By Dona Geagea
On June 14, 2019, as we closed the final day of the first ever Water Innovation Lab Lebanon (WIL Lebanon 2019) and watched the amazing young leaders pitch their team projects, we were met with exuberance as we reflected on all that we had accomplished. With solid partners behind us offering support, we knew that we had tapped into a real need in Lebanon and the Middle East in terms of skill development for young leaders working on diverse and pressing water challenges. In the following months, the planning for 2020 was in full swing yet none of us ever imagined two back-to-back crises that would force us to rework and adapt our program in so many ways.
Fast forward to early 2020 and the WIL Lebanon team was developing a variety of options taking into account the many uncertainties and new realities within the financial crisis in Lebanon. Remarkably, we discovered new opportunities that were being developed even within these very hard circumstances. We were able to develop new partnerships and an entire new plan of how WIL Lebanon 2020 would be designed and delivered.
Then COVID-19 hit and just like the rest of the world, Lebanon went into lockdown which added unbelievable pressure to an already fragile system and reality. Once again, we adapted and have now moved WIL Lebanon 2020 online. The new design of WIL Lebanon has changed from a one-week intensive in-person training to a two-phase training: Virtual Phase (June 17 – Sept 9, 2020) and In-Person Phase (a 3-day workshop on a date to be determined between Oct-Dec, 2020).
This is a time of crisis and of systems collapse, but it is also a time of opportunity to create the new path forward; this is our chance to design new systems that will replace the old ones which have failed us. It is a time to start building the infrastructure for the future – the kind of future that this and the next generation want to live in. It is in our hands to equip the upcoming generation of leaders with the skills and tools to lead and thrive in this complex future, to innovate, and to think in systems – a type of thinking that is far more sustainable than the isolated planning mindsets that got us into these challenges.Dona Geagea
These adaptations and changes would not have occurred without the incredible team at Waterlution and WIL Lebanon working alongside me. The collective knowledge the WIL Lebanon team holds on the themes being showcased and the process we are delivering on will make this an exceptional virtual experience.
Sara Dia is the WIL Lebanon Coordinator and has more than six years of experience surrounding surface water quality monitoring, analysis and treatment. She also has a very active role in working on youth-led initiatives including Lebanon’s Youth Parliament for Water. Dr. Bassel Daher is a Research Scientist at Texas A&M University and will be bringing his extensive knowledge of the Water-Energy-Food nexus and Sustainable Development Goals to WIL Lebanon. And Georges Gharios is a PhD candidate in Water Law and will be bringing his deep knowledge surrounding customs and practices of water conservation in Lebanon, as well as an extensive background in many other water-related topics. With this team, I could not be more proud, pleased and ready to share WIL Lebanon 2020.
We Need Water Leaders
We need a next generation of water leaders who are able to thrive in a complex future. Particularly in a country like Lebanon, heart-breakingly now ridden by innumerable challenges: a deep economic crisis, civil unrest and revolution, and heavily hit by the impacts of COVID-19.
While all these complexities are interdependent, they are also overlain on top of existing environmental management challenges (water-energy-food-health nexus) – at the top of which is water – the essence of all life. It is both visibly and invisibly interlinked with our energy production, food security and health (as in the case of COVID-19 and its link with sanitation and proper hand washing, which requires access to clean water).
This is a time of crisis and of systems collapse, but it is also a time of opportunity to create the new path forward; this is our chance to design new systems that will replace the old ones which have failed us. It is a time to start building the infrastructure for the future – the kind of future that this and the next generation want to live in. It is in our hands to equip the upcoming generation of leaders with the skills and tools to lead and thrive in this complex future, to innovate, and to think in systems – a type of thinking that is far more sustainable than the isolated planning mindsets that got us into these challenges.
Now is the time to prepare our future Water Leaders as we desperately need innovative thinkers.Dona Geagea
Solutions to improve how we steward our water resources are dependent on our ingenuity to expand our eco-systems thinking to include the human component in “nature” rather than separate from it. After all, as we are experiencing the world now, without clean water, breathable air, and healthy food, our health is impacted and our economy suffers. It is also dependent on our ability to innovate – and as Einstein said, we cannot think of the solution with the same thinking that created the problem in the first place.
Old modes of functioning, like hierarchical and isolated sector-based decision making, when placed within increasingly complex and dynamic systems such as natural systems, prove to be outdated and rather dysfunctional. This is the case because in complex systems – take as an example our water resources under climate change impacts for instance – change is fast-paced, variables are unpredictable and results cannot be guaranteed.
Now is the time to prepare our future Water Leaders as we desperately need innovative thinkers.
Social Innovation for Water Challenges
Innovation, however, is often misunderstood. In the water sector, it is not only about new or inventive technology that “fix” water problems. Innovation can also come through social contexts. Social innovation is an equally necessary form of innovation as it focuses on shifting behaviours to address the problem. We can have the best technology in place to solve our water challenges, but if humans continue to over-consume, heavily pollute and poorly manage our finite water resources, no technology alone will suffice to fix this conundrum. This is explicitly evident in Lebanon when looking at the Litani River and its basin in the Bekaa. Challenges range from industrial waste, to agricultural overconsumption and run-off, to pollution from untreated solid waste. Technology can fix the problem temporarily, but so long as factories, farms and settlement camps use of the Litani River do not change, the problems will persist.
Social innovation works on creatively shifting patterns of behaviour. It can be about the ways we gather to solve our problems, the ways collective decisions are made, the way art and science are merged to raise awareness, the way citizens and politicians are given tools to interact more democratically for water-related monitoring and decision-making, and the way water stewardship is incorporated into our education system. Social innovation could even permit cultural roots to become channels of change through organizing water festivals and celebrations.
These are critical skills and opportunities that we need to be equipping our young leaders with to tackle solving water challenges adequately and effectively over the next decades. This will determine how we flourish or fail as a human race.
Water Innovation Lab Lebanon
WIL Lebanon provides the skills around which we will train our young leaders, break silos of disciplines and expertise where in the past many barriers existed. For example, where engineers would only work with engineers; social scientists would only understand social scientists, and artists would only co-create with other artists. Skills of the future (that are already in demand now) enable collective thinking and acting, permit breaking old patterns for seeing problems, and invite design and systems thinking to arrive at holistic solutions. This is where engineers are speaking with artists, consulting with social scientists, and inviting entrepreneurs into the same group to tackle the problem collectively. These are skills that permit assessing silo “blind spots”, by widening the scope of perspectives around a problem and foreseeing unintended consequences to any big idea or solution.
Waterlution and our multi-sector and stakeholder partners in Lebanon, like UNICEF, Swiss Development Cooperation, the American University of Beirut, the Embassy of Canada in Lebanon, Berytech, Cewas, UNDP, Injaz Lebanon, USAID funded LebanonWater Project among many others, are unwaveringly dedicated to boost a generation of environmental leaders who think holistically and design innovatively.
Lebanon’s future is dependent on the quality of young leaders we are raising, and how well we are preparing them.
Interested in Applying?
Water Innovation Lab Lebanon is now accepting applications – until May 27. It will be taking place from June to December 2020, as a virtual learning journey. For more information, visit: https://waterlution.org/wil-lebanon-2020/
Part of this blog was published on Berytech blog on March 22 for World Water Day.