The Stepping Up to Environmental Leadership course funded by the DG Murray Trust was hosted by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and took place between June and July 2013. As one of the participants I wanted to share our transformative and influential experience.
The group was selected based on personal submissions in response to questions of sustainability and environmental protection. The group met three times a month and participated in various team leadership building activities focusing on personal growth as well as practical skills development.
The course was facilitated by Patrick Dowling and Stephen Davis, who offered full time support and mentorship in this Cape Town based project.
The diverse group of participants included youths with varying backgrounds and experiences which resulted in a veritable cooking pot of sometimes popular and sometimes disparate ideas, perspectives and opinions, allowing the group to open up to productive and stimulating discussion. To enable leaders to make important decisions, participants were primed to listen and communicate effectively. In so doing, participants are now able to listen and negotiate towards a produce a fair and informed common agenda.
Each participant also had to design and implement their own sustainability project. The group was given the freedom to choose their own aims and outcomes for the project. This challenged the leaders to engage with and solve practical problems related to, among others; water, energy or waste concerns. Leaders were thus encouraged to find everyday solutions for common problems affecting our shared environment.
Individual aims for the various projects ranged from; dealing with urban food security through community gardening, sale and promulgation of “heirloom” seeds to promoting small-scale household recycling. Others also included green urban networking forums and management of corporate fashion industry waste. The projects allowed each participant to focus on a core concern that they felt was within their reach to realize and implement.
The group participated in various site visits that focused on issues of urban as well as rural sustainability. Sites visited include going to places and organisations such as Soil4Life, Oasis Recycling, Mandala gardens at Lwandle Primary, the Koeberg Power Station and the Coastal Park Landfill. Other onsite visits included lessons in practical plumbing, worm farm building and solar panel unit construction.
These skills will not only enable the group to assist the community at large but also to practically make use of this knowledge at home. This practical know-how has emphasised the importance of starting with grass roots development and leading by example in accessible settings. The realisation that change starts with the individual and thrives through the sharing of knowledge, practical insight and experience has proved paramount in developing successful and forward thinking leaders.
The course provided the tools and space for active participation to be able to engage with and explore new opportunities for environmental education and social innovation. By facilitating workshops with another environmental youth group, the leaders were able to appreciate that the process of learning is an infinite progression of commitment and adaptability.
The group formed a special bond and covered great practical and personal ground. It was a truly invaluable experience and the group would like to take this chance to thank the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and the DG Murray Trust for providing them with such a fantastic opportunity that has been instrumental in our personal growth as today’s leaders.
By Justine McCarthy