Dispatch from Sydney: The World Parks Congress


"Whose gonna stand up to the big machine?"

Stand up to fossil fuels.

End fracking now!

Who's gonna stand up and save the earth?”

This was the final refrain of the youth delegation at the World Parks Congress. It was sung in front of several thousand odd people, to by and large a strong ovation. Youth, primarily from northern/western countries, played somewhat of an outsized role at the Congress’ large plenary presentations, which supported the strong theme of IUCN in its organization of the Congress – the future is in the hands of the youth.

Point well taken.

Prior to the final singing, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times together with figures from National Geographic, Kenyan television, and a famous photographer discussed issues around uptake – what will it take for transformational change to save the planet to occur? The common denominator answer – a conveyed and uptaken sense of self-preservation. This was distinct from enjoying protected areas as zoos but rather, conservation of nature needs to happen for self preservational purposes. And to succeed in uptake, a good story must be told. Click here for a media review of the proceedings and commitments made under the “Promise of Sydney”, and here to see a glimpse of the Congress.

But back to the main events prior to the final ceremonies…

The question many of us were left with in Sydney was simple: could the brainpower and energy at this event possibly be transformed into an action plan for moving forward on the VERY broad array of people and parks issues addressed at the World Parks Congress?

Of course everyone in attendance wanted to be optimistic. Without starting by answering the question with a, "yes, but...," here are a number of issues I've culled from conversations and my own observations over the Congress. I'll try to offer them in some descending logical order:

1. Can there be transformational change from "The Promise of Sydney"?

Answer: I doubt it. To have transformational change in my view necessitates what was called here "a new social compact," also known as a social contract. Yet, oddly, I failed in participating in one single social compact session because apparently, only a small core group of self-selected people were discussing/negotiating over the new social compact. In my view this isn't a great way to do this kind of business; if you’re going to advertise that a new social compact is a major “stream” event, then it cannot be open to a select few. This seems to be a contradiction in terms. Multiple stakeholders need to be able to negotiate views by getting space at the table and ultimately, the right to participate in decision making for it to work. If we’re going to demand that for indigenous peoples and local communities in conservation, than at least delegates to the WPC should have a similar chance analogously as well.

Instead, we had an array of interesting sessions that inevitably became "siloed" and didn’t have any clear sense of integration. Nor was a pet peeve of mine that I repeatedly raised to a large degree of agreement – the need for feasibility and threshold metrics for measuring its establishment – a concern by and large at the proceedings.

Much was, as is often the case, aspirational. That said, there were in fact many sessions reporting back on projects which were informative and provocative at the scale they operated at. Particularly valuable was USAID’s panel on biodiversity projects, which featured the Cordillera Azul, Coral Triangle, and a group ranch implemented by the African Wildlife Foundation in Kenya. So too, was Chemonics’ own SAREP and RESILIM projects, along with the star of the show to me – the Namibia multi-stakeholder group of communities, government, and ecotourism companies who in essence have negotiated a social contract that is producing impressive measurable results in terms of increased wildlife numbers and enhanced livelihood security for communities. For me, this was the sole operationalization of a seemingly sustainable social compact I heard at the Congress.

 2. Is there anything innovative to come out of Sydney?

Yes, for sure there were reports on interesting technologies ranging from UMD’s Global Forest Watch to our own SAREP’s chili pepper spray to keep problem elephants at bay and out of farmers’ fields. There were umpteen reports on projects that are doing well. There was a newfound focus and energy on indigenous peoples’ rights and the centrality of communities in conservation in protected areas. So yes, on a tree level, lots of interesting innovations were shared with congress delegates. But in terms of new processes and a roadmap for moving forward – not much.

3. Did clear development trends emerge?

I believe that there are a number of development trends that—at least from the perspective of our environment and natural resource practice—clearly emerged from presentations at the Congress. So too, we made potential new relationships and strengthened existing ones. Here perhaps most constructively, a series of dialogues with the SAREP and RESILIM delegates has led us to agree to building a model for how the our practice group and SAREP/RESILIM can develop an ongoing dialogue and set of activities  to model interactions between the practice and projects in the field. Maybe this was the most meaningful part of the Congress from my perspective, as I really got to know my own colleagues in the field, including Steve Johnson, Kule Chitepo, and Steve Collins, as well as home-office Manager Ross Lowry.

4. What about the next World Parks Congress?

Fortunately, this only happens once every ten years! Without significant subsidies for the event, travel and means to sustain 4,000 people in an expensive destination like Sydney, many of us hope that the state of affairs ten years from now will be justified by good deeds coming out of Sydney. My sense is that these will need to be more in the form of bottom-up groundswell than any grand top-down plan that the organizers may hope to have emerge from this particular Congress. But to be clear – this particular congress is an event well worth attending, warts and all.

Michael Brown is a director in Chemonics’ environment and natural resources practice and serves as manager of the Restoring the Environment through Prosperity, Livelihoods And Conserving Ecosystems (REPLACE) IDIQ.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Big Data. Big Impact


Every year the annual SEEP conference provides economic development practitioners with opportunities to learn about and discuss innovations and successes from projects around the world. While the annual conference is always full of new ideas and trend-setting professionals, the 2014 conference stands out for bringing the idea of “big data” to development in a way that demonstrates how powerful it can be as part of our project management, planning, monitoring, and evaluation activities. The theme...

Read More »

The Importance of Global Health at APHA


In today’s interconnected world, global health is only as strong as the health care systems of the least developed countries among us. The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is an unfortunate reminder of what can happen when an outbreak of a disease with no known cure occurs in a country with an inadequate health system. What started out in a remote village in Guinea has quickly become a complex public health emergency in West Africa and infected health workers as far away as the United...

Posted in: Health
Read More »

Democracy and Governance: Measuring for Success


I once commented to a caseflow management trainer that caseflow management is “as much art as science.” He replied that it is actually “much more art” than science. My work on rule of law projects has led me to the same conclusion. Democracy and governance (D&G) programs are dynamic. Each program begins with a clear plan and well-defined objectives, then many competing interests and priorities emerge during implementation. D&G programs aim for positive changes in organizational...

Read More »

Collaboration Drives Women’s Economic Empowerment


September 22, Members Day of the annual 2014 SEEP Conference, marked the launch of the SEEP Network’s Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Working Group. Throughout my career with Chemonics, I have spent the majority of my time focusing on issues surrounding women’s access to capital, business development services and SME development, particularly in conflict zones such as Afghanistan. Often when I would return from trips to the field, I would reflect on a key takeaway—when women business owners...

Read More »

What We Are Reading: Eradicating Poverty


A commitment to doing better and more effective development goes hand in hand with a commitment to continual learning. In that spirit, we are launching a new blog post series, “What We Are Reading,” to share the books, academic papers, web tools, and other resources our technical experts have found useful in recent months. In honor of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which is Friday, October 17, we have chosen three books with very different takes on the causes and cures for...

Read More »

Resolving the Tension between Agricultural Growth and Nutrition


Below is an excerpt from an essay that appeared in the 2014 Frontiers in Development books, themed around ending extreme poverty. The essay, by Chemonics’ Neal Donahue and Ilisa Gertner, posits that there is often an underlying tension between the “seemingly complementary goals” of agricultural growth and increased production and consumption of nutritious food. Development programs must be designed to increase farmers’ incomes and the demand and supply of nutritious food.  When it comes to...

Read More »

It’s Not the News, It’s You


If you follow media reporting on women in Afghanistan — I do, but only in English — you probably experience a flood of violent emotions. Shock and revulsion at the seemingly endless string of brutal domestic and public attacks against women and girls. Fury that the police and courts often do nothing, or even protect the attackers. Disgust at the government’s capitulation to conservatives who want to roll back legal protections for women. Indignation that women are still a tiny minority of...

Read More »

Development Ethics: Hiding in Plain Sight


Of all the reasons to travel to Costa Rica, attending a philosophy conference is probably not very high on the list. And yet, for that very reason, I found myself on a plane this July, in the company of tourists and travelers whose destinations included pristine beaches, isolated ecolodges, and bohemian hideaways. My destination, perhaps not as immediately glamorous as theirs, was a lecture hall at the University of Costa Rica, where the tenth international conference of the International Develop...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Have We Made the Extraordinary Ordinary?


Introduce the protagonist, define the context, identify the challenge, and provide a resolution. And don’t forget the quote and a photo. It is a familiar format. The success story framework is one we use often to communicate the achievements of our project beneficiaries and demonstrate the value of international development. The power of stories is known, and they are an expected deliverable on most of Chemonics’ projects. We train our employees on how to capture them, package them, and...

Posted in: Strategic Solutions
Read More »

Live from World Water Week


Although the official theme at this year’s World Water Week, an annual development conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, is “Energy and Water,” from the first session the speakers have adopted food security as an unofficial pillar. Many of the conference seminars and workshops formally incorporate agricultural themes into their discussions, and USAID is no exception. Earlier this week, USAID announced the final list of awardees for its latest Grand Challenge for Development, the Securing Water...

Read More »

Democracy and Governance: Hot Topics on Our Mind


As the head of Chemonics’ Democracy and Governance practice, I’m pleased to invite you to join us in an ongoing discussion about programming, trends, innovations, and experiments in this critical sector of international development work. To get the conversation going, I’m sharing here some thoughts that I hope will help structure our discussions moving forward. Initially, I want to emphasize that we’re eager to use this space to address any and all topics, perspectives, etc., on DG programming....

Read More »

Reflections on AIDS 2014: The Speakers You Haven't Heard Of


Movers and shakers from across the globe spoke at this year’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. The likes of Bill Clinton, Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibe, and Sir Bob Geldof (the English musician of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” fame) were among those ticketed as high-level speakers, and their words received the lion’s share of the world’s attention. The big names drew the media, but what I found most inspiring and want to share with others were the participants...

Posted in: Health
Read More »

Promoting Inclusive Governance from the Land Up


The count of African countries supposedly increased by one in June, when a Virginia man planted a flag in the disputed territory of Bir Tawil and claimed himself king of “North Sudan.” He based his claim on the doctrine of terra nullius, "land not under the sovereignty of any state." The news article was something of a novelty piece, and despite posing a challenge to the region’s previous soi-disant ruler, the claim is dependent on legal recognition from the United Nations and other entities...

Read More »

Resilient Cities: Creating a Common Language


The fifth Resilient Cities 2014 conference in Bonn, Germany was organized by Local Governments for Sustainability, an association of 1200 cities, towns, and counties in 84 countries. The conference brings together city mayors, academics, international organizations, and donor agencies alike, and is one of the few opportunities that exist for city managers and experts to get together and discuss urban climate change adaptation. I attended the conference wearing two hats— as a USAID project manager...

Read More »

Welcome to the Compass!


Welcome to the Compass, Chemonics’ technical blog. We are excited to start this new venture, our first corporate blog, because we strongly believe that sharing ideas and experience helps us learn, grow, and ultimately do better development. When we began considering the idea of blogging, we asked ourselves a few key questions. First, why start our own blog? And second, what would we add to the conversation? The answers to both questions tie back to our mission of helping people live healthier,...

Posted in: Chemonics
Read More »