As I arrived at the Youth in Landscapes workshop, I was feeling excited but also anxious. The 50 youth innovators would be divided into five teams, each working on a real-world landscape challenge, and I was in the Finance and Trade team. How could we, 10 young professionals from across the world who had never worked together, come up with a concrete solution to the huge challenge of increasing the equity between smallholder farmers and the companies that buy raw materials from them?
My worries were lessened when I met my teammates and learned about the rich and complementary experience we each brought. Two of us were farmers who were running or establishing their own sustainable farms, one established a NGO to help local communities develop sustainable livelihoods, and the rest had valuable experience in finance, business and policy across various areas such as climate change, agriculture, forestry and health.
Yet, because of the complexity of the challenge and our different backgrounds, we had disagreements right from the start. We could not agree on the definition of the problem to focus our solution search on. Despite the team agreement made on the first day, we were talking over one another, arguing whether something was a cause or consequence of a problem or a problem itself!
Realizing that the process was not working, on the next day we decided to practice active listening and took turns being the facilitator and note-taker to ensure focused and fruitful discussion. This helped us realize that a lot of times we were arguing over semantics and actually shared common viewpoints.
From there we were able to agree on a broad definition of the problem to maximize the range of solutions we could devise. After considering various options, we then came to the agreement that peer-to-peer learning is a founding block to build capacity and trust among smallholders, which would then increase their collective bargaining power.
The intense discussion during the workshop and after hours, plus numerous messages on Whatsapp finally paid off as we delivered a successful pitch of a smallholders’ exchange program at the Dragon’s Den. Even though our idea still needed further development to become a real initiative, I was extremely proud of the hard work and collaboration of our team.
Through the discussion I learned a tremendous amount from my teammates about the challenges facing smallholders and current efforts to address them. Things that I had read from the literature sprang into life through the experiences of my teammates who were living and breathing these challenges.
At the same time, I was glad that my understanding of finance and sustainable supply chain issues proved useful to the discussion. The process also taught me valuable lessons on team building and conflict resolution.
In addition to working with my teammates, it was an incredible experience meeting youth innovators from other challenge groups who were all doing amazing work for people and nature in their own communities or at a regional and global level. The workshop also helped me improve important skills such as pitching and networking.
Furthermore, I got to learn the latest thinking and actions on landscape issues from experts at the Global Landscapes Forum. Last but not least, I was lucky to be matched with a mentor who gave me fantastic advice and offered to help get me involved in the work areas of my interests.
Leaving the Youth in Landscapes initiative, I felt more inspired than ever knowing that I am not alone in this challenging journey to build a more just and sustainable world. The friendships and connections I made at the workshop will last for years to come. I am excited to keep in touch with my fellow youth leaders and contribute to the expansion and strengthening of this important youth network.
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.