Co-written by Amanda Wong and Rewa Assi

In the last blog we delved into the general definition of global collaboration and investigated the importance of global collaboration in solving water and environmental challenges. We also explored the benefits of global collaboration, the innovative solutions which have emerged, Waterlution’s unique approach to facilitation, road-blocks in facilitating collaboration, and overall experiences from previous participants and facilitators [You can read more HERE.]

With the amazing feedback in hand, the Waterlution Team thought this would be a great opportunity to gather and create a space to hear from team members and participants from around the world. This virtual gathering would allow the team to get a better understanding of the skills needed for global water collaboration and to continue to offer capacity building training opportunities both in Canada and globally.

Waterlution’s Global Talks led by Rewa Assi. Photo by Amanda Wong.

On June 24th over 5 time zones and 5 countries, the Waterlution community gathered over Zoom to have a global discussion on their experience facilitating global collaboration, experiencing global collaboration as a participant, and their own views on the topic. This Global Talks began with an energy boosting warmup led by Dawn Fleming, WIL Brasil Team Lead, who was joining from a chilly morning in Sao Paulo. This activity allowed all participants to get into an open mindset needed for the rest of the meeting.

Rewa Assi, WIL Lebanon coordinator led the meeting sharing the benefits of global collaboration while facilitating WIL Global 2021. Rewa was able to pull from her multiple Waterlution experiences to share her perspective on global collaboration at Waterlution having attended the first WIL Lebanon in 2019, then WIL Global 2020 and now becoming a key team member for WIL Global 2021 and WIL Lebanon 2021. With such a unique background with Waterlution’s innovation programs, Rewa presented discussion topics on global collaboration for WIL Brasil Team Lead, Dawn Fleming, and Waterlution President, Karen Kun, to provide their insights.

Photo of Waterlution on a virtual WIL Global 2020 session. Photo by Laina Timberg.
Dawn provided insights on the advantages and disadvantages of global collaboration she’s witnessed since moving onto virtual facilitation, and how she supports and encourages global collaboration.

A disadvantage of global collaboration, delivered through virtual platform tools, is working through multiple time zones which presents scheduling and team building challenges. To overcome this, regularly checking in with all participants and team members at the start of each meeting has become a regular feature in programs. Dawn disclosed how check-ins are great methods to create understanding and connection from the start which is needed to collaborate well with each other. When trying to facilitate collaboration, Dawn outlined several factors she includes: sharing the objective so it’s clear to everyone, as well as understanding the experiences, backgrounds, regional locations, and ages of the attendees who are coming together to learn and innovate around complex water challenges. To foster global collaboration, Dawn focuses on how knowledge transfer can occur whether it’s through sharing technologies, practices, and storage apps which can help with team building and strengthen connections with the participants. Finally, Dawn creates grounding questions for each session to guide conversations and sharing of viewpoints from people with diverse technical, artistic, and traditional knowledge.

Following this, Rewa asked Karen to share her thoughts on:

How global collaboration has become increasingly important at Waterlution and how this is a vehicle to solving complex water challenges?
Check out this video from participants of WIL Global 2021 Focused on WasH in informal settlements in Lebanon.

Karen shared that first and foremost, water is a connector, a local, regional and global connector. Although the details of the effects of water issues are different, they have a commonality which is that human beings, animals, and plants are all dependent on this resource. Almost all human settlement locations – that have expanded into the urban metropolis we know today – were to be near rivers, lakes and oceans. This demonstrates how we are all reliant on the resource and how it connects us all, making global collaboration vital in managing it. Waterlution’s Water Innovation Labs aim to find the commonality in water management and climate change mitigation practices. These programs are typically focused on a local challenge to encourage the development of innovative solutions which then can be transferred to other regions. 

An example of this was demonstrated in WIL Global 2021 which focused on WaSH challenges located in informal settlements in Lebanon. The participants, who had come with strong water and sanitation backgrounds and unique skill sets, worked together and brought forward ground breaking solutions to WaSH challenges, with assistance and guidance from resource guests. Participants formed their own teams and over 5 intense weeks created innovative pilot projects, several teams are getting financial and mentorship support from Unicef and Waterlution and will be advancing their projects in the months ahead that specifically address the challenges being faced with WaSH in informal settlements in Lebanon. Coming out of this program participants will not only continue growing their team innovation projects and water management skills, but also further their global collaboration skills – cross-cultural communications, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, network development, research, prototyping, financial and budgeting, project management – which are essential in developing robust and multidimensional holistic water solutions, in this climate changing world.

With the rich knowledge shared by Karen and Dawn, the discussion on global collaboration was opened to the broader Waterlution team and community.

Here we heard the thoughts on what tools/skills were needed for global collaboration, benefits of global collaboration in terms of water solution generation, and what collaboration skills Waterlution provided them.

Megan Cornell, Water Innovation Lab Coordinator

“The most important skill is communication, and the challenges of virtual communication. When developing global perspectives, cross cultural communication is required. This means working with different languages, cultures, and countries. Understanding this and listening is important to move ideas forward.” 

Karen Kun, President

“Another aspect of collaboration is moving away from the old school thinking that only industry experts are capable of making pivotal decisions. Instead we are enabling multi-generational global collaboration.”

Chris McLeod, Art Director:

“In reference to working across cultures, it is important to take the time to understand cultural histories and methods of acquiring knowledge. This opens space to learn how other cultures approach problem solving.” 

“Another tool is creating a space where people feel welcomed to say what they need to say and share their thoughts easily.”

Roque Saenz, WIL Brasil Coordinator:

“How we communicate with each other and between the territories we work with helps us understand how you can create the next step in solving a challenge.”

Laina Timberg, Youth Programs Coordinator:

“Collaboration allows for relationship building and helps remove the fear of saying the wrong thing, which allows for more fluid knowledge sharing.”

This community wide conversation allowed for a deeper understanding of what global collaboration meant to each one of us. This was also an unparalleled opportunity for all team members to connect on a topic outside their regular regional teams.

Waterlution’s Global Collaboration Top 5 skills:

  1. Communication, especially developing cross cultural communication skills.
  2. Creating an open and comfortable space for knowledge sharing and trust building.
  3. Integrating arts and science to encourage creative and innovative approaches to problem solving.
  4. Using facilitation tools to get everyone into an open mindset.
  5. Presenting commonalities in water management practices and climate adaptation and mitigation practices.

Here are some tools we use to achieve this!

Chris McLeod discussed the next month’s theme of Art and Community Engagement, which he’ll be discussing further in next month’s blog!