First, and foremost, my time at the Youth in Landscapes Initiative was inspiring, to say the least. With 50 youth innovators from every corner of the globe there was a truly refreshing openness, energy and desire to learn – the extent of which I have never experienced before. As someone who came in with a development background, but very little knowledge of the landscapes approach, this immediate atmosphere of curiosity and universal acceptance made it easy to join the conversation, to learn, and to make meaningful contributions of my own throughout the week.
In contrast, the conference itself was less than inspiring. As much as many of us in the professional sphere shy away from being labeled as “youth”, this week truly taught me that being youth is one of our best assets. The vibrancy, spirit and passion I felt during the YIL Initiative seemed to disappear within a sea of business suits and sport coats. There was diversity, but it felt segregated. The lectures were general, overarching discussions of issues that everyone at the conference, by way of their presence, recognized and agreed with. The theme of the Forum was ‘smallholders’, yet not a single smallholder farmer had been invited to speak. The only smallholders I met were fellow Youth Innovators – and it was from them, not international ‘experts’ that I learned the most.
We may not have had relevant data and peer reviewed research at our fingertips, but we had experience. And through these experiences, as varied as they might have been through time and space, we reached consensus. It was incredible to experience such ease of communication and agreement between such different parties as a smallholder from Kenya, a farmer from Canada, and an American student at LSE. What we lack as “youth” in formal, institutionalized experience, we make up for in our willingness and openness to new experiences, and to the experiences of others. It is this passion and diversity and willingness to learn that make “youth” crucial participants in the conversation. So, in order to preserve our landscapes, we must first determine how to preserve our “youth”.
As a final note, I want to recognize the steering committee for their incredible efforts and my amazing team, all of whom are sure to be lifelong friends. This was a truly unforgettable experience, so thank you all.
Megan McDermott is one of the 10 young champions who worked on the “Finance and Trade” Landscape challenge with Youth program’s partner: Livelihoods Venture
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.