Seeking Common Ground Through Shared Water Dialogues: Waterlution's Karen Kun Shares Insights (Part 2 of 2)
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
In this second and final part of a conversation with Karen Kun, Director and Co-founder of Waterlution, we explore business partnerships. Waterlution is a Canadian based organization that engages individuals and organizations on sustainable water issues, through facilitated dialogue and inclusive experiences. Waterlution's strength is bringing different groups together to talk about often-controversial issues, while doing so in a safe environment. For industry there is an opportunity to learn from such success, and "keep an ear to the ground" on the evolution of relevant conversations.
On partnerships with industry
When asked about corporate involvement Kun observes: "Industry sessions have the highest interest, especially those with an energy sector focus. Many participants travel across the country at their own expense to attend those workshops." Partnerships have been successful for the most part because companies understand how important it is to get out and engage.
What does engagement look like? The Future of Water Workshop Series are weekend-long residential workshops that bring experts from private and public sectors along with academia, NGOs, First Nations and youth participants (ages 18-35). Waterlution has hosted 52 Workshops since 2006 in nine provinces and two territories thus far.
"Its all about trust", notes Kun "we ask all participants to put their fear on the table. We're there to create a forum where people can become comfortable with each other to discuss topics. Workshops only work if you have balanced representations and perspectives." For the private sector, the experience has been positive judging from repeated participation, and encouraging feedback to the organization.
What's in it for business?
Finding a trusted third-party that allows industry to bring its viewpoints to a group of stakeholders is not easily found. Especially when trained facilitators are tasked with creating a dialogue that is about harnessing attendee's interests and challenging them to get to know a given topic from another angle. Just as companies are asked to be open to receiving questions, suggestions and perhaps concerns, so does everyone else. No egos, nothing to bruise.
Aside from gaining a better understanding of stakeholder views, Kun reminds me of Canada's shortage in skilled labour. "Companies rely on good human resources. Filling middle management positions is the hardest obstacle I observe. Companies get access to a whole bunch of potential hires or the network that those people are connected to. We see ourselves as playing a role in skills development as well."
What's next for Waterlution?
While the organization is thinking global expansion, it is doing so in moderate progression. Kun recently returned from New Zealand where plans for an Oceania Waterlution are in the works. There are also opportunities in as far places as Brazil and the Mediterranean: "Water is such a global conversation and it is very interesting to compare regional issues and possible innovation."
With increased momentum, Waterlution is driving the notion that complex conversations don't have to be polarized. "Most of us spend time viewing the world from our own stand, but Waterlution let's you see what the world looks like from someone else's perspective," Kun concludes.
Doing business in the age of sustainability requires reaching out to multiple stakeholder groups, and doing so in a meaningful way. As a past participant, the Waterlution experience has been an eye opener; lessons were learned, perspectives expanded. There is room for business to be part of a dialogue-based experience, and no better time like the present.
This is Part 2 of my conversation with Karen Kun. Part 1 explores Waterlution's beginnings and current work in Canada.
To learn more about Waterlution visit: http://www.waterlution.org/
Image: Waterlution Cenovus Tour, Courtesy of Waterlution