GEN Interviews: Where is GEN, where are we going, and how should we get there?

Thursday September 15, 2016

by Angela Easby (Canada, GESA 2015 alumna)

Angela is the North American Regional Programme Coordinator for GDF, and lives on unceded Lekwungen and WSANEC territories on southern Vancouver Island. Angela is currently interested in exploring how networks can be strengthened and mobilized to support the well-being and self-determination of Indigenous communities across Turtle Island. Angela attended GESA in 2015 and holds a MA in Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria.

This spring, the GDF team met to discuss the ongoing expansion of the Global Environments Network. Many questions arose. How are members currently engaging with GEN? How could GEN be more accessible or relevant? What kinds of opportunities, platforms or events do members want to see? And what is GEN, actually? How does it function in members’ lives?

We knew that GEN members would have the answers to these questions. In April 2016, we began to conduct interviews with members with questions on the impact, relevance and accessibility of GEN. To date, we have conducted 7 interviews, which have proved invaluable for offering a glimpse into GEN members’ experiences in and visions for the network. Conducting these interviews has afforded us the privilege to hear about the projects and aspirations of many wonderful individuals working for positive change in their respective contexts.

 

Why now?

GEN is expanding rapidly. This is a season of many exciting developments including the soft launch of the InterNetwork (a platform for internal communication and collaboration) as well as plans for a North American Community Environmental Leadership Exchange (NACELE) in 2017, a European Community Exchange (ECE) in 2017, a Global Environments Regional Academy (GERA) in the Mediterranean in 2017, a Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) in 2018 and another GERA in Latin America in 2018. As we expand GEN and bring more inspiring environmental changemakers into the Network, we believe it is important to create a dialogue with GEN members to discuss where we are as a Network, hear where members think GEN should be headed and how we might get there. This is particularly salient for GEN, as our members are committed to solving problems that require increasingly interdisciplinary and creative responses.

We realise that GEN is an ambitious project. Maintaining networks through computer screens, across time zones and in the midst of many personal and professional commitments can be difficult. We are committed to finding creative ways to nurture a network of support and collaboration for environmental changemakers- and these interviews are one way to harvest creative strategies. We also know that organising collaborative projects and opportunities for transformative learning requires considerable time, resources and funding. For this reason, GDF is actively fundraising to continue to support GEN members’ collaborative projects via the Alumni Innovation Fund, as we have in the past. GEN interviews will be highly useful in this fundraising process as they will allow us to show potential funders the good work that their funds will facilitate. With this full agenda of events and fundraising, we are poised to use these interviews to co-create a flourishing, active and supportive Global Environments Network.

We want to take this opportunity to share some of what we have learned in this process!

 

What is GEN and why does it matter?

Initial interviews show that members currently see GEN primarily as a professional support network and a space for learning and discovery. As Aysen Eren (Turkey, GESA 2011) said: “GEN provided a gate into a world that was unknown to me… that environmental problems actually have a significant social aspect. So I was introduced to such a variety of subjects… and I was introduced to the people… that really changed the content and the direction of my research.”

Several people also reflected on the importance of skill-building opportunities at GEN events, including introduction to new and under-explored methodologies. Ana Elia Ramon Hidalgo (Spain, GESA 2014) explained: “[At ALLSA, Academia Latinoamericana de Liderazgo Socio-Ambiental] I learned about mapping in a way that accounts for socio-ecological interactions. I think that has been critical in shaping the way I’m going to be sharing my results with communities… Because I want to develop participatory workshops and I think there are a lot of methodologies that I was not thinking about that have become more clear. Also Indigenous methodologies, or different epistemologies that since then I have been way more curious about.”

tekguc_130730_196-rOthers discussed the GEN Facebook page, GEN Alumni Facebook group and email correspondence with other members as ways that learning continues, by receiving book or article recommendations, sharing work for revision, field research advice, relevant upcoming events or inspiration.

Gloria Kendi Borona (Kenya, GESA 2015) reflected on the GESA exercise of creating a TED-style talk, and its importance for her professional and academic growth. “That has really helped me. I got a lot of good feedback from the talk I did in Bern. I often use the link. And then I’ve carried on those skills that Gary Martin was teaching us in giving other talks… These days I’m very serious about what to say, how to say it, how to make the slides, how to make the story compelling, how to tie it together. No one in my life had ever taught me that.” Also from GESA 2015, Janelle Baker (Canada, GESA 2015) discussed the transformative power of a one-day participatory video workshop offered by Eda Elif Tibet (Turkey, GESA 2014), Inanc Tekguc (Cyprus, GESA 2011) and Ruth Krause (GEN resource person): “Since that day, in my work, I so often have people asking if I will film this or that and now I have the confidence- I know I can put together a decent video.”

Interviewees also discussed how GEN events generate inspiration that fuels projects. Priscilla Settee (NACELE 2015) explained “One thing that has happened post-event: I am putting together with a colleague of mine a book proposal on some of the topics that I spoke on, namely Indigenous food sovereignty. So I think in that respect [NACELE] kind of mobilized me forward- I met some amazing food sovereign people, like Nancy Turner (GDF US Board of Directors President), and we’ve stayed in touch a little bit and I’ve used her materials in my course outline so it was a great connection and it was an inspiration that in part led to me wanting to do a book. I mean I wanted to do a book before I met Nancy and that, but I think it propelled me forward in new ways.

Finally, a common thread running through all interviews was the use of GEN as a source of inspiration- not only for one’s work, but one’s life as well.

“In a general sense – just knowing that you’re part of a group or a global network of very inspiring people, surrounded by ideas for positive change and transformation, and to know that there are people actually doing their activities in their home countries – is inspiring. One of the questions is how being part of GEN has impacted my life… well, it brings me to terms with how I want to live. How I want to make a difference. It really inspired me to pursue that in everyday life, locally and on a larger scale through personal and professional activities which is what I hope for and long for. Being part of it [GEN] really gives me the motivation to explore my research questions more deeply, and at the same time maintain a broader perspective of things.”  Thiago Gomes, Brazil, GESA 2013

“I think it’s inspiring in the sense that when I was at GESA, I didn’t feel a sense of competition. I felt a sense of collaboration. That you can do things together and you don’t have to be so anxious. That’s the spirit or environment that was created. So in terms of pushing forward the things that I’m interested in, I feel like it’s worthwhile engaging in trying to change value systems… Because the challenges we have can be attributed to a breakdown in value systems. That people have stopped feeling or being human, and it’s about acquiring wealth or acquiring fame or other things. But when I was in that scenario I was thinking, life feels much better when you are working in this kind of environment. So I think it planted that seed of collectivism, or partnerships.”  Gloria Kendi Borona, Kenya, GESA 2015

 
What are some of the challenges?

Interviewees also helped identify some of the current challenges that GEN faces. Several people noted geographical distance as a barrier that prevents collaborations or participation in GEN events. As Janelle Baker explained, “If there were events close to home, events happening in Canada or in my areas of interest, I would definitely be interested in being involved in whatever way possible.” As a geographically diverse and experientially-oriented network, this question deserves careful attention and reflection: after a transformative learning experience, how can engagement be maintained across space?

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Others expressed the desire to participate in collaborative projects with other members in the future. Interviewees identified funding as a key determinant in the success of collaborative projects, underlining the challenges associated with obtaining institutional funding for highly interdisplinary projects within geographically diverse teams. This highlights the importance of replenishing the GEN Alumni Innovation Fund, which could provide GEN members with opportunities to realise creative collaborative projects that may not otherwise receive funding.

 

Where should GEN go?

The overwhelming response to this question is: more GEN events and networking activities! Gloria Kendi Borona says, “I was chatting with Ana Elia and she was telling me about the Latin American ALLSA, and I was talking with her about GESA when I came back… And we both think it’s really wonderful. Not to over-praise it, but to me it’s the best kind of training or capacity-building exercise that I’ve been involved in, and I’ve been involved in many. So the quality of the scholarship of the people who were attending, or the quality of work, all of those different things were really excellent. I think we should keep going!”

Specifically, GEN members expressed desire to see more GERAs, CELEs and a GESA reunion.The good news is we are organising a series of GEN events over the next few years, including:

  • NACELE 2017 in Sonora, Mexico. This 4-day event will provide a training, networking and discussion space for Indigenous community leaders in northwestern Mexico on the protection of biocultural landscapes in a context of climate change and threats to food and water sovereignty.
  • European Community Exchange (ECE) 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. This event will focus on seed diversity and sovereignty, meeting a need for more communication and collaboration across scales, linguistic divides and focus among European actors working on the issue. This event will launch a European-wide network working on all aspects of seed diversity conservation, advocacy and policy-making.
  • GERA Mediterranean 2017. This event will gather 25-30 emerging environmental changemakers, experts in the field of traditional resource management and community-based environmental leaders around the topic of Community-based resource use, management and conservation at the regional level in the Mediterranean. 
  • GESA 2018. Plans are currently underway for a 6th GESA to be held in Oxford, UK, hosted by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.

tekguc_gesa14_1407_180-rIn addition to these events, GEN members and the GDF team are also in conversation to actively explore the possibility of future Regional Academies in Guatemala, Peru, East Africa, South Asia and Central Asia. These events are made possible by the dedication, vision and imagination of GEN members, and the Network exists to help bring these visions to fruition. The GDF team is always open to having conversations with Network members with an event idea or a desire to collaborate – please be in touch!

Several people also asked about the possibility of an online platform to facilitate collaboration and discussion. The InterNetWork (as we call it) will indeed be a platform to respond to such needs, work on collaborative projects, discuss and debate key issues, co-organise events, share resources in a common library, organise online training events and assemblies and much more. Though it’s still work in progress, we will soon have a soft-launch with some members, with a view to ironing out imperfections and launching it to the wider Network by the end of 2016. Other member ideas include developing a GEN journal, releasing a collaborative book, holding regular webinars on key topical issues and having online discussions facilitated by resource people.

 

Moving forward

This is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with GEN members to guide and inform the growth of the Network. We are hoping to conduct a total of 15 interviews by the end of 2016, and will continue the process into 2017. GEN members may be contacted with an interview request from the GDF team. The request may also come from a fellow GEN member – as the Network has grown so rapidly, we are recruiting the help of willing interviewees who would like to conduct interviews as well. Alternatively, if GEN members would like to share their experiences or have any suggestions and would like to participate in an interview, don’t hesitate to be in contact! Send an email to angela@global-diversity.org. We would love to hear from you.

Interviews have also revealed that participants are actively engaged in wide range of exciting projects and initiatives that would surely be of interest to the broader Network. As such, the GDF team is also developing plans to profile interested GEN members in further depth following impact interviews. These profiles will provide details on members’ current activities, and will give members the opportunity to articulate their goals and the philosophies that drive their work. Keep an eye for these profiles in upcoming newsletters!

As always, the GDF team is grateful to be collaboration with such an inspiring network of individuals. As we keep the conversation going, we look forward to seeing where GEN members’ creative insights and suggestions might take us.

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