we each went in different directions.

Seek collaboration in the murky waters of contrast

I do feel deeply about scaling up the sector. That is why I am setting up public-private partnerships in order to exchange knowledge and share data so that we can come up with solutions for the challenges we are facing now. Sometimes the procedures to get started are slow and it feels like crossing through murky water indeed. But the encounters in New York confirmed to me that now is the time for green lights and crossing the road together.

Seize the moment

Weeks later, Mark sent me a link to an article in the Dutch newspaper NRC reflecting on our King's 10-year jubilee, and how the King is at his best when (you think) there are no cameras. Among the illustrative photos, this shot unifies this unique moment of the King, myself, and Mark crossing the street in New York.

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