It was a privilege to be one of the 50 youth innovators who were selected to participate in the Youth in Landscapes Initiative of the Global Landscapes Forum that happened in Paris in December 2015. The innovators had to work on solutions for five landscapes related challenges Education, Rights and Tenure, Finance and Trade, Landscape restoration, Measuring Success and finally pitch the solutions to a dragon’s den.
The Landscape Restoration challenge team had ten members from four continents and varied backgrounds like software technology, farming, education, finance, innovators and more. My background is in software development and I recently became involved in agriculture. I was born and raised in Ethiopia so it was a special experience for me to be with peers from around the world in Paris.
It was challenging for our team to narrow the scope of the challenge down to manageable scale. For our team, me and Daan (a restoration guru from the Netherlands) were the two outliers who wanted the team to work on hardcore restoration efforts.
Daan and I have both worked with farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia and we were strong supporters of an approach that would result in change for farmers on the ground. We tried to convince everyone to concentrate on ground level restoration efforts and tools, rather than providing a framework for all other stakeholders to participate in, which was proposed and supported by the rest of the team with our mentor Alan. (Undeniably one of the best ideas that I heard in 2015)
I personally thought that while this was a great idea, for my country, Ethiopia, it would be difficult to see the results I would like to see: supporting farmers to restore degraded lands.The team understood that Daan and I knew the area well and our idea was based on our deep knowledge of facts and realities on the ground.
However, no matter how much emphasis we put on ground-level restoration, the team decided that the best solution would be to create a framework for all the stakeholders to come together and share their ideas, data and experience along with the communities. The rationale was that this solution would reach further than a ground-level solution. They were absolutely right, we were just afraid that it might take time, money and convincing of various stakeholders who were comfortable with the status quo.
After the group decided to focus on the framework, Daan joined the rest of the team to respect the decision of the majority. However, I stubbornly stuck to my point. This also affected our first mock Dragon’s Den. My teammate Marie and I were supposed to present the first draft of our framework solution. I, however, let my personal focus on ground-level restoration become part of the pitch that was supposed to represent the team solution. In doing so, I undermined the great effort made by Marie and the team. Daan, Noor and Estafania presented our solution successfully at the real dragon’s den and made the rest of the team proud.
Our mentors were Alan Nicol and Abby Waldorf from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Alan was a well-informed and experienced person. He is that guy who knows more about your country than you do and you find yourself arguing with him just to prove to yourself that you know more, but end up accepting the harsh fact that you don’t. Yes that’s him! In the middle of a brainstorming session, when we would be stuck on some new idea, we would wish for Alan to say something because we knew that he would have a better perspective on the issues. But he would make us wait a bit more before he said anything (just to torture us). In the end, he would always start with saying “you know what guys, I don’t want to put ideas in your head but…”;we all knew that he would end up doing just that! Alan, the friendly, mature, thoughtful and extremely cool guy, was the perfect mentor.
Abby was a soft-spoken and brilliant young consultant with experience in inspiring and pitching. She had impressive presentation skills. She made great effort to prepare our team for the Dragon’s Den and managed to do so successfully. She not only mentored our team, but also helped all the five teams for their preparation for the Dragon’s Den. Her training on pitching didn’t end at the workshop but rather continued to the conference by pushing us to pitch our team’s and personal projects to individuals that she thought were relevant and threw inspiring and admiring words around so we would jump on to the next kill. It was a always funny to see Abby pretend to have a mic in her hands after someone took it away from her; even funnier was to see her reaction when she found out that she doing it again and again.
Because I was not a presenter at the final dragon’s den, it gave me a little breather to move around and participate on different forums at different venues. I met investors and funders who I thought were in need of my software solutions and farmhouse projects. It was breathtaking to talk about my projects and to hear panelists saying, “we are looking just for your kind of projects, my name is….”. I also met other technology providers and researchers from different academic institutes, NGOs and private sectors. To put simply, I found a software development outsourcing job from an academic research center, I met a drone project that has functionality similar to my drone project for GIS data collection and agricultural aid; we exchanged information that was very critical to me and I am also in the process of visiting their center for further cooperation. I met two Ethiopian ministers (Agriculture and Environment) and discussed the current status and the future of private sector involvement in landscape restoration efforts in Ethiopia. I found agronomists, farmers, investors and technology providers who are willing to work with a software company and integrated agro-forestry farmhouse.
Just when I thought the adventure was over and it was time to unwind for some cocktail with friends, there was more in store! Claudio, one of my heroes and a team mate, pointed out to me two key individuals from Costa Rica—the Minister of Agriculture and the head of CATIE (a well known Research Institute that does miracles in Costa Rica). I think it suffices to say that we interrupted the minister and the director for a bit and I ended up being invited for an experience-sharing visit to the beautiful Costa Rica.
The most amazing thing that I noticed throughout the workshop and the conference was that I got to meet many female members of the GLF’s Youth Initiative, who are fit to be the future leaders of their respective countries, continents and even worldwide institutions. This includes the organizers (almost all female gang), which made miracles to set up a workshop and gather 50 youth innovators from all over the world. From the participants, Prakriti, from India, is a passionate researcher, orator with sense of humor, smooth influencer and is willing to help people out without getting tired. It was great getting lost in Paris with you! Salina, family from Eritrea—an inspiring person who concluded the conference. You clearly and passionately reminded the older generation to consider how critical it is to involve the youth for the future of our world affairs. You made it so concrete; it was amazing to see high level officials changing their prepared speech and focus on the idea you raised. Thank you. If you are running the show of our continent, Africa, then I will finally have that sweet good night sleep that I have always dreamt of, we all will. Don’t stop. Some people are born with a quality that makes their life an obligation. We need you.
The Youth in Landscapes Initiative was a place where I met innovators, farmers, educators, lawyers, financers, lobbyists, technology specialists, politicians and hardcore environmentalists. It was a historical gathering of the thoughtful heroes of our generation. All for one agenda and one goal— a better world with a better environment for the generations to come.
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.