Blue Tech Visionning

BlueTech Forum : In Person Again in Canada

By Kariann Aarup
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There was no better way to emerge – albeit cautiously – from the isolation of COVID and tempt conference attendance again than to do so the BlueTech Forum in Vancouver earlier in June.

Under blue skies, nestled on the shores of Vancouver Harbour, with the north shore mountains looking down upon us, we enjoyed three inspiring, invigorating and regenerative days amongst a community of fellow water innovators, techies and enthusiasts.

Conference organizers promised it would be worthy of us stepping away from the comfort of home-office, saying good-bye to our families, packing our bags and – for some – dealing with jet lag. In fact, they proposed to ‘un-conference’ the gathering and unsure it was about “Being inspired, having unique experiences and forging meaningful connections.”  Personally, I liked the sound of that. What’s more the conference title really tweaked me at the core: “Radical collaboration for regeneration”.

Working in an organization in the charitable sector, that is an enabler of very early-stage water tech start-ups, I wasn’t 100% sure I would fit in to this tech focused forum. But the aspirations of what organisers sought to achieve convinced me that it was precisely the fear that I might not fit in that meant I actually belonged there. Water merits stepping out of one’s comfort zone.  And so, I did just that.

And I was not disappointed. Speakers, roundtables,  interactive sessions were all fully engaging.  Paul Hawken enthralled us, Wade Davis mesmorised us, Erica Gies compelled us to contemplate ‘slow water’ – to mention only a few of the key notes.  Industry leaders shared the latest tech-advances they were making, new innovators shared their bold tech-solutions, young start-ups pitched their scalable water tech products and services.  When needing a moment to regroup inwardly, one could retreat to a quiet space to enjoy the photographs by Ed Burtynsky   We even had the opportunity to be creative and do some visioning, with bristle board, glue sticks, pipe cleaners and colorful pom poms.  That session was a personal highlight for me – to experience senior executives alongside non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives and academics co-creating their shared vision c.  It highlighted that everyone really does belong in this conversation. If you care about water, everyone fit-in and belongs.

Having overcome my initial reluctance, the BlueTech Forum experience has deepened my commitment for what we do at AquaAction. We are a catalyst for young innovators establishing themselves as water tech entrepreneurs.  The participants in one of our many AquaHacking Challenges may not have initially felt they ‘fit in’ the water-tech entrepreneur world, but in fact they do. And very much so.  Every young person who wants to problem solve for water fits in.  If through AquaAction we can ensure that more young innovators step into the problem-solving space of the water sector and are inspired to develop solutions to the rapidly increasing water issues we are facing, then every moment of our work is worthwhile and impactful.

I salute the BlueTech Forum organisers (Paul O Callaghan, Aoife Kelleher, Annyse Balkwill) for their courage to un-conference this water gathering and host a space where we could regenerate, reconnect and remember why it is we do what do.

Water has no substitute. Water connects us all.

Collaborating for water should not seem radical but ESSENTIAL.