They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and I completely agree. My first step from the world of education into the world of Biosphere and sustainability as a fresh-faced young person taught me so much.
Late last year, I began my volunteer role as a youth representative for the UNESCO Biosphere Stakeholder Partnership Group in the Isle of Man. This was alongside starting work in Marketing at Capital International Group, a company that I believe is innovative and ambitious in its approach to sustainable development and is committed to preserving wealth in its many forms, including for our community and for the environment. Therefore, I felt incredibly blessed to have simultaneously started in two roles that perfectly link together in empowering this first step in my journey. This first step hurtled me towards the stark reality of the huge challenge that is engaging communities into sustainable development. It's safe to say, after my first experiences engaging with young people on the Isle of Man about our Biosphere, I felt lost.
After starting my position as youth representative, I decided that my first action was to speak with local degree students face-to-face to begin engaging younger members of our community. I believed that this was the most personable approach to establish myself as a welcoming figure for young people to share their perspectives and thoughts with.
It was an experience characterised by the saying: ‘If it wasn’t painfully difficult - you did it wrong!’
I entered the experience energized and excited with the prospect of forging connections and encouraging communication. My bright face, however, was soon replaced by confusion and worry as I was met with emotionless expressions, compounded by near silence. I was a stuttering, nervous mess as the mountain of a challenge that is engagement into sustainable development, grew ever taller. It’s an understatement to say that I left that experience wide-eyed, startled by the face of that reality.
On reflection, I am grateful for the most prominent lesson this challenging start taught me:
Do not assume that everyone understands what Biosphere is and why it is important because unfortunately most do not.
So now, I feel confident enough to say that the start of the engagement journey is encouraging people to understand what Biosphere status is and more importantly why we should care.
In my definition, a Biosphere is simply about connecting people to place. Biosphere reserves are testing grounds for innovative initiatives that drive sustainable economic development through the connection of communities to their environment. A local testing ground for global solutions.
This is incredibly exciting for the Isle of Man, considering we are the only entire nation that has been granted Biosphere status. A status that gives us a great context within which we can initiate new projects that can be tested realistically within a nation context. Considering that there are 738 Biosphere reserves across 134 countries, having a Biosphere status also enables a fantastic communication network across a wide array of contexts.
As a youth representative, my work to drive engagement is one of the key puzzle pieces in our Biosphere’s Five E’s strategy.
This strategy is integrated into our overall Island Plan as the first step in linking economic development to socio-cultural and sustainable development.
My mission to drive engagement amongst the Island’s young people is only just beginning, I am continually learning through trial and error. Since my first (and somewhat unsuccessful) engagement sessions back in November of last year, I have made many adaptations to my approach, including sitting in more relaxed settings with young people, building rapport and encouraging conversations about our Biosphere. An approach that has generated much more positive engagement.
I am glad to admit that I still bring a fresh face to the Biosphere mission, but with that I am hoping to bring fresh and positive engagement initiatives to our special Island Biosphere soon, continuing to learn from those wide-eyed experiences.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts and opinions expressed within this article are those of the authors and not those of any company within the Capital International (CIG) and as such are neither given nor endorsed by CIG. Information in this article does not constitute investment advice or an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of any company within the Capital International Group of companies to buy or sell any product or security or to make a bank deposit