Fifty young people including myself were selected by the organizers of Global Landscape Forum to participate in the Youth in Landscapes Initiative Workshop and Global Landscapes Forum from the 1st – 7th of December, 2015.
My participation in these events was quite interesting as I was able to secure my visa into France a day before my scheduled flight. I had to hurriedly pack my bag, hand over my outstanding duties at my workplace and head straight to France. I was really excited at the opportunity of participating in these events and made a solemn promise to myself to give my best and have LOADS of fun.
On arrival in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, the city of love, I was informed by the staff of the airport that my bag which I unfortunately, made the mistake of checking in (because I could have easily carried it as hand luggage) didn’t come on the same flight with me. I thought this was no big deal and asked that they send my bag to the hostel in which I was staying. Alas, I got a shocker when I was told that they were unable to do that and that I had to go the next day to pick it up myself.
I was further disappointed, after my offer of paying for the cost of sending my bag to me was turned down. I was livid with anger and wanted to really shout at the attendant, unfortunately, he was extremely pleasant and I couldn’t do that. He took down my phone number and promised to do all within his power to locate my bag so that I could pick it up as soon as possible. This was no fun at all, I thought.
As I was trying to find my way out of the airport, I got a call from him telling me that my bag was in Orly Airport and that I have to go there to pick it up. I informed him that that was my first time in France and I had absolutely no idea where Orly airport was. So, here was I, with no idea of where exactly I was going, without internet on my phone or Google Maps to aid me, and with little knowledge of French trying to find Orly airport.
This was trip was fast turning into a nightmare. So, with my broken knowledge of French, I asked people around me how I could get to Orly airport. This I did almost effortlessly but the new challenge was now finding my way back to the hostel as I only had the directions from Charles de Gaulle airport and not Orly. That was where my survival instincts as a Nigerian kicked in. To cut the long story short, I eventually got to my hostel without a map, paper or electronic, and it definitely was NOT FUN.
The Next Day
After getting to the hostel, I went straight to bed after about 24 hours of no sleep and almost no food. The next day, I woke up, bright and early, leaving the bad experience of the previous day behind and hoping for a great day. I made a post in the Youth in Landscape 2015, a Facebook group page created by the innovative Sanjay Kafle, looking to meet other participants in the event.
Joseph Mwakima from Kenya who later turned to be my roommate responded and we set up a meeting in the reception area. I asked him if he had any plans for the day and he replied in the negative. So, I proposed my plan to him; to visit as many places as humanly possible within 24 hours. Utilizing the free transportation given by the French government for Paris COP 21, we set out.
We decided to capitalize on my experience of the previous day and ventured out without maps or directions. We relied mainly on human interactions, which was quite bold of us. We succeeded in visiting Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and Notre Dame before hunger and exhaustion grabbed the better part of us. Happily we returned to our hostel and this was definitely FUN.
New Friends; then Divide
The next day was the big day. It was the beginning of the event that brought 50 young people from various walks of life and various corners of the globe but with a common goal to Paris. A few of us that were in the same hostel met informally and the friendship was almost instantaneous. Everybody was friendly with each other. It was almost as if we had known each other for a while.
We helped each other out and supported each other, and then came this big divide; the teams. All the friends I had made in the previous few days were in different teams and so I had to make new friends. As soon as I met with my teammates, the first impression I got was that they all had strong personalities like me. This looks really bad I thought. Later in the day, I realized that I was wrong and they were wonderful people.
In retrospect, they wouldn’t have been selected as part of “the best fifty young people in landscapes in the world”, in fact, none of us would have been selected as part of the 50 if we all didn’t have such strong personalities.
The first group work we had to undertake as a team was trying to visit 5 listed monumental sites before the lunch break. My teammates and I decided not to settle for less. We decided that we were going to try to visit a minimum of four sites and our aim was to visit all 5. This as we ended up realizing was going to be really challenging.
We had to race against time and the other groups. We all naturally picked up tasks in our areas of strength and helped each other in our areas of weakness. I remember Alessia Portaccio reading the maps and Francisco d’Albertas and myself running the ahead of all others. We are all just one group of funny individuals. We ended up meeting with our minimum aim which made us the best team having beaten other teams in achieving the highest number of visits.
The challenges that was posed to us were all real challenges linked in the context of projects currently led by the partner organizers. I was in the team of Measuring Success Landscape Challenge and the partner organisations were United Nations Environment Programme and DHI. Our first challenge as a team was firstly understanding our challenge. Eventually, after some wobbling and hobbling, we overcame that.
Then came the challenge of finding a solution to our challenge. This was also a challenge as we all had different perspectives of solutions to the challenge based our unique experience and background. Eventually, we were all able to harmonize our ideas and we came out with a ground breaking innovative idea.
The problem statement that my team came up with was “Currently, there is a transition from the traditional education to the use of digital educational tools, aiming at a larger audience and diverse stakeholders. A number of these tools have already been developed and are being used in educational projects across the world, many of which are increasing awareness of people regarding the global issues that we face today. Despite this transition, there is still a lack of easy and accessible ways to properly measure the impact of these digital educational tools. How effective are they and how can these relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?”
Within the context of the challenge, my team proposed to develop a unique and innovative platform (online hub) that integrates information about different existing digital tools and projects (with an initial focus on water-management related projects). Also, this platform would correlate web-based parameters of users (e.g. gender, number of access to the online tools) to the sustainable development goals (e.g. education and water), starting with UNEP’s Aqua Republica online game.
The additionality that this platform will provide lies in three important pillars: 1) open-access, 2) transparency and 3) collaborative-editing. What we aimed is to develop an Information Centre that would provide real-time data about the impact of different digital educational tools that are being used worldwide and their progress in helping to achieve the SDGs.
The solution we proposed was then pitched to the Dragons Den. The Dragons Den consisted of a group of business, policy and science experts which included:
- Mia Signs, CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems
- Paula Caballero, Senior Director at the World Bank
- Steven Lawry, Director of governance research at the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
- Bernard Giraud, Danone’s Senior Sustainability Advisor and co-founder of the Livelihoods Fund
- Tui Shortland, Managing Director of Repo Consultancy – a collective of indigenous environmental managers
- Kemi Seesink, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of the Global Water Initiative
- Tint Lwin Thaung, Executive Director of The Centre for People and Forests (RECOFTC)
Consequently, I and two other colleagues were chosen to represent the team in presenting our solutions to the challenge of how to measure the impacts of digital learning tools.
My experience at the 2015 Paris Youth in Landscapes Initiative Workshop and Global Landscapes Forum was DEFINITELY FUN. It was a long week of intense activities and programmes. I enjoyed every bit of it. I tried in my own little way to contribute to almost everything I could contribute to. I made new lifelong friends with people as weird as me (passionate to the core).
Looool. Learnt a lot of new skills. Also, I can now proudly say that I contributed to a new Master’s Degree programme. My experience is what I would describe as a learning experience in an informal way. There are no words that can do justice to what I experienced within the week long event.
The only challenge I had in writing this blog post was finding the word to define the organizers. “Excellent” is an understatement. Michelle Kovacevic and her team are simply wonderful. The amount of support we all received from them was beyond our wildest imaginations. It is worthy to note that I still received support from them even after the event. My constant communication with the organizers is positively influencing my work.
My approach to work has been positively influenced by my participation in the Youth in Landscapes Initiative Workshop and Global Landscapes Forum. The networks I made from the events including the “Speed networking: scaling up landscape approaches” are valuable to my work. I now utilise a “landscape approach” in all my duties.
Also, as a result of my participation in Youth in Landscapes Initiative Workshop and Global Landscapes Forum, I have now become a Youth Advocate in my organisation. This was as a result of my interactions with Noor Nasir (who I believe is doing a wonderful task with her dissertation on youths) and my Nigerian sister, Marina Cherbonnier (who linked me up with the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) contacts in my region). This has led into the involvement of YPARD coordinators in some of our activities in the West and Central African Region and has positively contributed the projects I am working on.
Many thanks to all the sponsors of Global Landscape Forum who made my experience possible. There is no way I could have gathered all these experience, met all these wonderful people and developed all these vital networks if it wasn’t for their support. I can boldly say that the investments that the sponsors of GLF made in me were not wasted. I am now a champion of a combination of youth inclusion and landscape approach in my region.
Special appreciation goes to the programs and organisations that made my participation in these events possible: USAID/AfricaLead, West Africa team under the leadership of Carla Denizard, Regional Director, that has been supporting my career since 2015 through its Young Professional Capacity Building Program and Conseil Ouest et Centre Africain pour la Recherche et le Développement Agricoles/West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD), Dakar, Senegal under the leadership of Dr Paco Sereme (the acting Executive Director) and my supervisor, Dr Aboubakar NJOYA (Director of Research and Innovation) who released me from my duties to participate in these events.
Paul Laniran is one of the 10 young champions who will work on the “ Measuring success ” Landscape challenge with Youth program’s partner: UNEP-DHI.
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.