The Power of Positivity: Y4WC at Conservation Optimism
I have often been asked,
‘How do you stay positive? Isn’t your chosen career path in wildlife conservation rather...depressing?’
I would be lying if I said no. If I have not had those moments where I feel like I can’t be making a difference, feeling like the challenge is too big and perhaps the state of our natural world is maybe, just maybe, beyond hope. Would I not be happier if I simply gave up and ‘got a proper job with a better pay slip’?
Then I shake myself out of it. No, not at all. Inspired by my peers and the natural world around me, I could not even consider abandoning my passion for wildlife conservation. But, these concerned people have a point. There is a lot of negative news surrounding wildlife.
Yet, this is the reason why I decided to pursue a career in conservation. The more I learnt and read about the magical creatures of our planet, their behaviours, anatomy, and miraculous abilities, the more my passion grew. These papers and articles though always ended in a ‘however’: “...however, the southern right whale is facing threats from fishing debris and entanglement.”, “…however deforestation and habitat destruction remains the biggest threat the Sangihe Tarsier”, “...however, extinction is on the rise”. It might be time to change the narrative.
In order to embrace nature, I came to the conservation world. Born in Beijing, one of the biggest cities in the world, I always wanted to pursue the beauty of nature. Seeing the mass extinction of species, I think it’s my fate to do something for the animals. Optimism at first was effaced after so many frustrating attempts which turns out to be in vain. However, when these seemingly small actions add up, at least I believe it contributes to reducing the extinction rate.
With so many negative stories out there, it can seem overwhelming and it is tough to know where to start, to know who to turn to, or what on an individual level we can all do to help? The good news is, conservation works when it is done well, there are hundreds of success stories from all different people all over the world, why do we want to punish ourselves and live in this state of angst around our natural world?
It is about time we pumped this place full of Conservation Optimism!
It is this mindset that drives the Conservation Optimism movement growing among conservationists, and what was the inspiration behind the first ever Conservation Optimism Summit held in London, April 2017.
When Olya reached out to the Y4WC Committee to discuss a new opportunity to join in Conservation Optimism, I was more than excited! The reason is twofold, first - I was attending the CBD CoP in Mexico and witnessed the interest and support of its participants for our new youth network, and was eager to continue Y4WC’s mission. Secondly, because I do believe we need Optimism in conservation!
Being optimistic doesn’t undermine the big challenges faced in the field of conservation, but we can only move forward by learning from both successes and failures!
Our delegates quickly jumped on this opportunity, and after a collective brainstorm Y4WC submitted our proposal to run an interactive workshop on one of our key values, the importance of diversity in Y4WC, in the youth movement, in conservation, and in environmental issues in general. We envisioned this session to be interactive, engaging, fun, and most important of all - Optimistic!
Fast forward a few months later, after some more brainstorming and market pens at the ready, on the afternoon of the Summit’s second day, workshop participants people joined MingYu, Razan, Olya, Mareen, Josephine and I in the spacious George Farha Auditorium of Dulwich College.
We asked our audience to step outside of the traditional conservation roles and to explore the partnerships of different characters to assess their importance to conservation, in a case study looking at Orangutans on Borneo and their different threats, introduced through video by our own Y4WC delegate Shavez Cheema.
Prior to the session, we developed 8 different characters, each bringing something different to the field of conservation, and in groups we asked the participants to explore the unique actions and partnerships of each character, delving into the conservation solutions. From each participant’s unique socio-cultural background, as well as professional experiences, the discussion really got going.
We were able to see our own biases and perspectives, and above all, appreciate how, no matter your position, anyone can be a conservationist.
The real positive impact of conservation actions comes from the collaboration of multiple stakeholders. As such, conservation isn’t a quick fix - it’s about laying strong foundations and setting up networks of people to support this movement, thereby establishing a new positive approach that will show results on the ground over time.
It is often said that people can be influenced by bad news better than good news, and hence it could be more effective to keep talking about the extinction rate, the devastating impacts of climate change, the alarming rate of deforestation, and so on. However, this summit made it very clear that this should not always be the case; as we should share and celebrate our successes and good news. Learning about how local communities are effectively saving lions in Northern Kenya, what conservationists do to save Phillipine's seas, and all the other inspiring stories that were shared during the summit demonstrated that good news can trigger us and to believe that conservation actions can indeed make a change.
After our successful workshop and overall experience at Conservation Optimism, it is our commitment at Y4WC now to keep the optimism flowing, to be inspired to act not just by the downward spiral of statistics and saddening news about poaching and extinction, but also by the daily actions of conservationists worldwide who are making our planet a better place for wildlife. If humans are the cause of the problems, we are also infinite sources of solutions! Together we can make a difference.