Working for social change in Canada’s waterscape, Karen Kun is starting with young leaders.
An oil sands executive, a First Nations community leader, a government policy advisor and a young person interested in sustainable environmental practices walk into a room. Sound like the beginning of a joke? Not if you’re Karen Kun.
This group of unlikely conversation partners comprises the exact sort of people Kun is interested in bringing together for thoughtful dialogue on Canada’s water issues—in fact, she’s facilitated these and many other discussions several times, garnering and encouraging respect from all sides.
“Karen has a capacity to speak to any person in a way that is energized, true and focused,” says friend and Waterlution colleague Dawn Fleming. “She’s also a maverick—but there’s intent, thought, experience, wisdom and structure in her methodology.”
Educated in international business and environmental sustainability, Kun brought her global experience back to Canada after piloting water learning programs in South Africa, consulting in the United Kingdom, and completing field work in several countries including Colombia and Bolivia.
In 2003, she and co-founder Tatiana Glad started Waterlution, an organization that aims to harness knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment from young leaders in order to develop positions on water policy, company innovation and research interest areas. Frequent workshops in controversial locations such as Fort McMurray bring together young leaders, facilitators, and resource guests from disparate disciplines to discuss issues and share thoughts on innovation and resource management.
In October 2010, Waterlution upped the stakes. The Canadian Water Innovation Lab brought over 250 participants to Exshaw, Alberta for a successful “unconference” that promised to give young leaders the insights, tools and connections to make a difference in protecting and preserving water.
Building a community from these experiences is a huge part of Waterlution’s mandate. “I hate the idea of us making decisions in conference centres or behind desks,” admits Kun, who believes that informal networks are at the heart of social change. Another key, she adds, is mentorship. Through Waterlution, she and her associates have trained several facilitators to encourage dialogue on water.
“Karen enables people to feel more capable than they did before they met her,” adds Fleming. It’s this empowerment that Kun aims to pass on to Waterlution participants. “Ultimately, we’re hoping to have a very real impact on the way Canadians develop water policy, the way industries manage water resources and innovation, and the way the public engages,” says Kun.
“I’d love to see Canadians be a bit bolder,” she says. “Canada could be a phenomenal force in water, but collectively we have to want it.” — Kerry Freek