Gathering nurtures Canada's future water leaders
LYNN MARTEL BOW VALLEY
Two hundred and fifty of the country’s most water-passionate young leaders are gathering in the Bow Valley this week to participate in the Canadian Water Innovation Lab (CWIL).
Hosted by Waterlution, a learning organization that seeks to actively influence the behaviours of individuals, communities, companies, policy-makers and educators in the ways that water is used, managed, distributed and experienced, the event is the largest gathering of its kind to date.
Taking place at Camp Chief Hector, near Rafter Six Ranch, the gathering is designed to provide Canada’s most proactive, creative and visionary 18- to 35-year olds an opportunity to develop skills, insights and connections that will lead them to champion water management issues into the future.
“Ultimately, CWIL’s mission is to develop leadership capacity, spur community water-related projects and place water resource management issues prominently on the public agenda,” said Waterlution director Karen Kun.
The 200 participants were chosen from a field of 300 applicants, while 50 facilitator positions were culled from 85 applications. Attendees of the “un-conference” include members of Aboriginal, corporate, government and environmental groups, as well as a number of masters’ students and PhD candidates from universities across the country whose interests are intensely focussed on water-related issues and research.
Some of the participants are involved in water-focussed concerns from a policy perspective while others are connected to scientific studies. The participants even include one PhD candidate who cycled from Vancouver to Banff. The 250 people attending the gathering include representatives from every province and territory except Nunavut, Kun said.
“We marketed aggressively across Canada and we had an amazing response,” she said.
While the facilitators’ accommodations are at Banff International Hotel, the participants, all 200 of them, are staying at Camp Chief Hector, where Saturday and Sunday’s indoor sessions will take place -– the largest gathering ever hosted by the facility.
Rather than follow the traditional “talking heads” conference format, the gathering will provide participants the opportunity to learn experientially through field trips and one-to-one interactions with mentors, which include water resource practitioners, policy makers, activists, educators and Aboriginal and community leaders.
Mentors include Bob Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations’ Water for Life Decade; Alex Salki, a research biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; Tony Maas, World Wildlife Fund Canada’s national advisor on freshwater policy and planning; Professor Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, joint faculty member in Social Work and Aboriginal Studies at the University of Toronto and David Henderson, Managing Director of XPV Capital Corporation and one of Canada’s 2009 Top 40 under 40.
The event kicked off on Monday (Oct. 18) with a pre-lab convened for the 50 facilitators leading up to today’s (Oct. 21) launch of the lab’s four-day agenda, which runs through Sunday (Oct. 24). During the pre-lab, facilitators were trained to guide deep and effective discussions on systems change, and provided the opportunity to apply their skills immediately as group facilitators at the lab. Topics feature water as it relates to climate change, agriculture, municipalities and infrastructure, mountain and coastal ecosystems, and energy.
The event was organized to address the most compelling issues in water resource management, which include new and long-term pressures which threaten Canada’s water resources.
“Current policy and management approaches are outdated and in need of revisions,” Kun said. “There is a need for a safe space – spanning generations, sectors and cultures – in which solutions can be developed collaboratively. Young Canadians are seeking new and effective ways to participate in decision-making processes and develop their potential. “
Through their participation, the young leaders will have a greater field of knowledge and peer contacts from which to nurture creative solutions and programs and even take on such tasks as effective fundraising.
“We (Waterlution) hope to have played a significant role in nurturing Canada’s future water leaders,” Kun said. “Water is a very complex concern. We’re trying to help these young leaders build a foundation by making connections and building networks they will rely on for a long time. These will be our water decision makers for the next decade. We hope this is a ‘wow’ event that they can remember for a lifetime, so when they’re working at their corporate or government jobs years from now and they ask themselves, ‘Why do I do this?’ they’ll remember all the amazing people they met this week right here in the Rockies. We’re trying to do our part to build that.”
In addition to indoor presentations, all participants will join in one of four field trips, including an outing to Lake Louise to visit a glacier first-hand with resource guests Bob Sandford, Bill Fisher, Parks Canada director general for western and northern Canada, and University of Calgary glaciologist Dr. Sean Marshall.
Time is of the essence, Sandford said, as freshwater resources around the world are being compromised by population increases, environmental degradation, industrial demands and factors related to climate change, among numerous other threats.
“The problem we’re facing took more than a generation to create, and they will take more than a generation to solve,” Sandford said. “We’re dealing with far more complicated problems now than we ever have before. We need to create a whole new water policy for this country and we need bright young people to do that.”
Since its inception in 2003, Waterlution has hosted more than 30 workshops in nine provinces for nearly 700 attendees interested in creating solutions to complex water resource management problems.
To learn more, visit www.waterlution.org
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