by Karen Kun, President & Founder of Waterlution
I always knew this day would come, always pushing it away in my mind, yet not until the amazing news of your position within the Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Programme, NEWAVE Water Governance PhD, was confirmed did it truly sink in that our talented, skilled and inspirational colleague of the last decade would be spreading her wings and moving to the next stage in her amazing water journey.
How do you say farewell after 9 years of working together?
Wow Dona – you have done SO MUCH, we have done SO MUCH. While an emotional few months, it has been incredible to have spent time reflecting on how meaningful it has been to work with you this last decade. We have shared and experienced the exceptionally good, the amazement of pulling off projects and programs under some of the most challenging of circumstances (calls from you in the middle of remote deserts in Mexico; planes, rickshaws, bus break downs in India; workshops in all corners of Canada with unexpected participant needs; and tragedy within your beloved Lebanon all are top of mind).
You are a shining star that blends creativity, water knowledge, leadership, attention to detail, and is the master of balancing hundreds of balls in the air and one of the best facilitators I know … and could as well grace the poster for human resiliency!
If someone told me back in 2011- while sitting with Dona at our first meeting and interview for a new role at Waterlution – that we would have this amazing working relationship, develop our friendship, and that you would spearhead so many new pathways for our organization, I would not have believed it! We have innovated, designed, laughed and cried together throughout this journey (and travelled an awful lot together too!).
It was a funny beginning for us.
Waterlution started a significant growth spurt within months of my son, Maxime, coming into the world. As a new mother back then, I had no clue how I was going to balance everything, and we were hiring five new positions across Canada. My initial thinking (in an effort to keep my sanity in this wonderful yet overwhelming chapter) was to fill these new roles with past Waterlution participants, ones that we had trained as facilitators and knew our work. The southern Ontario position was still vacant, and Dona’s CV was emailed to me. Dona had recently completed her Masters in Globalization Studies and Water Governance and I was keen to meet her. Of course, she impressed me, yet as she was the only new hire that had no past knowledge or experience with us, I had no expectations about what she could accomplish. Fast forward a few months to her first event as the newly minted Toronto hub manager, and she had gathered 100+ young water professionals, brought in diverse water leaders, wove in a fantastic art wall and theatre ensemble and was easing into her new role with growing confidence. And she just grew in leaps and bounds each month from there.
Dona you were so drawn to facilitation early on, you sought out training and you understood instinctively that training must be followed by practice, and you sure did practice a whole heck of a lot! You also understand how to take risks (might be your secret middle name) and you put yourself out there, trying new skills and approaches, acknowledging ones that worked, ones that did not, and just kept getting better and better.
The next milestone came via your first Water Innovation Lab (WIL) in 2013 in Alberta. You, Julia Fortier and myself worked so hard (yes there were others, yet honestly, we were pretty much a three-women powerhouse team) and I recall the exceptional care you took, and skill you demonstrated supporting the 12 teams pitching their water projects. This was also the time we truly found our professional rhythm: I knew what you were passionate about and you learned to trust my process, vision and could tease “the plan” out of my head and into a facilitation schedule. We never looked back, the facilitation schedule for WILs emerged and how we design, develop and deliver programs is so much stronger for the model you initiated.
A few times over the years, Dona would set up an in-person meeting with me (was so simple back in 2014 when we lived reasonably close and there was no Covid!) and say:
“I have something important to share with you!”Dona Geagea
This was a big growth phase for you with Warriors in Brazil, leading youth delegations at global water conferences and then your dream to backpack across South America, and I “lost” you for a year. Was such a balancing act as I was so happy to see you flourish and grow yet I also knew we weren’t done working together. And I feel so deeply grateful you came back to Waterlution, ever more skilled than before, and the Global era of WILs began. If you recall I was practically begging you in August 2015 to “back-pack faster” and meet me in Scotland for our first non-Canadian WIL. This was also when Dona officially became “global Dona” and declared that WILs were your thing, you knew them, understood them, and would drive them into the next iteration of their design. The network of friends and collaborators that you began weaving into all Waterlution’s work from the Water Youth Network, Warriors, and so many more really took off.
In the last 4 years, you delivered WILs in so many places. In 2017, it was in India, the Netherlands, and Portugal, each of these WILs were incredible for different reasons and you kept bringing such great facilitation into each program. Then the next big leap, to build a brand-new program for Waterlution in Melbourne for WIL Australia, and for the first time, I didn’t join you, and Dona you did such an incredible job leading the entire process, building a team, developing all new partnerships, and delivering a Waterlution experience of your very own.
Dona you are such a go-getter and never shy away from challenges. One might say you actually seek out the most challenging of challenges 😉 You have spearheaded and built a substantial global network of young water leaders, partners and local communities, always focusing on the world’s most pressing water issues, and how to train young people to play a pivotal role in solving these complex problems.
The last two years feels to me, now looking back, was completing your WIL circle. Those who know you well, know you balance your identity between Lebanon and Canada, and can navigate so many cultures and languages. There was so much hard work, and heart-break that went into getting WIL Mexico off the ground in 2019, and you did it, and even better you secured strong local team members and partners and because of the crazy amount of work you put in, WIL Mexico lives on and I will step in and deliver in 2021. Who would have thought we would actually make this work? Yet it is happening, so awesome!
Your passion, love and dedication to Lebanon has inspired so many people. It was the greatest gift – unknown at the time that it would be our final WIL in-person together – to come to Beirut in June 2019, meet the amazing team, participants and partners and to be part of the first WIL Lebanon. And of course, you delivered again in 2020 and we will do our very best to carry on your legacy. It will make me too sad to go deeper here as Lebanon and its people are facing extremely hard times, to think that you, Bassel and I had that beautiful lunch in the port a year before it was destroyed is too much to fully process.
Please don’t worry, WIL Lebanon will remain part of our Waterlution programming, and we will see where else we deliver new programs based on all the seeds you planted.
However much I share your professional accomplishments, it is who you are and how you lead from the heart that is your true super power, and you did the work, the hard work of knowing yourself, and knowing how you want to show up in the world and how you want to lead. And here you are, you have accomplished so much, you will continue going from strength to strength. I will always be your champion and cheerleader, no matter the path you take.
A year ago, Dona started to lightly prep me that she wanted to pursue a PhD, and was looking at how to balance this while also working at Waterlution. With the incredible PhD you will now be starting, it became clear that it would require your entire focus and as of November 1, 2020 Dona will no longer be part of our team fulltime, yet before I settle into sadness of what that means, I assure you that we are here for you, and are supporting you as your move to the Netherlands. We are your Waterlution family, and together cannot wait to see all you will continue to accomplish!
With the deepest gratitude for all we have shared, and all we have learned from each other I am sure you know by now, I will miss you dearly.
Biggest hug, until we hangout again,