Emerging Leader Award

In 2019, River Network established the Emerging Leader Award, inspired by former River Network board member Leslie Lowe, whose generous spirit and encouragement of emerging leaders provided a vision for how River Network’s efforts could extend into a wider array of communities. The award has two primary purposes: to provide early-career recognition and acknowledgment to an individual who shows promise, knowing that this can help them expand their aspirations, gain confidence, and widen their network; and to provide a path to expand the community of people who work on water issues by recognizing and lifting up those individuals who are working at the juncture of water and justice.


Above all, the Emerging Leader is an individual who is making significant contributions at the intersection of water, equity, and justice. The Emerging Leader seeks to transform our understanding of the social context of water, safeguard access to water or rivers, or reach other related achievements.

Any individual who meets the award criteria is eligible to self-nominate for the Emerging Leader award. River Network employees and board members are not eligible to submit nominations or applications or be nominated by others.


The Emerging Leader must be:

  • Early in their professional career (10 years or less),
  • 35 years old or younger,
  • Working toward equity, justice, and one or more of the four key issues identified in River Network’s 2018 strategic plan,
  • Innovative in their approach to achieving significant and inclusive impact,
  • An individual who inspires, energizes, and supports others to make a difference; and goes “above & beyond” what is expected of them in their career or community, and
  • Intentional about how their platform as the Emerging Leader can be used to increase the impact of their work.

Benefits and Platform

The Emerging Leader Award recipient will be honored at a celebratory reception during River Network’s annual conference, River Rally. As part of this recognition, River Network will provide financial assistance to cover travel, lodging, and registration expenses to support the recipient’s attendance at River Rally, with the hope that the awardee will participate in the entire conference. Additionally, River Network will provide a small honorarium to encourage the recipient to share their perspective, knowledge, and insights with our national audience through blogging, webinars, presentation opportunities, and other outreach tools based on their interests and availability in their award year.

Award Year Timeline

Jan – Mar 2021: River Rally registration opens and accepts self-nominations for the Emerging Leader award.
April 2021: The Emerging Leader is selected and announced to the network.
May 17 – 20 2021: The awardee attends River Rally and is recognized as the 2021 Emerging Leader.
July 2021: The Emerging Leader is introduced to their guidance team at River Network to discuss their scope of work in the 2021-2022 award year.
August 2021: The Emerging Leader project is defined. A stipend of $1,500 is transferred to the awardee upon finalization of the honorarium agreement.
February 2022: All project deliverables defined within the scope of work (e.g. webinars, blogs, community-based projects) are completed.

Self-Nomination Application Process

The self-nomination process takes place within the River Rally registration form. Be sure to check “Yes” in response to the question, “Do you want to self-nominate for the Emerging Leader award?” on the first page of River Rally registration.

The self-nomination section within River Rally registration consists of three essay questions that will give you an opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications and outline examples of your work at the intersection of social justice and water:

  1. How do you currently inspire, energize, and support others to make a difference?
  2. How do your current efforts help others understand how equity and justice relate to one or more of the four key issues identified in River Network’s 2018 strategic plan: Safe, clean, affordable drinking water; resilient cities and communities, robust and effective water laws and policies, and healthy rivers in agricultural landscapes?
  3. How would you use the “Emerging Leader” recognition and the platforms and learning opportunities River Network has to offer (e.g., articles and blogs shared via River Voices and our social media channels, River Network-sponsored webinars, workshops at River Rally 2021, etc.) to help others understand challenges at the intersection of water and justice and build a more inclusive approach to solving water challenges?

The application period for 2021 is now closed. Check back in early 2022 for more information on the 2022 self-nomination process.

About Leslie Lowe

Leslie Lowe served on River Network’s Board of Directors from 2009 until 2017. Her calm demeanor and bold encouragement pushed River Network to look deeper into specific geographies and issues where inequality persists, to shine a light on what we find, and bring attention to issues that others ignored. A champion of emerging leaders and always generous, Leslie’s contributions and spirit of determination left a lasting mark. Her professional contributions focused on corporate and governmental accountability and environmental law and policy. She worked as a Program Officer for Institutional Accountability & Individual Liberty at the Rockefeller Foundation, was the founder and Managing Director of UCI Environmental Accountability, directed the Energy & Environment Program at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), and also served as Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Leslie received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Bennington College, a Master’s of Science from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and did post-graduate research in economic and social history at the University of Paris. She also served on the board of the Highlander Research and Education Center and is a past Chair of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation’s Board of Directors. Leslie was a second-generation New Yorker who had adopted New Orleans as her home.

2021 Emerging Leader

Charles Miller, Law Student & Junior Board Member at the Alabama Rivers Alliance (Birmingham, AL). Charles is a third-year law student at the University of Alabama School of Law and a board member at the Alabama Rivers Alliance. He has a strong interest in water law and democracy, with a focus on how this essential resource can be managed for the public good and with meaningful public input in the face of climate change. He has worked for One Roof, a non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness in Central Alabama, and at a local land trust. He has also interned at American Rivers in their Government Relations office and the Southern Environmental Law Center. Growing up on Green Mountain in northern Alabama, he gained an appreciation for the importance of wildlands and open space, especially in urban and suburban areas. Charles enjoys traveling, flatwater kayaking, and photography.

2020 Emerging Leader

Megan Nguyen, Bay Area Hub Coordinator at Sunrise Movement (San Francisco, CA). At her previous role at California Trout, Megan managed both educational content for social media and programming for outreach events. She believes that uplifting diverse voices in conservation will inspire the next generation of science communicators. Megan is an energetic advocate using her voice to inspire people to turn their passion into action. Her energy and creativity as a musician and organizer shines bright in her activism work with the Sunrise Movement, a national movement of young people fighting for policies that address climate change. She has led strikes, sit-ins, and trainings for Sunrise, and through this work, Megan hopes to empower young leaders to challenge injustice in their communities. Meet Megan.

Watch “Finding My Voice” and read Megan’s blog “Advancing Racial Justice”.

2019 Emerging Leader

Kevin Jeffery, Graduate Student at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (Austin, TX). A student of landscape architecture, Jeffery is the creator of the Blue Index project and a burgeoning force in the water world. Blue Index, a participatory research project, strives to measure emotional responses to water in the community and will be used to inform Planet Texas 2050 Bridging Barriers Initiative. Before returning to school, Jeffery worked in water management in Washington D.C. for public, private and commercial entities. He plans to return to the public sector upon graduation. Meet Kevin.