Written by Laina Timberg, Coordinator, Youth Programs, Toronto, O.N. & Megan Cornall, Water Innovation Lab Global Coordinator, Vancouver, B.C.
The Water Innovation Lab Canada 2019 (WILCanada2019) ran from October 5-11 in Calgary and Kananaskis, Alberta. It was the first time a WIL had returned to Alberta since they were moved to a global scale four years ago. Laina Timberg, WIL Canada Coordinator, attended along with Megan Cornall, WIL Coordinator for WIL 2020 when it moves to British Columbia. We are keen to share our experience and learning over those six days – especially as it was a first for us both!
WIL brings together people from across Canada and around the world, with different backgrounds, ideas, experiences and understandings of water and water issues. It is about cross-disciplinary and cross-collaborative work focused on building new relationships and networks, which are necessary for tackling the multi-faceted and tough water challenges facing the world.Laina Timberg
Laina: I joined the Waterlution staff team back in June after volunteering on Waterlution’s Youth Advisory Board (Great Canoe Journey). This role was a change from any previous job I had, as I was joining a team that was stationed across the world but still very collaborative and connected. I was also helping to organize WIL Canada, an event that is hard to describe to friends and family when you haven’t been to one and are not familiar with either “unconferences” or innovation labs. But with regular meetings and communication with Waterlution President, Karen Kun, and Youth Program Lead, Olivia Allen, along with reading and researching past WIL outcome reports, I was able to get a strong understanding of the components that go into pulling a WIL together (wow so many intricate details!). The summer flew by very quickly and before I knew it, I was boarding a flight to Calgary, Alberta to attend my very first WIL and my first time out west!
We need this collaboration between provinces and nations because it offers the best solutions. It brings together different perspectives, cultures, and ideas which are necessary for finding the best and long-lasting solutions to environmental problems or issues.Laina Timberg
WIL brings together people from across Canada and around the world, with different backgrounds, ideas, experiences and understandings of water and water issues. It is about cross-disciplinary and cross-collaborative work focused on building new relationships and networks, which are necessary for tackling the multi-faceted and tough water challenges facing the world. WIL focuses on supporting youth and youth-led initiatives but also works hard to increase collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. This in turn increases cultural understanding for non-Indigenous participants and helps to highlight other perspectives and cultural backgrounds, as well as cross-sectoral knowledge sharing (and friendships!).
Alberta, Canada was a very important place for this WIL. There is tremendous amounts of collaboration and innovation taking place to protect their watersheds, including the Bow River Watershed (this was the watershed which covers both Calgary and Kananskis). There is so much knowledge and solutions Alberta can offer to provinces, territories, and cities across Canada, and which we were lucky that they were able to share some of it with us. But also, there is so much knowledge and solutions that the rest of Canada can also offer Alberta. We need this collaboration between provinces and nations because it offers the best solutions. It brings together different perspectives, cultures, and ideas which are necessary for finding the best and long-lasting solutions to environmental problems or issues.
The collaborative innovation process that takes place at WILs around the world is necessary for fostering teams and developing projects geared towards finding holistic solutions to our water and climate-change related problems. At WIL Canada, we had 9 teams pitching diverse collaborative innovation projects.
Of those 9 teams, 4 were awarded seed grants valued between $2500-$5000. First Nations Water Warriors and Returning the Balance Between Indigenous Women and Water both won seed grants valued at $5000. Flow Partner and Micro Fluidics both won seed grants valued at $2500.
The most eye-opening day for myself was attending a field tour of Siksika First Nation as we learned, through personal stories and experience, how the community was affected by the 2013 flood and saw videos of the water lifting houses off the ground and carrying them away. It was extremely humbling to meet community members who were affected as there was now a real connection, not a news story from the evening news that was several provinces away from where I lived and in a place I had never been to. As I have read all the post-survey from participants, it was very clear that this was a meaningful day for everyone (stay tuned for the WIL Canada 2019 outcome report, coming out later in November!).
The innovation that is also taking place at Siksika First Nation is fascinating and motivating. We were given a tour of their Water Treatment Plant by Ron Doore and shown how they have both recovered from the flood and what new techniques they have put in place to ensure that should another serious flood happen again, they will be able to withstand it and people will still have access to safe drinking water.
Overall, WIL left me feeling empowered and full of action. As Disa Crow Chief said, we were there causing disruption in the best type of way. Participants, but also organizers and mentors, were left feeling that they can and need to do something to spark change. We were ready to start projects, share our ideas and even make behavioural changes in order to make a difference. By stepping far out of my comfort zone, I had a rewarding and life-changing experience in a creative space, filled with welcoming, high energy. I fully “get it” now, and what a gift to be able to work on an amazing team and with a globally-relevant program that is truly building leadership skills to solve water challenges!
Megan: My name is Megan and I am the new Water Innovation Lab (WIL) Coordinator in British Columbia, Canada. One month ago I experienced my first day working for Waterlution. The first day at a new job can host an array of feelings: nerve-wracking, exciting, uncertainty. My first day–or week–at Waterlution was unique from any other job I’ve had, as my first day on the job, was also my first day of training and the first day of WILCanada 2019!
It started by meeting my new colleague, Olivia, at the airport in Vancouver. When I approached her at the airport terminal, a huge smile spread across her face and she greeted me with enthusiasm. She welcomed me to the team and we discussed the week ahead of us. I instantly felt at ease, comfortable, and excited to be diving into my new position.
Our destination was Calgary, Alberta, where we would be hosting the Water Innovation Lab Canada. I was heading into the week oblivious to what the experience would be. I had researched, read a lot in prep for my interview 3 weeks earlier yet this was now going to be a full colour, real-life experience. I had a copy of the schedule, read outcome reports of previous WILs, but was ultimately heading into the dark.
Waterlution works to empower youth and young leaders, and this freedom allowed participants to take ownership of their projects, and did not restrict ideas.Megan Cornall
How would I describe the experience?
— exhausting (in the best way)
It was a week-long schedule jam-packed with unique programming. Within the program, Waterlution strives to foster cross-disciplinary problem solving–this was exemplified in both the backgrounds of participants present (students, young professionals, educators, scientists, policy makers) and the various field tours we experienced (cultural learning at Siksika Nation, City of Calgary Water Treatment Plant, art collaboration at Dale Hodges Park). In one afternoon, I learned about a broad range of topics, from research on forest fires, to education with indigenous youth, to sustainable farming practices. As a result of this diversity, conversations shared were rich in perspective and depth.
Throughout the week, cross-disciplinary teams gradually formed, as participants shared their ideas, skill sets and passions. The project guidelines were kept open, and teams were given complete freedom in designing how they wanted to approach the complex problem they chose. Waterlution works to empower youth and young leaders, and this freedom allowed participants to take ownership of their projects, and did not restrict ideas. As teams worked, I circulated the room, sat with them and asked questions about their projects. It was remarkable to see how over two days, through the Waterlution process mixed with the creativity of participants, a small idea grew into a project with a clear vision and plan to tackle water issues.
On day 5, teams pitched their ideas to a room full of participants, resource guests, funders, and facilitators. In a last minute decision, it was announced that all teams would vote on the winner of the seed grants. I particularly liked this decision, as it furthered the energy of collaboration that WIL had been fostering all week. Despite the competitive nature of awards, teams were celebrating each other, and united in a common goal.
I am grateful that I was able to join WIL Canada and am thrilled to be helping organize WIL in BC next year. Keep your eyes open for application deadlines! It is going to be an exciting event and so much to come in 2020.