October 11, 2018|By Larry Selzer| Partnerships
It has been 20 years since a creative partnership helped launch the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN) in Michigan, and I’m still amazed that such a simple idea has done so much to benefit an entire region.

With overlapping interests from a variety of perspectives—environmental, community and economic—The Conservation Fund and The Dow Chemical Company Foundation joined forces in 1998 to create WIN. The Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a unique mandate to support both environmental protection and sustainable economic development. Dow is a world-class innovation company and importantly, an early pioneer in corporate citizenship and sustainability. The corporation saw a clear need to demonstrate its commitment to the planet and to the communities where its employees live and work. Together, the Fund and Dow realized that a long-term collaboration to improve the region through the lens of sustainability might provide new opportunities for engagement, environment conservation and protection, access to natural resources, and more. This idea, which became WIN, has truly become a win-win project, and a model for corporate/nonprofit partnerships.

10 11 18 Watershed map10 11 18 9042325 orig copy

Saginaw Bay spans 8400 square miles and is the largest watershed area in Michigan. It includes the expansive Saginaw River watershed area depicted in the map on the left, as well coastline and marshes such as Tobico Marsh in Bay County pictured on the right. 

WIN has helped acquire property to protect wetlands, remove dams to restore fish habitat, support educational programs that reinforce sustainability, provide support for non-motorized trail systems, improve water quality and habitat and much, much more. For a detailed description of many projects completed over the years, check out the WIN website and click on Grants.

10 11 18 Michigan Sea Grant Sturgeon Release Saginaw Bay WIN c Michigan Sea Grant201810034 The first reintroduction of juvenile lake sturgeon into the Cass River was attended by over 300 participants in August 2018. Many had the opportunity to help with the release in the Cass River, Frankenmuth, Michigan. Michigan Sea Grant received a grant from WIN to facilitate lake sturgeon release events. Photo by Michigan Sea Grant

WIN works by engaging the region’s residents, community leaders, representatives of business and governments, as well as members and allied organizations, many of whom have supplied financial resources. WIN leverages the Fund’s expertise and experience to select projects to be funded from a list of proposals, and then provides valuable guidance to the people who will complete each one. WIN also provides access to local and national experts who can bring new ideas, funding, and technical support that can help turn new ideas into great projects.

10 11 18 WIN2 svsuWIN grant funding helped Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) build a nature trail system at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) that will also serve as a cross-country running course. Faculty and staff from SVSU (left) joined The Conservation Fund’s Mike Kelly (second from right) and SBLC’s Executive Director Zachary Branigan (far right) to review the plans and map of the trail. Photo by Saginaw Valley State University.

10 11 18 FOSRWIN has provided several grants to Friends of the Shiawassee River for restoration and education projects. By testing water quality in different regions of the Shiawassee River, they are creating a clearer picture of watershed health. They share resources and knowledge that enables communities to improve the entire Shiawassee River System. Photo by Friends of the Shiawassee River.

Perhaps the most unique part of the entire WIN process is the community-based approach that is used to develop and select projects. This process allows WIN to ensure that only the best ideas that have broad support receive funding consideration. 

The process is powered by a simple yet revolutionary concept: Dow supports WIN’s administrative costs, so partnering funding organizations know that every single penny they contribute will go directly into projects and the ideas that are presented by local stakeholders. It’s a unique system that the funding network finds very appealing.

As we celebrate WIN’s two decades of substantive progress and success, the bond between Dow and the Fund is even stronger, reinforced by an impressive record of success. WIN has become a template for other corporations who want to support community programs that focus on sustainability while simultaneously achieving business success. 

10 15 18 Find out more squareMake sure to read our entire WIN 20th Anniversary blog series:
Part I: Meaningful Conservation from Saginaw Bay WIN by Neil Hawkins, Corporate Vice President of Sustainability for The Dow Chemical Company
Part III: How a Winning Partnership Is Making Michigan’s Natural Beauty More Accessible by Greg Yankee, Executive Director of The Little Forks Conservancy