By Amanda Wong Communications and Media Coordinator 

The last 18 months have demonstrated how essential global collaboration is to make great advancements in many sectors, especially in the health industry [1]. It is clear that extensive global collaboration is required to create innovative solutions across sectors to build depth of environmental parameters and bold targets to build a sustainable future. The impacts of climate change span across every corner of the planet, while their stresses vary from region to region, most nations realize that there is global imperative to work together to create adaptation and mitigation strategies for all the uncertainties that will unfold from climatic change impacts. Collaboration occurs across different cultures, languages, learning styles, and priorities which requires work to seamlessly integrate these factors and move ideas, innovations and approaches forward. 

What is Global Collaboration? 
Photo of WIL Participants on the beach during a training session.

Collaboration is when actors of different backgrounds and unique skill sets come together and define a challenge or problem which they aim to solve in creative ways [2]. Global collaboration is the action of working with people, organizations, and entities across the whole globe and producing something together [3]. Facilitating and participating in global collaboration is complex as it requires cooperation across different cultures, political systems, and ecosystems. 

So Many Benefits of Collaboration

Collaboration occurs when several parties join together and choose to work together, where resources, time, energy, and rewards are shared [4]. These processes allow for a baseline of trust to be created, which also fosters openness, honesty, and reliability [5]. All these factors are also essential in building social capital, which has become an emerging research topic in creating collective action and increasing climate change resilience [6]. Not only does collaboration increase the capacity for people to build trust and increase their social capital, it is a key pillar of innovation [7]. 

Global collaboration around water issues, climate change and other environmental focus areas are all about understanding complex problems, and seeking solutions to advert hardships, disasters, and to support Earth’s natural functions of ecosystem health while also strengthening human capacities to live in harmony with limited natural resources.

Examples of Innovations in the Environmental Sector 

There have already been many innovative climate technologies which have helped the energy, agriculture, and water sectors [8]. Some great examples of environmental technology innovations which stemmed from cross sectoral collaboration are [9] [10] [11]:

  • The forecasting and drought preparedness project in Africa. 
  • The Oracle and the World Bee Project which detects hive changes to learn how to better protect pollinators. 
  • The algae based water treatment project led by Indiana Department of Natural Resources, CommonWealth Engineers and One Water Group. 
Photo of youth brainstorming around water challenges. Photo provided by Waterlution’s Team

These projects have emerged as a direct result of cross-industry partnerships and extensive teamwork. Waterlution has also witnessed first-hand the benefits of cross-sectoral collaboration within its Water Innovation Labs, and the extraordinary projects that have emerged from them.  

Waterlution Creating Channels for Collaboration and Innovation

Waterlution has hosted over 16 Water Innovation Labs in 9 countries, across 5 continents. These WILs began to build networks with members around the world. Throughout these WILs, Waterlution noticed that, while water challenges may be unique to different regions, the knowledge that participants brought was valuable and provided insight to possible solutions for many areas. This cemented that water connects everyone, and bringing together people from around the globe to solve water challenges broadens their perspectives, experiences, and knowledge. 

With the inspiration gained from the previous WILs, Waterlution launched the first Water Innovation Labs Global in 2020, which invited 80 young water leaders from across the globe to come together. This WIL allowed the international cohort to form teams who aimed to solve different place specific water challenges. Their teamwork was made possible by the unique approach Waterlution has in facilitating collaboration, and adapting proven approaches into virtual delivery settings.

Waterlution’s approach to collaboration? How do we facilitate it? 
Collaborative art piece, Voices Below The Surface, by Yara El Turk which was built around WIL Lebanon 2020 participants’ submissions.

Waterlution approaches collaboration through a lens of focused multi-transdisciplinary cooperation. This enriches the programs by creating a space rich with a variety of perspectives and individuals who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences. Another unique facet of Waterlution’s collaborative approach is art integration in all of its programs that challenge participants to think creatively and offer interpretations of complex water challenges for a broader engagement across a variety of audiences.

There are many ways to create space for collaboration, this can include creating an inclusive environment, planning opportunities for collaboration, creating goals to achieve, and the developing processes on how to reach them [15]. For collaboration to occur, the WIL team focuses on community building exercises, networking activities, ice breakers, and energizers at the start of all sessions, with the goal of bringing participants closer, sharing their knowledge and importantly having fun throughout the process. These activities not only allow participants to get into the mindset to collaborate, it also helps create a space where people feel comfortable to share ideas and take risks. 

Let’s here from our WIL Team and Participants! 

What were the benefits that you experienced when collaborating with participants around the globe and how do you think they will influence climate change projects? 

Helena Vallée Dallaire – WIL Mexico/Canada Facilitator

“WIL Mex/Can was eye opening, water problems are different but solutions can transcend across different areas and be adapted to local problems. Nature has no borders, if we treat each country in such a way that each country makes decisions only within their own borders the cohesive solutions for overall environmental health will not work. We must help everywhere as ecosystems are all linked.” 

Mariem Oloroso – WIL Global-Lebanon

WIL Global Lebanon Resource Guests and Facilitators. Photo by Karen Kun.

I think that global collaboration will significantly influence climate change adaptation and mitigation projects. We all face different challenges when it comes to climate change. However, having access and being open to different perspectives can potentially lead to ways of problem-solving that we might otherwise lose out on in the absence of global collaboration.” 

Rachel Krueger – WIL Global 2020 

“Collaborating with participants around the globe provided a very human perspective to social and environmental issues that would otherwise remain distant to me. Surely we can’t expect one country to have all the answers for achieving a sustainable future. Global collaboration will allow for the diverse and innovative strategies necessary to rise to the complex challenges associated with climate change. Also, considering that certain nations contribute disproportionately to global greenhouse gas emissions, global collaboration is the only equitable and just solution for climate change mitigation and adaptation.” 

Caden Hebb – WIL Mexico/Canada

“It was comforting to connect with other young people working on different yet compatible projects to make the world a more harmonious place. It gave me a sense of solidarity and broadened my awareness of different regional water issues. In the face of a climate apocalypse, we cannot afford to innovate in our own separate bubbles. We need to support each other, celebrate our victories and build off of our mistakes, together.” 

How do you hope to continue collaborating globally? 

Rachel Kreuger – WIL Global 2020

“Since WIL Global I have been participating in the Collaborative Water Program (CWP) in my graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. This interdisciplinary program brings together international and domestic graduate students across natural sciences and social sciences disciplines to take courses and complete group projects that address a wide range of water challenges.” 

Mariem Oloroso – WIL Global Lebanon

“I am going to continue practicing global collaboration by keeping in contact with the people I met during WIL Global Lebanon! I hope to participate in future WILs and will also be on the lookout for other programs that encourage and practice global collaboration with regard to other topics and issues I am interested in.”

What is Waterlution’s vision for Innovation? 

Innovation looks different for varying sectors, organizations, companies, and disciplines. Waterlution strives for innovation that encourages the creation of original ideas and new possibilities driven by risk takers. Climate and water challenges are extremely broad, and surface challenges which are complex with multiple root causes. This requires innovations which address the problem from different angles, while encompassing many perspectives and interconnecting technological, policy, science, education, and social advancements. 

Photo of WIL Brasil participants collaborating and knowledge sharing. Photo by Alcione Ferreiri.

What have been barriers to collaboration that Waterlution has faced? How does Waterlution overcome them? 

Sometimes there are roadblocks when trying to facilitate and create a space for collaboration. COVID19 presented some challenges in facilitation, which until 2020 had predominantly been done through in person training workshops and gatherings. WIL’s strength was rooted in the ability to create a welcoming environment where in person connections were developed between the facilitators, knowledge experts, and participants. Transitioning this program to an online space meant that participants would be working in teams across many different time zones. This also meant that programs would be vulnerable to different people’s access to the internet and ability to be online. 

To overcome this, the team quickly adapted the tools they had garnered from their previous experience running the programs and started playing with ways to adapt. Time zones were accommodated for (with amazing flexibility from team members waking at early hours), opportunities for small group discussions were encouraged throughout all sessions, and creative conversation starters,music, arts-based programming were included to ignite curiosity and in-depth exchanges between participants, and to deepen the overall learning and experience. As with all Waterlution programs, skill training to build leadership skills were also incorporated to compliment water themed sessions. Reading a room is significantly more challenging over the sea of thumbnails, but providing team building exercises early on allows all participants to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and how they can complement each other while working together. 

CarbonVert project which emerged from a WIL Lebanon Team. Photo Retrieved from

Innovative Projects that have emerged from Waterlution participants? 

There have been many amazing projects that have emerged from WILs and continue to positively impact the communities which they are focused on. Some of these projects include: 

  • WIL Lebanon Team, CarbonVert, which focuses on treating discharged wastewater from refugee camps around the Litani River using Microbial fuel cells and provides electricity to the local area. 
  • WIL Brasil Team, Mosaic, provides affordable water sensors to citizens providing them tools to detect contaminated water  using colorimetric sensors. The data is then instantaneously shared with an app. 

It’s clear that the participants are passionate and driven to improve their communities, which has been made possible through their collaboration with people all over the globe. Their contributions and cutting-edge ideas will not only improve their communities but also help reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

Do you know of a water challenge that requires an innovative solution? We want to hear about it, and maybe you’ll spearhead an amazing project at a future Water Innovation Labs!