It’s hard to believe my journey with the Great Waters Challenge and Waterlution only began a year ago! The meaningful experiences and skill sets I’ve developed were paired with opportunities to build beautiful friendships, networks and uniquely wonderful experiences with passionate water-loving people. What more could a young person like myself just starting her career ask  out of a volunteer experience?


18 Young People From Across Canada

When I saw Waterlution’s Canada-wide call for Youth Advisory Board (YAB) applications, I was intrigued. The Great Waters Challenge was the type of project I knew I wanted to work on and I saw an opportunity to merge many of my passions while building my resume at the same time. When I applied to the YAB, I had never heard of Waterlution before. But when I received my letter of acceptance from Dona, Waterlution’s Youth Engagement Designer, I was thrilled.

I was lucky to have a another YAB member in my city. Anne and I were GWC Vancouver co-pilots.


Our first YAB call made me smile; 18 young people from across Canada all on one screen, it felt very futuristic.  From there, things got rolling very quickly! We started from an idea, and brought the Great Waters Challenge to life. With a vision from Karen, and guidance from Dona, we had A LOT of work to do.


What I didn’t Know That I was Already Equipped To Do!

We recruited resource guests for webinars, created resources to support players, built partnerships with local governments, other NGO’s and companies across Canada and recruited players and teams to participate. I was even on a radio show to promote the Great Waters Challenge!

At first, I remember thinking “I have no idea what I am doing!”.  I didn’t know how other YAB members were feeling; and it was hard to connect with each other outside of our scheduled YAB calls. Having Dona’s guidance and positivity kept me (and I am sure many others) motivated to do our best on this project.

As the Great Waters Challenge started, individual players and school teams throughout the country were uncovering their community’s water story and what emerged was beautiful! It was hard to keep players engaged, so we knew a small pivot in our approach was needed.


Then Came The Leadership Training Retreat

A YAB retreat and leadership training weekend brought new light to the project. We learned the logistics behind crowdfunding and fundraised our way to the Greater Toronto Area. Little did I know how much this weekend would be pivotal for the Great Waters Challenge, the YAB, and for me. Having the YAB team, Dona, Karen and even a few players together in person created a buzz of excitement. We were all so excited to meet in “real life”.


Thinking back to this retreat always brings a smile to my face!


The Chaordic Process and Emergence

The weekend was filled with team building exercises, project emergence theories, a Great Waters Challenge world café, the story of Waterlution, and planning our next steps.  Learning about the chaordic process—the process of finding the balance between chaos and order where innovation thrives—was eye opening for me. From this and other aspects of our training I realized I needed to let things run their course, let ideas emerge, reflect, pivot and continue on with clarity.

Needless to say, I was feeling very inspired, recharged and ready to move the Great Waters Challenge forward.


In Retrospect

After the retreat I felt much more connected to the YAB. The training let us become more adaptable, recognizing that Canada has diverse networks and communities. In bigger cities, we hosted public workshops, and in other locations, visiting schools for water education workshops was the best strategy. Though we deviated from our original plan, the YAB helped youth like me learn about their water, and created opportunities for these youth to take charge.


A Year Later!

After nearly one year on the Great Waters Challenge’s Youth Advisory Board (and I was lucky to also attend Waterlution’s Water Innovation Lab in India!), I have experienced firsthand how Waterlution builds young leaders in the water sector. Over the past year, the training and self-learning opportunities Waterlution offered built my water-leadership capacity. I’ve learned about more than just water—I learned about community engagement, the challenges of outreach and recruitment—and have made friends across Canada and around the world. I’ve learned how to recognize when change is necessary, accept it, and make the best of it. I’m so thankful I was chosen to be part of the YAB and welcomed so warmly into the Waterlution community.


Some WIL-India friends! Including some GWC Players, Anouk (YAB member) and GWC project lead, Dona.


by Olivia Allen


Next week’s blog

Next week, as Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, Greatness/Waterlution Researcher Andrew Reeves explores how the Great Lakes helped transform the country from scattered colonies to a unified nation.