A LONG ROAD AHEAD, BUT LOTS OF COMPANY FOR THE JOURNEY…
Sharon Gilbert-Rivett, Marketing Consultant at Fair Trade Tourism, shares the lessons she learned at the 2016 Conservation Lab.
Having the opportunity to network with people I have known for what seems like forever and meet new people with exciting new ideas and visions for a better world is always something special.
When you add to the mix an overarching passion for conservation and conversations which could potentially change the way we, as an industry, see our role in helping to preserve Africa’s remaining wild places, you are guaranteed of my attention.
As a result, my first experience of Conservation Lab was enormously positive. I greeted old friends and (hopefully) made a few new ones, and got to participate in something truly special. As is my way, my contributions were sometimes controversial, often a little left of centre and occasionally downright provocative, but the atmosphere was designed to be supportive of all views and opinions and to get us speaking our minds and explore new territory by listening carefully to other points of view.
I found the discussions and presentations riveting, the passion and fire in people’s bellies encouraging and the innovations and fresh ideas invigorating. It is amazing what like-minded people can achieve when their ideas are channelled and targeted towards a common goal.
All we were lacking were the people with the big cheque books ready and able to put money where our mouths were and help us change the face of the continent we love so dearly.
Conservation Lab 2016 was pumping with ideas, vibrant with positive energy and bursting with passion. If we could only have added unlimited funding to the picture we would, indeed, be able to make real and lasting differences across Africa.
The lessons I take from this great “un-conference” is that we have to truly listen to one another. By this I mean that we have to listen with open ears, not merely to react to what is being said. We have to absorb and cogitate and through this process find common ground and, with it, unity. And we have to find the money, because it is not going to magically appear to save the day. We have to find ways to make money work for conservation, and, most importantly, for people, because without the buy-in and support of African people there is no future for any of the amazing things we spent the hours and days discussing in such depth.
Unity is not going to come from political leaders or governments, it has to come from each and every one of us and can only be achieved if we put our egos on the back burners and start putting Africa, its wilderness areas and its people first. This industry is littered with incredible leaders, visionaries who understand the bigger picture and who are prepared to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. Conservation Lab 2016 brought these people together with the leadership of tomorrow – exciting young men and women who share their love of Africa’s wildernesses and the fauna and flora which call them home and who understand the urgency of the situation we are in.
We are, indeed, Africa and we can win this fight, but only if we work together to find a shared vision and a way to fund that vision which is as sustainable and ethical as the vision itself.
I have enormous hope that Conservation Lab is going to prove invaluable going forward in helping us to find this unity and spurring us onward in a battle we simply cannot afford to lose.