Daring to dream in a great big world

It’s not always as it seems: My participation in the GLF Youth in Landscapes Initiative


The other day, scrolling through my timeline on Instagram I came across a picture that showed two carrot plants.  One with its tuber (the carrot) deeply rooted into the ground but no leaves showing above the soil and another with its leaves richly blossoming in the sunlight above the soil whilst there’s barely any roots in the soil.  The meme read: success is not always what you see.

This makes me think back of my experience in Paris between 1st and 7th December where together with 49 other youth, we worked on solving five landscape challenges at the Global Landscapes Forum Youth in Landscapes Initiative.  Many who may see the photos and watch the videos from the sessions we had may easily be deceived just like those who see the carrot leaves richly above the soil.

It should be known that as much as a lot is seen on the surface, it took a whole lot to get to the point of telling our stories at the GLF Youth Initiative like we have; it look a lot of efforts and merely looking at the surface does not tell much of the story beneath it all.  My experience at the GLF Youth in Landscapes has been one other eye-opener; into learning that success isn’t always only what we see, but what its main foundation has been.

Getting around Paris

A few months ago, someone told me of one unmentioned rule regarding visiting new places:  Never disclose to others if you ever get lost, especially in Europe! I might have missed this rule as such, after getting lost on the Metro on my first day in Paris I immediately disclosed this to some of my friends and laughed it off in the process.

The joys of being a lady is that I also do not find it difficult to ask for directions therefore after arriving in Paris in the early hours of the 1st of December, I had to make it to the BeeoTop the venue for the youth leadership sessions by 9 am.  Getting through the Metro had its highs and lows, but to sum it all up, there was a lot of back and forth and for this reason, I spent about 45 minutes just to get my way through to the venue that was to be our space for the next 4 days.  Interesting enough this never happened again.  After the first two days, finding my way through Paris was easy.

Youth sessions at the BeeoTop

The Youth sessions were the birth of ideas.  From 1st to 4th December, we worked in our groups suggesting solutions to five landscape challenges: Education, Rights and Tenure, Finance and Trade, Landscape restoration and Measuring Success.
I was especially motivated by the input of the organizing committee, who were coming from different places in the world and had put in their time and resources to contribute and be part of this initiative.  I later learnt that this was all on their voluntary will; something that revealed the zeal and passion in each one of them.

The organising team members introducing themselves
The organizing team members introducing themselves

The flexibility of our facilitators in the sessions was motivating and inspiring and saved us all from any dull moment. Their willingness to always get feedback from us every day created an open, creative and flexible space for us to work together efficiently.   

Team Breakout session
Team Breakout session

We started with team building on the first day where we got to see much of Paris in just one hour.  These activities brought each one of us closer and the roles we took in the teams exposed to us the different skills in each one of the fellow youth. We continued to have the team building sessions every now and then even after the workshop hours and nobody was complaining. Infact, there was a lot of chocolate and candy treats that some of the participants had brought from back home and this made it easy to adjust and get to know more of each other as we worked in our teams. 

Other sessions included practical presentations on active listening and pitching of ideas which was essential as we were to apply these skills at the dragons den.

In the middle of an ice-breaker during the youth sessions
In the middle of an ice-breaker during the youth sessions

In brief, these are the challenges we were were addressing in our teams: Each group had mentors who are experts in the field and subjects we were addressing and they would be around the times we had allocated for our groups to discuss and develop our solutions to the challenges and in cases where some mentors were not able to make it to Paris for all the four days, a skype meeting was always arranged so they speak with and check progress that the youth teams were making.

My team, the Education team had to develop how we can create an educative platform that will equip specialists of different land use sectors to become landscape professionals through a self- assessment tool. 

The Measuring Success team worked on how we might take advantage of the latest technology to manage our water resources.

The Landscape Restoration team was to answer how we can generate and use data to drive better land restoration processes in shared river basins.
Rights and Tenure team was to answer how we can monitor REDD+ safeguards to respect local rights and promote local livelihoods.

And finally the Finance and Trade team looked at how we might increase equity and transparency between smallholder farmers and the companies for which they produce raw materials. 

There were times that we had to think as groups and there were times we had to think as individuals and bring out our ideas for the groups to reach a consensus.  In a team of about eight or nine young people, with different specialties, from different backgrounds, getting all ideas across was not a walk in the park.  There was a lot of back and forth in suggesting ideas and thoughts to reach a consensus; confusion with confused faces in some cases, but all this has made the story to be like it is.

It may have been easy for some to talk, while for others, speaking out in groups may be challenging. In such cases we would have a moderator for the discussions, just to make sure each member got an opportunity to speak and provided their thoughts.  

Four days in and less than 48 hours left to the dragons den pitching on Sunday, tensions were high.  This might have been because of the time left which at that time, seemed as if it wasn’t enough. But I was later revealed to the truth in one of the statements said on the last day of the youth sessions on the 4th: practice doesn’t make perfect but it makes better.  By continuously having the group pitchers practicing the pitches for the hours that were left, we did get better.

Sabina Dessartre Mendonça_ final blog

I was also inspired by the diversity of the teams that we were working in.  Some are students and wish to later work in the development field after graduation, while others are already working in the field.  I found it fascinating to see the enthusiasm that came especially from both groups of youth, at different levels. We had to see things differently through other people’s lens and merge all our thoughts because each group brought out a unique skill in developing our final solutions. 

The Dragons Den

I can honestly confess that as it was scheduled we were to have a dragons den where the groups will pitch their ideas, it was all more like a puzzle as I wondered whether it will be possible for us to pitch our ideas and to pull off a GLF version of the dragons den in the middle of Paris at Palais des Congrès despite other youth having done it before during the 2014 session.

But the dragons den will live to be one of the most memorable sessions of the youth at the GLF.

The teams had worked hard and practiced and each one of them was able to shine at the dragons den.

What was also inspiring was the huge interest and patronage that came from most of the other youth who attended the GLF.  
One youth from the audience approached a few of us after the pitching and asked how he may get involved and actually stressed that being only 19 as he is, he is still wondering if he may make the cut.  This was another source of motivation; knowing your efforts have motivated others and triggered a wish for them to also be involved in the initiative.  I believe he is just one of the many youth who after watching the way the teams presented their pitches, believe they also ought to be part of the initiative and play a role of working with 49 other youth to solve challenges we face in the landscapes.

On this note, it is easy to concur with one statement: as much as the world population is on the increase, it indeed does not mean we need to clear out our forests to access more cultivation land. If at all there is the willingness by more youth to be involved in such initiatives, the least that can be offered is the support and opportunity. 

Being announced as a winner for the most popular video prize also topped the memories of the dragons den session.  With 2, 989 votes, the prize is a leadership mentoring opportunity with Pamela Yieke of Africa Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).  This prize was all possible through the tremendous support from back home and through the other networks all over the world with whom the video was shared with and call for votes made.

Good bye Paris-What’s next?

On December 7th, we were invited to take part in a brainstorming session to map the way forward for the GLF. Not all of us were able to make it as other participants’ had to catch their flights earlier, but the few who were able to make it were enough for a good recap session of the whole 2015 initiative.  

During this session we had to dream: dream the GLF Youth in landscapes session, where it will be ten, fifty years down the line.  

We were to say out our dreams either through drama, music or poetry. 

One group even dramatized a landscapes Anonymous session of landscapes addicts.  I recall a confession by one landscapes addict who through a confession stated how her life is just one big landscape several years down the line.  This was to portray how as participants and as facilitators or organisers, we dreamt of this initiative having a huge impact on young people and career professionals’ lives such that by the end of it all, they all act, think and do landscapes!

Now that I am back home and settled into my normal work, together with the other participants we are definitely looking forward into further engagement in the GLF Youth in landscapes initiative for years to come. 

Some ideas are in and out.  Just tiny pieces that are to solve a huge puzzle.  But one can’t help but imagine if we can set up a Youth in Landscapes Initiative for the Africa Region.  Better yet, how about one for the Malawi Chapter?  I will continue to work in the agriculture sector of Malawi, but my vision goes beyond mere settlement into a job.  I now have a will to learn more of the landscapes; share and apply this to my existing work and to other professionals in my network.

By sharing and applying the knowledge gained from the GLF sessions, I believe we continue to build a better Malawi with a strong foundation in the fields working in the landscapes.  It is my hope that we scale up work of youth in Agriculture for the years to come which will respond to unemployment of youth in our communities. 

The Youth in Landscapes Initiative isn’t only as we see it. So much work and effort was put into it and there is more work from the solutions developed that the youth teams will be involved in further. But it is all proof of how so many pieces, ideas and efforts can come together and create one big success story for others to see.

Ellen Tamanda Chabvuta is one of the 10 young champions who worked on the “Education” Landscape challenge with Youth program’s partners: Landscapes for People, Food and Nature , Wageningen UR , EcoAgriculture Partners , World AgroForestry Center .

Learn more about the Global Landscapes Forum Youth program, meet our 50 youth champions, discover the 5 Landscapes challenges they took up and the solutions they developed and pitched at the Dragon’s Den on 6th December 2015, in Paris.