In spring 2012, an e-mail appeared in Emma Gilchrist’s inbox that stopped her in her tracks.
The subject line was: “Dogwood Initiative nominated for 2012 Katerva Award.” Her first question was: what’s a Katerva Award? A little research quickly turned up the fact the award has been described as “the Nobel of sustainability.”
“At first I didn’t believe it,” Gilchrist said. “But the more research I did, the more I realized this was a pretty big deal.”
As it turned out, Dogwood Initiative had been nominated as one of the world’s best sustainability initiatives through Katerva’s prestigious spotter network, comprised of global thought leaders from business, government, NGOs and academia. Previous finalists include 350.org and Avaaz.
“I knew we were doing innovative and effective work, but we’re just a small group here on Vancouver Island,” Gilchrist said. “You never expect to be recognized like this on an international scale.”
One of just two nominees in Canada, Dogwood Initiative stood out for its unique approach to changing how decisions about natural resources are made through citizen engagement and mobilization.
We asked Gilchrist a few questions to find out more about what the Katerva nomination means.
Q: Can you describe the Dogwood approach and how it can be applied elsewhere?
A: Wherever you go in the world these days, private interests are taking over public resources, such as air, land and water. Here in B.C., Dogwood Initiative is pioneering a model to put control back in the hands of the public by bringing together citizens to reclaim decision-making power over their natural resources.
The Dogwood model combines large-scale citizen engagement and recognition of aboriginal land rights with a non-partisan political approach, both of which are underscored by a commitment to continual improvement through testing and analytics. Done right, this type of model can help drive change anywhere in the world.
Q: What does the Katerva nomination mean? And what happens next?
A: Essentially, it means we were identified as one of the top 100 sustainability ideas in the world, which is a huge honour. We recently found out we were not selected as a finalist, but we’re still very pleased with the nomination – especially considering we were one of just two nominees in Canada.
Q: What makes Dogwood different?
A: Dogwood stands out for its commitment to sharing what it learns with other organizations to help catalyze the scale of change the world needs. We are consciously creating a model that can be applied anywhere in the world where corporate interests have started to infringe upon the public interest.
Our goal is not just to succeed on a project-by-project basis – rather, our goal is to use hot-button issues (such as oil tankers) to fundamentally change the way public resource decisions are made, tilting the scales back in favour of the public interest, communities and aboriginal groups.
Q: What has been Dogwood’s greatest success in the past 18 months?
A: Looking at the big picture, I think we’ve been able to give citizens hope that they can influence decisions about their air and water by making oil tanker expansion one of the top political issues in the province. More specifically, we helped a record-breaking 4,000 people register for public hearings on Enbridge’s proposal to bring oil supertankers to the Great Bear Rainforest and in 2012, we attracted more than 83,000 new No Tankers petition signatures. Our movement is growing at a breakneck pace and achieving new milestones every week.
Q: How do you think Dogwood caught the eye of the Katerva spotter network?
A: In the past two years, Dogwood has earned praise for punching above its weight and has become known as one of Canada’s most innovative and effective non-profit organizations. Not only are we building a model for citizens to take back control of their air, land and water, but we are also developing a template for how citizen-based organizations can become financially self-sufficient.
Ultimately, all of our success can be credited back to the citizens who get involved and do things like write letters, register for public hearings, volunteer and donate (more than 150,000 people have now signed our No Tankers petition and last year 4,194 people donated to keep our campaigns running). It’s our job to help more people get engaged in democracy and to go out into the world and make a difference – that’s what it’s all about.