Amidst the novel pandemic, young leaders have continued to rise exponentially by actively engaging their communities and even organizing thought-provoking webinars around nature-based solutions to the current crisis.
Hope abounds as among our 1.3billion Africans, the 226 million #youngvoices are loud and clearly in formation as the first line of protection. Behold, the young African conservationists to watch.
Simangele Msweli is one of the well-known names in the conservation field especially when it comes to policy and the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) processes. As a conservationist holding an MSc in Biological Sciences from the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, she has a vast experience in research and is a registered scientist with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions.
She wears many hats in the conservation industry; a project coordinator of the Oceans Alive Project at Wild Oceans and a steering committee member of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, a youth constituency in the CBD. She is also the founder and coordinator of a registered non-profit organisation in South Africa and is working closely with other Civil Society Organizations to run a two-month campaign starting in July 2020 convened by the African Wildlife Foundation.
“The campaign is aimed at educating Africans about zoonotic diseases, their effects in the region and what policies or measures can be taken to minimize the effect of future outbreaks or avoid future pandemics. This project is unique in the sense that it is not owned by one organization, but currently has over 70 organizations involved. We have an opportunity to advocate for more sustainable policies, especially with the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework expected to be adopted soon,” Simangele reiterates.
Founder of Youth for Future Africa and Rise Up Movement, Vanessa Nakate inspired the climate justice movement in her country. For months she was a lone activist at the parliament gates to draw attention to the Congo rainforest. However, this all changed after delivering inspirational speeches at the World Economics Forum held in Davos, the UNFCCC CoP25 in Paris among other global platforms.
Nyawira Gitaka is another passionate youth leader who has made immense progress in environmental communication and education especially targeting children within rural communities in Kenya. For the past 5 years, she has been actively involved in various programs and initiatives that elevate the African youth leaders. When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Nyawira was in the process of planning activities leading up to Earth Day. She, like many others had to shift tact and hold online campaigns and webinars to sensitize the public.
“The shift to online campaigns was swift and the uptake was great. This was due to the fact that most activities were led by youth who have the energy to easily adapt to change. As we brace for the new normal, we need to appreciate that these online campaigns and webinars have led to more cross-border engagements than would have been possible compared to on-the-ground activities.” Nyawira emphasizes.
In Uganda, Derrick Mugisha continues to work on a nationwide campaign aimed at mobilizing the Youth to participate in the Post 2020 Biodiversity Framework. As a build up to his Earth Day campaigns, he continues to get closer to his 2020 target; reaching 1 million young people to share ideas, practices and innovations to influence national, regional and international Policy. This year, prior to the pandemic, Derrick worked closely with the African Wildlife Foundation to mobilize young leaders and build their knowledge around the Post 2020 Biodiversity Framework.
“The youth will need to triple their efforts to demand Policy Reforms from our governments. The fact that we were working tirelessly before the pandemic and still continue with the same if not more vigor, speaks volumes on how hungry we are for change. We continue to emphasize that world leaders need to focus on conservation of natural resources to achieve sustainable development.” Derrick says.
Through his Green City Challenge (#QuartierVertChallenge) project. Abdou Touré is recovering and reusing plastic, wood and used water from his family’s activities to do micro gardening in Dakar, Senegal. He composts and uses organic waste to grow aromatic plants and vegetables. He continues to develop and share tutorials via social media, with a majority visiting to learn and practice his new innovative projects.
Additionally, he started growing tree seedlings that he distributes to city dwellers who have reported a great impact after embracing his idea; trees do not only belong in rural areas. Abdou is also the Coordinator of the Senegal Climate Camp, a local climate watch and community warning group that monitors and informs the public on climate trends advising them on the best practices to avoid further damages.
Luca Berardi, is the CEO of Young Animal Rescue Heroes (YARH), an organisation that was initially founded with an environmental conservation agenda, and later expanded its portfolio to encompass sustainable waste management and community outreach. The organisation’s aim is to “create awareness for endangered wildlife and environmental conservation”. He has visited numerous schools and given speeches on conservation in the lead up to his WWF Kenya award as the Young Environmental Hero of the Year award in 2018 for his work with YARH.
Berardi is also a musician, motivational speaker and student. He has motivated corporates to change their business models and contribute towards a sustainable future. Notably, he developed a model for the Chandaria Foundation whereby his organization collects tetra packs, milk and juice cartons and sells the waste to the industry. The payments are made per kilo, and the proceeds go to Kenya Wildlife Service. Berardi is truly one to watch and exemplify.
Since April 2017, Mary Wachira has been running her Brown Olives project in Nyandarua County, Central Kenya. She promotes the planting of indigenous tree species, which have proven to coexist well with crops; targeting farmers who cut down trees and clear bushes for cultivation. She offers them the option of planting the Olive tree alongside their crops, which also benefits the crops by adding more nutrients to the soil from its rich humus and its twigs acting as fodder for livestock. From her Olea seed beds, she donates seedlings to the community and institutions as she educates them on the importance of planting trees and protecting the environment.
The major objective of the project is to promote harmony between the biodiversity and community and ultimately contributing to increase the indigenous forest cover as a way of curbing climate change and mitigating the effects of global warming.
Do you know a budding African conservationist? Drop their story in the comment section and let’s join the ranks and speak African into conservation
About the authors:
Rose Thuo is the Head of Communications and Marketing, WWF International, Eileen Kairu is the Communications Officer at the African Wildlife Foundation, and Nelson Opany is the Manager, Communications and Partnerships at the World Organization of the Scout Movement, Africa Region.