The Canadian Freshwater Alliance and the Our Living Waters Network are sister projects with a shared goal: for all waters in Canada to be in good health.
Besides this shared goal, we have other things in common: both initiatives are projects on MakeWay’s shared platform. Both projects work together quite closely. And, we have overlapping networks of contacts within Canada’s freshwater community.
The closeness and similarities between Our Living Waters and the Canadian Freshwater Alliance might make it difficult for outsiders to see the ways in which we are different and why we are separate projects. This can be compounded by the fact that Our Living Waters and Canadian Freshwater Alliance have, for the last number of years, shares a staff person (OLW contracts CFA to do communications and member engagement!) So, given these similarities and overlap, we thought we should take the opportunity to clear up just how and why we are different.
Canadian Freshwater Alliance
The Freshwater Alliance has been in operation since 2012. At that time, CFA’s core mandate was to support and build capacity of smaller, community-based environmental organizations to more effectively engage community members and drive change on local freshwater issues. They did this work primarily by offering online and in-person training and coaching to these groups on topics like engagement organizing, storytelling, canvassing, and more.
However, over the years CFA’s mandate has shifted from being primarily focussed on helping smaller organizations hone their knowledge and skills to drive change, to being a leader in advocating and driving change on key issues, in partnership with smaller organizations (this blog on CFA’s website goes into more detail about the factors driving that shift). Today, CFA leads campaigns and public engagement initiatives that are public-facing, and work to drive change on key strategic freshwater priorities where there would otherwise be a leadership gap. They have campaigns and initiatives that are both regionally-specific, and others that are Canada-wide. Although they do still work with regional and community-based environmental groups, they primarily do this through the vehicle of shared campaigns or engagement initiatives. In addition to environmental groups, CFA works with businesses that share their values, Indigenous groups and leaders, local governments, and with members of the public who want to get more involved in protecting fresh water. They are working to build a movement of freshwater champions across the country who, together, can drive policy and social change to secure safe and healthy waters for all. In this model of change, there is power in numbers.
Our Living Waters
Our Living Waters was established in 2014 at a gathering spearheaded by CFA called the Living Waters Rally. At the rally, leaders from the freshwater community across Canada identified a key gap that was impeding our collective ability to make change: there were groups located throughout the country that were working on similar issues and problems, but these groups often worked in siloes. If there was a way that we could come together to share learnings, strategy and resources, we could be more efficient and more effective at driving change.
From this moment, the Our Living Waters Network was born. The purpose of Our Living Waters was, and continues to be, to catalyze collaboration within the freshwater community so that we can better address shared priorities and have a larger collective impact. Our Living Waters uses a member model to do this work: we are a network of environmental organizations, Indigenous organizations, businesses, consultants, and researchers who believe that we can only achieve our ambitious goal of “all waters in Canada in good health by 2030” by working together. Our Shared Measurement System provides a roadmap for how we can work together to achieve that goal. Unlike CFA, Our Living Waters is not explicitly public-facing: we do have a website, but don’t directly interface with the public (for this reason, we don’t have social media accounts). Unlike CFA’s model of “power in numbers”, OLW is not so much concerned with the number of groups in its Network, but the level of collaboration, engagement and participation of its members.
Although these initiatives both work closely together to realize the goal of all waters in Canada in good health, they do it in different ways: the Canadian Freshwater Alliance is a public-facing initiative that uses campaigns and public engagement to drive change. The Our Living Waters Network convenes organizations and groups to work together on shared priorities. Although we use different models, we strive for the same result: healthy waters for all beings in Canada.