Fresh generation takes charge at IWA

Geraint Talfan Davies introduces the new Director of an organisation that aspires to be a critical friend of the National Assembly


The end of the IWA’s 25th anniversary year is proving to be a pivotal moment of change for the IWA, made concrete today by the appointment of 37 year-old Lee Waters, currently the Director of Sustrans Cymru, as our next Director. Celebration of an anniversary always entails an element of looking back, but with Lee’s appointment our focus now will be very firmly on the years ahead.

He succeeds John Osmond, who is stepping down after 17 distinguished years in the post, during which he has put the IWA firmly on the map of civil society in Wales – one of his many contributions to Welsh life.

In Lee Waters we have found someone at the forefront of a new generation of politically engaged people whose lives and careers have been shaped by devolution. As such his appointment marks a generational shift for the IWA and will be part of a wider process of refreshing our mission in the years ahead. I am pleased to say that his appointment concludes an open and strongly competitive process.

Lee has already demonstrated a powerful capacity to bring practical innovation as well as challenge into the policy debate in Wales. His profound commitment to moving Wales forward, his understanding of Welsh politics, coupled with his range of experience, equip him well not only to continue the work of the Institute but also to build out from the strong foundations that have been laid over the last quarter century. As he himself says:

“I am excited to get the opportunity to lead the IWA. For Wales to achieve our potential we need an open and self-critical culture. The IWA has a vital role to play in creating a space where ideas can collide, and solutions can be forged. Having played a crucial role in shaping the creation of a law-making Assembly for Wales, the challenge now for the IWA is to play the role of critical friend in scrutinising the way the powers are used”.

What experience does he bring to his new role? He is a former Chief Political Correspondent for ITV Wales and BBC Wales producer, and since 2007 has been Director of the influential green transport organisation, Sustrans Cymru. Significantly, Sustrans is one of the first civil society organisations in Wales to be on the verge of getting a Bill through the National Assembly – the Active Travel Bill, now going through its committee stage.

At Sustrans he has transformed the profile of the organisation in Wales, doubling its size in the process, and now with overall responsibility for a portfolio of practical projects to change travel behaviour worth in excess of £24 million.

In 2011 he was asked by the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, to be his representative on the cross-party Yes campaign ahead of the referendum. He became Vice Chair of the campaign organisation, led on media and communications, and was responsible for working with all four parties to forge messaging for the campaign.

He was brought up in the Amman Valley and educated at Ammanford Comprehensive School and the University of Wales, Aberystwyth where he received a first class degree in politics, and authored a prize-winning thesis on devolution. He was also selected to be an English Speaking Union Capitol Hill Scholar and worked in the US House of Representatives in Washington D.C, before working for politicians in Wales and Westminster.

After graduating he served as a speechwriter and political secretary to the Secretary of State for Wales before joining BBC Wales as a producer of the flagship breakfast radio programme, Good Morning Wales, where he helped establish the programme’s reputation for breaking political stories. In 2001 he joined the ITV Wales political unit. Over the course of five years he presented the weekly politics programme, Waterfront, and reported on the National Assembly and House of Commons as a lobby correspondent.

For the past decade he has also been Chair of Governors of the highly regarded Barry Island Primary school. He lives on the island with his wife and two children.

I am sure that all our individual and corporate members, and our Fellows, will give Lee Waters their full support in developing the work and impact of an institution that is vital for civil society in Wales.

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of the IWA.