Some tech-savvy Okanagan youth are going to get a chance to tackle some of the most pressing water issues facing the valley and beyond.
For the first time, the national AquaHacking Challenge is coming to Western Canada thanks to a partnership with the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB). The challenge will be one of four events being held across Canada in 2019-20.
The program starts with freshwater issues selected by local water leaders and focuses on developing solutions. During the seven-month process, the multi-disciplinary teams of hackers will have access to expert-led water issue webinars, skills-building webinars as well as facilitated leadership and collaboration workshops.
“This hits a real sweet spot for us,” OBWB executive director Anna Warwick Sears said. “It brings together so many of our interests, like raising awareness around – and solving – water issues, expanding partnerships with post-secondaries and the tech community, doing something bold and innovative and engaging the entire community.”
Founded by the De Gaspe Beaubien Foundation on the belief that innovation and entrepreneurship are necessary for sustainable environmental change, the program initially had a five-year focus on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Basin (2015-19). Since then, it has received funding from the RBC Foundation to bring the program coast to coast. Along with founding technology partner IBM, funding for the BC AquaHacking Challenge has also been provided by the Real Estate Foundation of BC.
“As we expand our programming across Canada, we are thrilled to be working with the OBWB in the Okanagan to deliver the first AquaHacking Challenge in B.C.” added Isabelle Bourduas, Aqua Forum chief operating officer. “Our objectives are to leverage young tech talent for the benefits of freshwater and to build lasting and impactful collaborative relationships between leading water organizations and the tech and innovation sector in B.C. – and across Canada.”
Between 2015 and 2018, the program has resulted in 12 active startups with 75 per cent still active. Ten critical water issues are actively being worked on, including microplastics, blue-green algae and sewage overflow.
“The challenges we face in the Okanagan are not so different than those in other regions,” Sears said. “Looking at past outcomes from this program, the tech solutions coming out of this challenge could reach far beyond our own valley and deliver national, and even international, benefits.”