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By Jason Aoraha
Jim Olson has been practicing environmental law for forty years. In recent years, the Northern Michigander began asking himself how he could bring a group of concerned citizens together to protect water and natural resources under an ancient doctrine known as the public trust, which demands stewardship of our water resources – from navigation to drinking water to recreational needs. He founded FLOW (For Love of Water) to bring Michigan citizens together to protect our state’s most coveted natural resource, and the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, the Great Lakes.
FLOW’s mission is to advance Great Lakes policies and solutions that protect our common waters. This year, FLOW entered Michigan Corps’ first Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, and emerged a finalist for their unique policy and education programs that empower individuals with solutions to protect the integrity of Michigan’s waters. Based in Traverse City, FLOW is in a great position (both figuratively and literally) to empower citizens, decision-makers, and legal advocates alike with guidelines on how to protect the Great Lakes.
Founder Jim Olson expresses the passion of a social entrepreneur out to protect and build stewardship of our environment. “FLOW’s work is grounded in reality and a fundamental human value: Water is life. Water runs through every aspect of human endeavor and community. If we protect the integrity of this water, in both quantity and quality, we will sustain life, economy, and community. After all, there is no green without blue,” he says.
FLOW participated as a star contestant in our 2013 Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge with their focus on harnessing the passion of individuals to make a difference surrounding the future of our Great Lakes. We were impressed with FLOW’s focus on scaling their impact through partnerships with organizations that shared their passion, such as the Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Land Use Institute and others. The team at FLOW understands that to change society for the better, we must build the capacity of our organizations and one another to create groundbreaking policies that address pressing concerns surrounding the future of our waters. Most recently, FLOW pioneered Great Lakes policy and education for citizens and planning officials to suggest improvements to local government ordinances pertaining to the environmental impact of fracking for oil and natural gas extraction.
Following the conclusion of the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, FLOW joined Michigan Corps’ first cohort of Social Enterprise Fellows. The Fellowship training program helped FLOW evaluate their programming and diversify opportunities for citizens to interact with FLOW’s policy, education, and Great Lakes Society programs.
FLOW and its members are striving to make the Great Lakes a beacon for groundbreaking environmental stewardship. This year, FLOW plans to bring Maude Barlow, a world leader in global water policy and crisis affairs, to Detroit to help catalyze local thought leadership and action surrounding the future of our Great Lakes.
Entrepreneurial thinking is giving FLOW a new perspective on Great Lakes development and advocacy work. If you’re passionate about the Great Lakes, and want to connect with one of the most pioneering organizations involving Michigan’s fresh water – visit flowforwater.org and consider becoming a Great Lakes Society member. It’ll make your next trip to Traverse City that much more meaningful! Also make sure to check out their programs, special public events and up to the minute blog.