Thanks in part to your generous support*, this summer the Global Environments Network (GEN) hosted its sixth Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) at the University of Oxford and beautiful locales in the surrounding countryside. We delivered this year's GESA in collaboration with the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS).
GESA 2018 took place between 25 July and 12 August, bringing together twenty inspiring environmental changemakers from eighteen different countries, each with diverse and fascinating backgrounds. Through their time at GESA, we set out to provide them with new tools, skills, knowledge and a supportive network as they tackle some of the most challenging socioenvironmental issues of our age.
With a program comprised of three parts, participants were taken on a journey. We moved from deep personal inquiry and immersive nature connection, to learning how to build a communications campaign and hold courageous conversations, on into development of new projects and initiatives.
Here, through a collection of photos, we share elements of participants' journeys and stories.
1. The Opening Retreat
Image 1: The first part of this retreat was based on the transformative teachings of Joanna Macy’s The Work that Reconnects, a powerful set of tools for acknowledging one’s pain and sadness for the state of the earth, whilst simultaneously taking responsibility for one’s personal and collective agency for positive and socio-political and environmental change.
Image 2: The second part of the retreat involved Theatre of Transformation, a pioneering methodology of human development, education and training. Combining art with politics, participants learnt to weave poetry and theatre into their stories to bring vividly to life the challenges of global peace and security, and to activate diverse audiences around the world to become co-creators of positive change.
2. Oxford University Academy
Image 3: Whilst the Opening Retreat focused more on inner work and personal development, this 9-day intensive academy focused instead on critical evaluation. Participants delved deeply into key issues underpinning our current planetary crisis. Joined by resource people from multiple fields, this portion involved inspiriting plenaries, group discussions, practical workshops and trainings, field trips, and one-on-one mentoring sessions. Here, participants take part in the session ‘Spiritual Activism’.
Image 4: One practical workshop focused on video making. Following a foundational theoretical component on the technical and ethical basis of filmmaking, participants spent an enjoyable day putting their new skills into practice. They experimented with the equipment to conduct video interviews, and produced creative short videos in small groups, which were later screened at a movie night.
Image 5: Each morning began with a ‘creative prelude’ led by one of our brilliant participants. Here, Emma, trained in circus arts, gives the group a lesson in acrobatics.
Image 6: Replacing conventional coffee breaks were the much-loved and legendary ethnobotany breaks, which have been a feature of GESA since our first academy in 2011. Every day, each participant shared a slice of their culture and home country by bringing samples of food and/or beverage for everyone to taste. The tasting was preceded by a short introduction or story to provide context and history to the food being shared. Here, Elif invited us to sample some sweet delicacies she has helped a Cappadochian Turkish organization to brand and market.
3. Practical (closing) Retreat
Image 7: The final phase was designed to create a space for participants to put their learning into practice. With that in mind, external communications experts joined us for a one-day session on ‘How to build a communications campaign’, around issues participants are passionate about. Finally, two full days were dedicated to project presentations. Each participant, either individually or as a group, was given the opportunity to share their future project ideas and collaborations.
With our 6th GESA successfully completed, we are excited that another twenty alumni, plus new inspiring and dynamic resource people, will now join the Global Environments Network (GEN). They add to its diversity and power, as well as its capacity to catalyse transformative social and environmental change in the world. Thank you for your part in sustaining this network!
*NOTE: Many kind donors contributed via this project in July 2018 to our new GEN initiative to enable Amazonian Indigenous communities to address malaria. All your July donations were successfully directed to that specific initiative. Your generosity triggered significant matching donations of essential supplies and medications in Venezuela: thank you! We will shortly post an update at the project’s own dedicated GlobalGiving page.
With just under a month to go before the start of the 6th Global Environments Summer Academy, we are feeling the excitement build as plans fall into place. We have invited resource people from diverse backgrounds who will be bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to GESA this summer. Alastair shares with us his work around sacred activism, whilst Rama will guide us through the Theatre of Transformation. We will explore themes of gender, race and the environment, courageous conversations in the workplace and much more. We have designed a programme that retains successful elements from previous academies, while introducing new innovative ones; including dialogues between eminent elders who have spent their lives balancing spiritual wellbeing with activism and advocacy for a better world, and exploring the sometimes controversial concept of rewilding, not only as a process of bringing ecosystems back to life, but also bringing humans and their societies back to life through a renewed connection with nature.
In this update, we would like to introduce our GESA 2018 participants. Through a diligent 2-stage application process that began at the start of the year and included a series of online interviews, we identified 22 finalists from over two hundred applications to invite to Oxford. It is an encouraging and exciting time. Encouraging, as we learn about the dedicated individuals working around the world who are focused on nurturing positive human-environment connections. Exciting, as we look forward to the gathering of these individuals, anticipating the depth and scope of discussions and connection that will arise through the sharing of ideas by participants who each bring a unique set of knowledge and experience.
It was a challenge to choose one person’s storybu here we introduce Sunshine, a student of Ethnobotany, Health & Wellness in New Orleans. Sunshine launched her education and research project—the Global Community Knowledge Project—in 2010, as a way to expand her knowledge to better serve the greater community. Through her project, she worked on small farms and with small, traditional and Indigenous communities to learn about sustainable and organic food production, post-harvest handling methods, natural food preservation, traditional culinary techniques and recipes, as well as using foods and plants as natural medicines.
In 2017, Sunshine began to merge her experience in the IT industry, culinary arts and sustainable agriculture into one venture in the form of a mobile app. AmnAya is a contemporary mobile solution that preserves traditional plant knowledge through recording sustainable growing techniques, recipes and folk usages as well as pairing each with existing western scientific studies on each plant, while working against biopiracy. Sunshine is currently developing her project findings through AmnAya and recently articulated eight points the app aims to address, including increasing accessibility of institutional knowledge to the general community, promoting community sovereignty and defeating biopiracy. Her plans are admirable, to say the least, and we look forward to welcoming her, and all the other GESA participants, on the 25th of July. And in case you are wondering, Sunshine is her real name!
We thank you for your support. Donations to this campaign supports the creation of these platforms: Global Environments Network’s summer academies, regional academies and community exchanges. Please consider making another donation to support GESA 2018, where participants like Sunshine, Rickie, Godelive and Maria will meet in an interactive setting that promotes shared learning, connection and multidisciplinary reflection.
A bit about Rickie, Godelive and Maria:
Rickie explores the ways in which the environmental justice and Black Lives Matter movements are part of the same struggle: a struggle against environmental racism, police brutality and above all, the violence of economic oppression.
With five years in the conservation sector, Godelive aims to create a positive change in her community by integrating biodiversity conservation, community health and livelihoods, agriculture, entrepreneurship and sustainable development.
With a background in Political Science and Economics, and Global Change Ecology, Maria, from Colombia, focuses on the pressing challenges of urban sustainability. In the photo below, Maria speaks at the Urban Nature book launch.
Nessie Reid, a GESA 2013 alumna, shares her thoughts on the transformational impact of the academy:
When I applied for the Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) in the spring of 2013, I was at a crossroads in my professional life. I was seeking direction and mentorship in the field I was most passionate about: protecting and conserving biological and cultural diversity. In 2010, after graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), I was fortunate enough to work for the ICCA Consortium: a non-profit NGO seeking to promote and provide appropriate recognition and support to Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs for short). It is here where the seeds of my interest in food security and food sovereignty were planted, but it was only when I attended GESA was I able to recognise that it was this direction I wanted to go in.
During the three years of working for the consortium, I carried out field research and organised events in Japan, India, the Philippines, Italy and lived in Indonesia for eighteen months where I worked as Project Coordinator for an ICCA ‘high threat’ documentation series. My fieldwork led me to West Kalimantan where I witnessed a Dayak Limbai Indigenous community protecting, managing and conserving their ‘Bukit Bunyau’ ICCA using generation-old customary intuitions and natural resource management practices. The experience irrefutably affirmed my belief that areas where local communities are able to independently govern and manage their natural environments (i.e. ICCAs) – with full access and control over their food production – biological and cultural diversity is far higher, compared to areas with externally enforced conservation management systems. Whilst documenting the work of a community radio network and organic seed bank cooperative during my time in India, I learnt of the rewards that small scale, community-led projects can reap. Similarly, when co-facilitating a community-made Photo Story in the Philippines, I witnessed a formidable spirit of resilience and innovation as this community fought to defend their ancestral homeland from encroaching mining companies.
I brought all these ideas and learnings to GESA and it was during the three-week period – with peer-to-peer learning, coupled with mentoring from GESA resource people and Global Diversity Foundation staff – that I was able to discuss, brain-storm and envision how to most effectively put my plans for ecological and social justice into practice. Up until this point, since leaving university, I had ploughed on with my career, never really giving myself enough time or freedom to stop and scrutinise if I was really affecting change. Despite people’s best intentions for ‘saving the planet’, within the NGO, activism and environmental movement, burn-out is a common manifestation and I believe we lose many great people within the movement due to it. GESA allowed me the breathing-room to stop and really consider what felt meaningful and alive to me, rather than just ticking the “right” boxes.
After GESA, I returned to the UK and became co-director for This is Rubbish: a food waste Community Interest Company which raises awareness about the preventable scale of food waste in the UK through policy research, community and arts led public events. In November 2014, I became Rural Artist in Residence for Cape Farewell where I created the on-going The Milking Parlour: an artistic inquiry exploring and opening up questions about the future and current situation of our food and farming system. Since receiving the residency, I moved to an organic family-run farm in South West Wales, from where I manage the Oxford Real Farming Conference: one of key organic and agroecological farming conferences in the UK, and Biodiversity – a Journal of Life on Earth.
My experience at GESA empowered me to pursue a meaningful and rewarding life of environmental change-making and more recently, environmental leadership and management. I was so inspired by GESA that I am now in fact the coordinator of both the academy and the Global Environments Network (GEN), which gathers alumni of summer academies and other events into a transformational leadership network. With other members of GEN, I am busy planning this year’s summer academy, which will take place 25 July – 11 August in the city of Oxford, UK, collaborating with the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science.
GESA brought much change and meaning to my life, providing me with a platform where I was able to speak of my experiences and begin to explore how to channel them into the next chapter of my life and work back in my own local community. If you want to read more about GESA 2018, click here. The deadline for application is 31st March, so you still have time to apply!
Plans for the 2nd Latin American Socio-Environmental Academy [Spanish title: 2ª Academia Latinoamericana de Liderazgo Socio-Ambiental/ALLSA] are well underway. Alumni of other Global Environments Network events are leading the planning, integrating their concerns and vision for change.
Scheduled for 30 June - 8 July 2018 in Guatemala, ALLSA 2018 will focus on the intersections between youth, climate change and migration in Central America, the Caribbean and North America.
Why climate change?
Several countries in Central America and the Caribbean region rank amongst the top ten in the world for long-term climate risk. As climate change worsens, this unique region of interwoven lives, economies, foodsheds and cultures will face ever-increasing challenges associated directly or indirectly with climate change: gendered and youth migration, cross-border violence, resource extraction-related conflicts, depopulation of rural areas, and loss of traditional knowledge bases, food security and sovereignty.
Ana Elia, Global Environments Summer Academy alumna, co-organiser of ALLSA 2015, and of the upcoming regional academy says, “This comes at a crucial time. According to UNICEF, in the coming years climate change will increasingly be the cause of large-scale migrations of people, led in most cases by youth who are more willing to take risks. Latin American and Caribbean youth leaders need to connect local and international networks to find adaptive solutions to the complex threads of challenges associated with climate change.
We believe there is a pressing need to create platforms open to youth from different disciplinary backgrounds to encourage… critical discussions on climate change. …We are designing the 2018 academy for committed, proven young emerging leaders to deepen and expand learnings, explore critical pedagogies, develop social networks, improve communication skills and strengthen leadership skills that advance practice and understanding for social and ecological resilience.” she continued.
The 2nd Latin American academy builds on important lessons we learned from the inaugural Latin American regional academy in Dominican Republic, alongside other regional and summer academies held over the years since 2011. For ALLSA 2018, academy alumni, under the auspices of the Global Environments Network, are partnering with Global Diversity Foundation and UNESCO Prize laureate SERES, a grassroots nonprofit working to cultivate and catalyse Central American youth leaders to build just and sustainable communities.
To read more about the 2nd Latin American Socio-Environmental Academy, click here
As we go by our daily lives, we might not always remember that seeds are at the very source of life on this planet, and essential for the survival of many beings who live on it. We also might not know that the future is uncertain for the diversity and integrity of the seeds that sustain us.
Luckily for us, there is a global community of people who are working together to protect and maintain our seeds. Through the Global Environments Network, and with the generous support of our GlobalGiving donors and other sponsors, we recently organised our first Europe-based Community Exchange (ECE) in Barcelona to gather individuals and organisations working on seeds – in all their guises – to share ideas, exchange lessons and build collaborative relationships. We are excited to share the results of our discussions and proposed pathways to a common vision.
What challenges do our seeds face?
On the one hand, contemporary food production and consumption economies have led to a dramatic reduction in the diversity of crops sold, and by proxy, in crops grown. This has led to the continued loss of many local and traditional varieties, which not only represents the loss of an incredible wealth of knowledge and biocultural diversity, but perhaps more urgently, it represents the loss of traits that may allow us to adapt our agricultural practice to diverse and changing conditions, including those resulting from climate change. On the other hand, contemporary agribusiness models, sustained by national and regional policies, are concentrating and privatising control over the seeds we need for our survival in the hands of a few corporations.
How did our workshop help to advance collaborations to address those challenges?
The European community of seed professionals works at the frontline of policy and practice to ensure that we don’t lose access to – and ultimately our control over – our crop and food biodiversity. They are working to conserve the seeds of our incredible existing agrobiodiversity in local and regional seed banks, to increase seed diversity through organic breeding, to guarantee our control over our seeds through innovative measures that ensure they cannot be privatised or patented, and to ensure the integrity of our seeds in the face of genetic engineering.
The ECE eschewed formal presentations in favour of active, participatory methods for mutual learning and joint reflection. We visited innovative farming and academic initiatives around Barcelona that conserve seeds, enhance agrobiodiversity and provide healthy organic produce for the city. We worked together on developing a collective “Pathways to a common vision”, which proposes to bring together the great diversity of practice in the European seed ‘movement’ and identify potential collaborations and future joint initiatives. Global Diversity Foundation committed to developing a pathway that supports emerging individuals and initiatives working on seeds to find and engage with experienced mentors within the movement, ensuring the ‘passing on’ of knowledge and wisdom for the next generation of seed protectors.
GEN Mediterranean Regional Coordinator and organiser of the event, Ugo said, “It was a pleasure to coordinate and participate in the first European Community Exchange on Seed Diversity and Sovereignty, which allowed a very diverse and motivated group of professionals and changemakers from all corners of Europe and beyond to exchange ideas, cross-pollinate initiatives and engage in formal and non-formal dialogue for collective action.”
Many of us left the workshop feeling inspired, connected and empowered to bring seeds back to the heart of our communities. Here they can be protected by us, and in turn provide us with the security we need to face our unpredictable futures.
[All photos by Inanc Tekguc]
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