Seeking Common Ground Through Shared Water Dialogues: Waterlution's Karen Kun Shares Insights (Part 1 of 2)
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
For a growing number of Canadians, Waterlution has been a source for inspiration, creative thinking, network building and above all, an instigator for rethinking. When you attend a Waterlution event, you can certainly bring pre-conceived ideas, but those will likely shift once you leave. That is, of course, by design. Waterlution creates facilitated sessions on a variety of issues related to water. Through facilitated dialogue, groups from industry, academia, policy makers and the public engage in a meaningful way.
The Waterlution experience can give insights into successful stakeholder engagement, especially essential to companies looking to strengthen relationships with their critics. I spoke with Karen Kun, Director and Co-founder of Waterlution, to learn more about the organization's humble beginnings, accomplishments and expanding beyond Canada's borders.
Co-founded by Karen Kun and Tatiana Glad, Waterlution has been around for eight years. Kun recalls: "As trained facilitators, Tatiana and I had a passion for facilitation techniques and how those can be harnessed to solve problems." She also remembered observing the deep connection to water among indigenous communities in South America - something that seemed rather lacking back home in Canada. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg - also known as Rio+10 - things began to come together. While there, Kun observed that water was not a prevalent topic, yet it is the most vital, connecting element of all. The two decided water should be part of the conversation and Waterlution was born.
On the evolution of program offerings
Waterlution offers a variety of programs but is anchored by two principal ones: The Future of Water Workshops and Waterlution Hubs. Workshops provide a "deep dive" into a focused theme on location for two and half days. Those are designed for ages 18-to-35, are meant to explore one or several water issues affecting a specific region, and are done through experiential learning, field tours and facilitated dialogue.
When asked about the rationale behind working specifically with youth and young professionals, Kun explained that it is a key demographic that is often neglected, but is ripe for learning leadership skills, as well as how to foster creative and critical thinking.
Hubs were introduced in 2011 after the Waterlution team received requests for regular, ongoing dialogue. Hubs are monthly gatherings in four Canadian cities, with plans to expand in another five. "What people were craving was a regular community", notes Kun. Each Hub meeting has a different focus, such as: Drinking Your Dinner: Virtual Water in Food Systems in Toronto, or The World's Common Water: Can we Change in the Face of Climate Change? in Vancouver.
Creating a successful dialogue
Crafting an environment that provides a combination of safe dialogue with a hint of "uncomfortable" is no easy task. Kun provided an analogy about creating modest discomfort: "We create situations where participants feel they are dangling over a cliff, yet being held on to, so not to feel they are going to drop." In other words, producing a safe environment everyone's views can be shared, while bringing out critical thinking through exposure to a variety of views and positions. "The Workshops and Hubs are designed to feed motivation and provide a learning opportunity for participants to open themselves up. For that you have to be on the edge of discomfort," she explains.
Making the connection: Why this matters to business?
While Karen and her team of Hub managers design dialogues that include facilitation techniques with a creative flare, business is often an active participant. As companies' seek more sophisticated stakeholder engagement and communication initiatives, there is opportunity in observing and interacting with organizations such as Waterlution. The most creative engagement ideas often happen in the background, and it certainly makes a ripple effect.
In Part 2 of my conversation with Karen Kun, the article will explore industry engagement and the future of a growing organization.
To learn more about Waterlution visit: www.waterlution.org
Image: Karen Kun courtesy of Waterlution