What if we changed the scales and enabled the youth to lead and innovate?

By Sboniso Phakathi, Programme Manager: Rural Initiatives for a Sustainable Environment (RISE)

A bit like what we see in the tech industry (forgoing the low ethical considerations, which in part, is a symptom of a lack of representation or diversity in design). Youth and community-led conservation is where I believe the future of conservation is. The youth should lead with all their energy and enthusiasm, supported by experienced and knowledgeable elders around the world. Two key stakeholder groups within the youth are women and persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, both these groups continue to be marginalized from the political and social spheres because of; gender and other stereotypes, a lack of access, and socio-economic structural barriers. These are key issues to engage with if we are to ensure meaningful and holistic participation of youth.

The challenges facing our local landscape, country, and world at large require ALL of us collectively, especially the current leaders, to take action, make radical changes to policy, legislation, and practice, as well as review the global and local ethics driving the economy, development, and politics. This needs to change now.

Through the projects that the College’s Rural Initiatives for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) unit has worked on, the contributions of youth voices have always brought with them fresh ideas and enthusiasm. They also demonstrate a willingness to learn. The youth are a powerful force for change and can help shape the future of conservation. Processes that enable the youth to construct their own future, supported by the government and relevant actors, can help young people create and implement strategies and policies to address many issues including environmental and conservation issues.

With access to a vast array of digital tools, the youth are best positioned to create a positive culture around conservation and mobilize support to ensure regeneration and sustainability. These tools can help to ensure that conservation efforts are seen as desirable, fashionable, and trendy rather than boring or a chore. In practice, some of these actions can be achieved through profiling, supporting and scaling inspiring youth-led conservation-compatible business initiatives using block chain to support sustainability, creating ecosystem market places, volunteering or internship in their local communities and joining conservation organizations.

At this point, it is important to note that there are indeed various local and international structures and fora, which make provision for the participation of youth such as the:  People and Parks Youth, United Nations forums, South African Youth Biodiversity Networks, the International Youth Forum, the World Heritage Youth Forum, and CITES youth conservation forums, to name a few.  Part of the challenge moving forward is reaching those young people who do not form part of these organized collectives, and engaging them with the view of scaling the potential for ongoing, holistic and responsible environmental and conservation action.

A key myth to dispel from our minds is that ‘the youth are apathetic about everything’, what we all need to focus on is making the world a less complicated place to be in, a fair place with equitable access to making something of one’s life and inviting of positive contributions to society. Happy people, whose needs are met, and whose future seems full of opportunity, have the desire to participate in and invest in a society they will inevitably inherit. We see this in the youth of the global North whose voices are heard in many corners of the globe.

In conclusion, the future of youth in conservation is full of possibilities, but it is also tied to:

  • How we look after people’s needs to enable self-efficacy
  • Providing resources and activating unorganised youth collectives
  • Enabling young people to lead in decision making
  • Supporting local action for relevance
  • Valuing Indigenous and Local Knowledge
  • Stimulating Community-led conservation

Coaching Conservation

Coaching Conservation is a wildlife conservation initiative with its core mission to Inspire Kids to Care and to be more empathetic towards wildlife and the struggles they face.