Feature Article in GenW: Her Career

Co-founders of Oceans Week Halifax, Alex and Mo discuss overcoming obstacles and the power of community

How would you describe each other?

M: Alex is a bright, courageous, hard-working woman in Ocean Science and in building a strong community. She spends most hours of the day working on every single thing she can, whether it’s paid or unpaid. One of her main priorities is making life better for herself and for other people. She likes dried mangos (shout out to The Tare Shop), tofu roasted in the oven, and cheesecake.

A: Most days Mo is the first to text me good morning and the last to text me good night. She cares so deeply for the world around her. She radiates a positive energy that I’m always aspiring to. Mo works so hard and makes it look so easy because even though she’s diligent, she’s so good at balancing self-care and the rest of the world. She’s also incredibly passionate about youth initiatives especially; always keeping in mind the world we’re leaving behind for the generations to come. She also likes dried mangos.

What is Oceans Week HFX?
Oceans Week HFX is designed to help celebrate World Oceans Day on a local scale. World Oceans Day interestingly enough is a Canadian-born idea. It was proposed by the government of Canada in 1992 but the UN assembly didn’t adopt the idea until 2008. So back in ‘92 a group of Canadian environmental organization members came to Halifax and began celebrating World Oceans Day at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Essentially Halifax was where the initiative originated. Now everyone across the world, in hundreds of cities, in thousands of events, celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8th. 

Oceans Week HFX was started when we realized that there were so many organizations in Halifax doing something to celebrate World Oceans Day but it wasn’t a concerted effort. The concept of Oceans Week was to be an umbrella for all of those events and organizations so that people could figure out what was going on in the city to celebrate the oceans through one platform, one map, one calendar. In doing so, it brings more awareness to other events and organizations that are also doing great things to celebrate our oceans. Oceans Week has also created a platform for organizations and their audiences to network with each other and foster an ocean community that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.

For an event to be considered a part of Oceans Week, it has to be free, accessible, fun, inclusive, and most importantly, it has to be educational. We’re trying really hard to hit as many demographics by getting rid of barriers. Who you are, what you do, and where you’re from should not prevent you from learning and celebrating, and doing good for the ocean.

Being a coastal province, we want to set a good example and help people understand why it’s so important to care and participate when it comes to ocean stewardship. That means going beyond engagement tactics to get people out to these events. Creating real change for our oceans is done by following through with the audiences so they’re more inclined to be apart of the movement and enforce action by being active in the community.

Since just last year, Oceans Week HFX has already grown exponentially in terms of scope, recognition, and impact. How do you see Oceans Week HFX evolving in the future?
On growth:
A: The support we’ve received from the community has been incredible. We’re so lucky to have local organizations believe in us. 

M: Oceans Week is sailing right now. No pun intended.

Halifax seems to be one of the best possible communities for this kind of support. It seems people who have initiatives that they’re passionate about and willing to put in the work for can accomplish anything here.
A: Oceans Week is literally a tangible manifestation of that. Everyone wants to support  everyone, and this community and sense of connection is what allows everyone to get things done.

M: The fact that you just live here makes you connected already without you even knowing.

On the future of Oceans Week:
M: On Thursday, I’m talking to teens in British Columbia to teach them how to do their own Oceans Week. We’re currently building the template to take Oceans Week national.

A: This has been the year that we’ve been building our brand on the national map because it’s been a really successful model in our province and we want to give other places in Canada the tools and best practices to do the same for their communities.

M: Our dream is to travel across Canada and give workshops on creating a similar movement and give those tools to people of all ages. Aside from having meetings about Oceans Week HFX, we’re having meetings with a committee for Oceans Week Canada.

What inspired you to start Oceans Week?
M: What inspired me to jump on with Alex (because she had already started the initiative low-key) was how promising the idea was in terms of its potential to make a large-scale impact. At the time, Oceans Week was moving so slowly and we wanted to ramp it up. We had a bunch of barriers and obstacles we had to overcome to make that happen. A turning point was when we made the decision to take it on autonomously in order to give the initiative the momentum it deserved.

A: There was so much support and momentum from the community for this type of project, someone just needed to champion that first step and prove that it’s doable. When I first took on this initiative, I was doing it under another organization but I hadn’t considered their boundaries. I was just blinded by the potential. Then we hit a watershed moment, where we had a meeting where Mo and I were told to curb our enthusiasm or leave. We kept getting continuous “No”s the whole meeting. But if it hadn’t been for that meeting, we wouldn’t be here.

We ended up leaving the meeting really disheartened, and I remember walking out and Mo put her arm around me and said “We can do this together”. It was this beautiful juxtaposition of the lowest point Oceans Week could’ve ever experienced and at the same time, having a new vision for Oceans Week come into life.

The theme this year for World Oceans Day is gender and oceans. What women inspire you in this space?
A: Mo inspires me.
M: Alex inspires me.

A: There’s definitely a couple major mentors we have. But you know what’s really phenomenal? Most of the people we interact with in this space are women. We’re inundated with cool women constantly.

M: There is such a rad community of women helping women.

A: It’s incredible how many creative, talented, hard working women reach out and put themselves on the line to support Oceans Week by doing anything they can. And it goes well beyond ocean sciences, too. We have friends supporting across all industries, from photographers to foodies, who are more than willing to get involved and share our collective message through their lense. That inspires me.

M: I don’t think it’s just one person. It’s many people. There are of a lot of women who help steer you and that direction is always evolving. It requires a lot of honest and true relationships with different women from different backgrounds, all with different values. It’s a collective effort to continue pushing each other and positively contribute to each other’s growth. It’s important to remember to collaborate.

For our readers who are passionate about environmental issues and want to start their own initiatives, what advice do you have for them?
M: You’re probably going to have four strikeouts before you hit a homerun. As we previously mentioned about how Oceans Week HFX was starting up, there were a lot of low points before we really began seeing that change. Just don’t give up and find people who believe in you. When you know inside that you need to do something, surround yourself with people who support it and believe the same things. All while knowing that there will be some people who will disagree, acknowledge those people but don’t focus your energy on them, otherwise you won’t move forward in a healthy and productive way. You’ll hit lows but those help you realize the highs.

A: My Mom has told me time and time again “it’s how you navigate the minefield”. There’s inevitably going to be hiccups, blockades, and things that will test your intentions, grit, and willingness to make something happen. There was a lot more of those tests in the early days, but we’re still not done navigating those tough waters. Pun intended. It’s all part of the process, what makes it beautiful, and what makes us more resilient. We’re grateful for every experience that has brought us here, because now we’re all here together.

M: We actually have matching “Never Give Up” tattoos.

A+M: No! (They both laugh)

I didn’t want to say anything just in case!
M: It is something that we unspokenly live by. Don’t you?

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