FIVE YEARS, 50 LEADERS CONNECTED: THE FINAL YEAR OF OUR FUTURE LEADERS PILOT PROGRAM IN THE AMAZON RAINFOREST
‘The program has allowed me to learn from the experiences of other local leaders, and has taught me that nothing is impossible if you work together’ – Cecilia Borde Quispe, Future Leader and ecotourism graduate
In our final year, we reached an exciting milestone: 50 young leaders are now connected through the Future Leaders program. Many of them are already working in sustainable development and joined the program to bring their innovations in business, food systems and energy directly to the rainforest to benefit the environment and local communities.
For its second consecutive year, the Future Leaders program was hosted in the Las Piedras Amazon Center, in the heart of the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon. From 14 -18 January, 15 past participants of the Future Leaders program returned to the jungle to further develop skills in sustainable business, conservation and marketing.
In addition, we were able to diversify the student group more than ever! Four indigenous leaders from the Lucerna community in the Las Piedras region were able to join the weeklong event to discuss ongoing threats to their Amazon watershed and other barriers to sustainable development. Students from the Forest Online class at McDaniel College, Maryland – where Jason teaches environmental policy and sustainability full time – also joined this year’s program, many of them setting foot in a rainforest for their very first time.
With so much cultural difference between the 30 young people they were a bit shy at first, but this nervousness quickly melted as they realized their shared love of nature and the desire to create a better future for the Peruvian Amazon.
Telling the story of the biodiversity capital of the world
‘A leader is someone that has a creative mind, is constantly innovating, and is always open to exploring new paths and ideas’ – Ana Amable, Future Leader and Founder, Grupo Amable
The theme of the final year of this five-year pilot program was storytelling, so participants worked together to bring the story of Madre de Dios and its current challenges to life through media campaigns. This project enabled the participants to develop skills in intercultural communications, public speaking and storytelling – all valuable tools in developing pitches and drawing attention to important issues. Raising awareness of the importance of Madre de Dios, the “biodiversity capital of the world,” is vital if we’re to save the incredible wildlife that lives here and conserve the natural resources for people to rely on well into the future.
As in previous years, the participants spent as much time as possible exploring the jungle around them and went on a number of botany and ecology walks led by resident expert Varun. They were lucky to experience the magic of a big group of macaws gathered at the local clay lick, who ate their fill of clay – a dietary supplement that neutralizes the toxins in their food – before taking to the skies in a blur of color.
It was so rewarding to see these inspirational young people putting what they have learned over the past five years into action. This year, some of our Future Leaders played invaluable roles behind the scenes. Vanessa Soto coordinated marketing for the program in Peru, and Ana Amable and Tania Romero – inspired by the storytelling theme of this year’s Summit – are putting together a Future Leaders “look book” to tell the story of the program, its participants and their region.
Engaging with locals and learning from change agents
The Innova network has gone from strength to strength, not just because it now involves well over 50 young leaders, but also as they’re very engaged in sustainable development and are keen to learn from each other. One of the new participants this year, Julio, who is an indigenous leader from the local Lucerna community, invited participants to visit his family and learn how to make sustainable chocolate, which was really fun and exciting! They also visited Roy, the chef from last year’s program, who has just opened his own restaurant in Puerto Maldonado and had hosted a real celebrity for lunch earlier that day: the Holy See Pope Francis!
As well as inspiring sessions taught by Jason and Liz in sustainability and business, there were opportunities for participants to connect with change agents – amazing people who have been working in Peru for over 15 years for social good. In a series of TED talks, the participants learned about policy, ecology and social governance from the following Future Leaders guest educators:
- Diego talked about his work with the United Nations in Peru
- Julia, a journalist and environmental lobbyist, spoke of her work with the Environmental Investigation Agency
- Luis, an environmental lawyer, discussed local governance and starting social movements
- Varun, an ecologist with over 15 years of research experience in the Madre de Dios basin, taught participants about aerobotany research on Brazil nut trees using drones
The TED talks proved to be very inspirational, sparking conversations on important issues and how to overcome them in the local context.
What does the future look like?
‘All development models should take traditional knowledge into account, and work in harmony with the local community’ – Eber Cabanillas Suarez, Future Leader and teacher, National University of the Amazon, Madre de Dios
The five-year pilot program might be over, but the journeys of its participants are only just beginning. We are proud to inspire, empower and enable these young leaders to make a difference in their region for a brighter and more sustainable future. And we’re so looking forward to seeing them use their skills for sustainable development and follow their dreams to make this beautiful part of the world a more sustainable one. We’ll be sharing updates on their journeys, so keep an eye on our website and Facebook page to find out what they get up to!
If you want to find out more about the Future Leaders program model, or are thinking of starting your own project to connect and empower young leaders for sustainable development, please feel free to contact us with any questions!