The Fund is looking for new innovative teams with big ideas—that shift systems and create meaningful improvements to the basin’s health. Our strategy for 2024-2028 is to support collaborative teams who take tangible, real-world actions; launch a cascade of changes in markets, policies, and/or social expectations; and, catalyze significant shifts in the systems affecting the health of the Lakes. We’re looking to back visionary teams—with the right mix of collaborators designing and doing the work, powerful theories of change, and pragmatic plans to make things happen.  

The coming years are a generational opportunity. Our climate is changing, and we need to upgrade how we manage water—where it falls, how we move it, treat it, use it, and make it ready to be used again. Our economy is changing as well. We expect to see new industries, new development, and shifts in how we use our coasts, shorelines, and working lands. Those changes must embed approaches that make our ecosystem healthier to benefit our communities. Our institutions, social networks, and traditional ways of doing things are also changing. New voices tell us that it’s time to make some changes and think more carefully about whom a healthy ecosystem is for and how we all need to be involved in creating it. The region’s water resources are again at the center of its economic development agenda. We can shift from repairing past damage to building a regenerative economy that benefits people and the natural world. 

We want to lean into these opportunities focused on priority areas where we believe teams can make an outsized difference. They’re the areas where opportunities are richest, significant impacts are possible, and the region can benefit the most from getting it right.

Priority Area: Reimagine Urban Water Systems

Bigger storms—driven by a changing climate; new pollutants; and, chronic under-investment in urban water systems threaten the Great Lakes. Affordably solving these problems requires new approaches, will involve a broader range of people and expertise, will harness new technology, will challenge us to create new financing strategies, and will likely involve reimaging some of our institutions. These solutions will benefit not only the lakes but also all of us who live here and rely on freshwater. 

We are interested in collaborative teams that: 

See a concrete opportunity to catalyze a shift in how we manage water in urban areas; 

Target basin-wide reductions in nutrients, toxic pollutants, pathogen loads, and/or flow regime disruptions; 

Launch, validate, and package catalytic innovations that change:  

  • How we manage water—beginning where it falls as rain, through how we use and move it, to how we prepare it for reuse by people or in the environment;  
  • the technologies—including treatment, AI, machine learning, resource recovery, control systems, nature-based solutions—we employ;  
  • the operating and governance approaches we use;   
  • currently siloed approaches and drive integrated management; and, 
  • how we finance and pay for these systems—reducing the high cost of current strategies. 

Priority Area: Create Healthy Waters in Working Landscapes

The basin’s landscapes outside urban areas provide food, fiber, natural resources, ecosystem services, and livelihoods. How we’ve put that land to work has reshaped waterways, disrupted groundwater systems, and changed how water moves across the land and what moves with it. The result is widespread impairment to the basin’s waters—driving harmful algae blooms, robbing waters of oxygen, silting in rivers and lakes, and increasing nutrient loading to surface and groundwaters. These impacts are predicted to worsen in a changing climate. While the region debates what governments might do to solve some of these problems, we will build practical, market-driven innovations. These new approaches will involve all actors in the food/fiber value chain—Input providers, financiers, producers, and customers—in efforts that restore health to our waters and are more economically beneficial.  

We are interested in collaborative teams that: 

See beyond the current pollution-oriented framework to economically-driven opportunities to solve water problems in agricultural, silvicultural, and mixed working lands; 

See a concrete opportunity to catalyze a shift in how we restore water systems on working lands; 

Target basin-wide reductions in nutrients, harmful algae blooms, toxic pollutants, pathogen loads, and/or flow regime disruptions; 

Launch, validate, and package catalytic innovations that: 

  • Expand new crops and cropping systems that increase the health of water resources, decrease nutrient, sediment, and chemical releases, and build producer wealth; 
  • Shift farm and timber finance to incorporate water and climate impacts and drive positive ecological outcomes as a result; 
  • Attract a new and growing  community of practitioners from states and provinces throughout the basin; and, 
  • Harness the power of the value chain to drive, finance, and validate the positive ecosystem impact of new models. 

Priority Area: Expand Sustainable and Regenerative Uses of Great Lakes Water Resources

In the next decade, our region will undergo several important transitions. Our energy system will evolve to be more electrified and more distributed. Our economy will expand to include new activities: more semiconductor manufacturing, battery technology, EV manufacturing, biotechnology, and information technology companies. Our coasts will also likely see increased investment because of the high quality of life offered there and the chance to reimagine the historic uses of our waterfronts. All of these shifts can impact the Lakes in positive or negative ways. We will launch opportunistic, collaborative efforts to make those positive impacts more likely.  

We are interested in collaborative teams that: 

See past the framework of minimizing damage from economic development to harnessing economic activity that restores ecosystem health; 

See a concrete opportunity to catalyze beneficial economic development that improves lives and the Lakes’ ecological condition; 

Target basin-wide: improvements in the physical, chemical, and biological conditions in rivers, harbors, and coastlines; reductions in nutrients, chemical pollutants, pathogen loads, and/or flow regime disruptions; increases in the health of the waters and water-dependent natural resources; 

Launch, validate, and package catalytic innovations that: 

  • Expand the scope and impact of water stewardship, labeling, and other systems that evaluate and reward superior water performance in economic activity; 
  • Embed nature-based solutions that harness ecosystem processes to manage coastal, harbor, and riverine integrity; and, 
  • Drive groundwater regime restoration to support new economic activity, healthier surface waters, and better chemical conditions in surface and ground waters. 

The Unexpected & Beyond

We retain a small portion of our portfolio to invest in opportunities beyond these core priorities — new ideas and new strategies, including new types of funding. 

We’re interested in any opportunity for transformational solutions to basin problems. That openness has been a hallmark of the Fund and always will be. Please reach out if you have any questions or to discuss your ideas.