Connecting Youth for Nature: Experiences from the Global Youth Summit

IUCN Global Youth Summit

Akash Patil of India spoke of his first encounter with a leopard and his subsequent commitment to a career in conservation. Nayla Azmi told a story of growing up in an Indonesian palm oil plantation and her journey to become an orangutan protector. Sarah Kulis, a recent graduate from West Virginia University, and legally blind, encouraged other aspiring conservationists with disabilities to persevere. These were three of the young storytellers who shared their experiences in conservation at the Center’s workshop at the recent IUCN Global Youth Summit.

On April 12th and 13th, 2021, staff from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation hosted a two-part workshop for early-career conservationists as part of the IUCN’s first ever Global Youth Summit. The workshop, titled “I am a Connector: Spanning Generations and Landscapes with Storytelling,” was one of several dozen events held over the two-week summit (April 5-16). The Global Youth Summit, originally planned as a shoulder event to the now-postponed IUCN World Conservation Congress, was expanded and reimagined in response to the pandemic. Entirely virtual and free to attend, the Summit drew over 10,000 participants from around the world.

“I am a Connector” opened with its first session centered on the power of storytelling to share experiences and inspire conservation actions. Speakers from across the globe gathered to share their own stories and experiences in the conservation field. During the online session, storytellers from 13 countries spoke of overcoming challenges and achieving successes.

Many of the storytellers emphasized the importance of engaging local communities as drivers of conservation. As Anthony Ochieng (TonyWild) of Kenya put it, “You can’t tell a conservation story without including the people.” Though every story was uniquely its own, a common thread was the importance of communication and collaboration. Curtis Bennett, the Director of Equity and Community Engagement at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, noted that, “mentorship is leadership, and it’s a two-way street!” Everyone—whether a conservation professional or personal advocate for nature—has their own story and the ability to inspire others.

Andrea Morales Rivas of El Salvador, one of the Storytellers in Session #1, talked about her work in wildlife conservation

Day two of the workshop built on several common themes in the storytelling session, especially the power of connectivity in conservation. Participants were invited to begin this interactive session by designing a “radically human introduction,” presenting a holistic image of themselves and considering the ways that their roots (family, friends, past challenges, and experiences) intersect with their formal affiliations (academic or professional, for example). The session then transitioned to a network-building exercise, where participants used the digital drawing features in Zoom to build a network map identifying their connections to each other.

Through deeply reflective introductions and the subsequent social network mapping, participants were able to highlight the diverse connections that bind us all. For many, this process sparked the realization that all around the world conservationists are facing similar issues. Regardless of geographic or experiential differences, many of us hold similar values and aspirations.

The Network Map created during the network-building exercise at the Global Youth Summit

Moving forward, the Center looks to continue supporting youth involvement in conservation. Through the Secretariat of the IUCN WCPA Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group, our staff works to promote connections and networks for advancing conservation work. We unite two kinds of connectivity: human networks and ecological connectivity, “the unimpeded movement of species and flow of natural processes that sustains life on Earth.” Convinced that all of conservation is somehow related to ecological processes and flows, and that young conservationists have the power to advance this work and inform future policy, we will soon be launching a Youth Network for Connectivity Conservation. If you are interested in joining, please consider filling out this form and we will be in touch to follow up. 

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