On arriving at ConservEN
I grew up in Nebraska, USA. If you don’t know where it is, suffice it to say it’s a long way from India. In fact, it’s a long way from everywhere, figuratively. I grew up in Nebraska on the flat plains, in small towns between large, no, sprawling farms, and I left to see the world. After more than a decade of travel, study, adventure and misadventure, I have arrived at ConservEN, currently holding the position of Program Coordinator. My name is Mandy, nice to meet you.
Our work, this program, it takes on a part of us, is influenced by our own experiences. And so, this post is on me arriving at ConservEN, aka An introduction to the program of sustainable development.
ConservEN stands for the Conservation of the Environment and Natural Biodiversity, India. A big name for a big purpose. The greater purpose is that of our parent organization, Educare, that works in the areas of education, social and economic empowerment and sustainable development.
I love the concept of ConservEN, especially the focus on sustainable development. I myself studied in this area with the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and American University in Washington D.C. It’s an ambiguous, elusive and controversial topic, that of sustainable development. What it is and how to achieve it is a contentious and innovative field. Generally, the accepted and vague definition is a sort of development paradigm that conserves and passes on the same natural resources and opportunities for growth and development from one generation to the next, in a sort of cyclical pattern of economic evolution. Ideally, one would shy away from the commonly accepted goal of linear growth (think GDP, must always go up, must always maintain and/or achieve a positive growth rate, must must must…), and instead focus on:
- Identifying what one already has in term of natural, cultural, infrastructural, monetary, intellectual and labor resources. Yes, all of that. And most likely more. But think upon those historical disasters of countries (or dictators) pushing for a rapid development focusing on only one or a few aspects of their pool of resources, and finding that developing without proper evaluation of all assets and LACK of assets inevitably leads to a downturn.
- Deciding on what is necessary to preserve in order to sustain current living standards and support improved living standards. Take a forest for example. Perhaps traditionally the forest was used for timber to build homes, fuel for cooking fires and heat, foraging for supplemental herbs, vegetables and fruits to the familial diet, and meat for the successful hunter. Rapid economic growth, whether domestic or foreign, leads to a high demand in the timber this forest has in abundance. So a program of cutting the trees and selling the wood ensues, bringing in an influx of monetary wealth and jobs. First the traditional uses and the new modern industry are compatible. Then modern industry erodes traditional utilization, but it’s ok, because now money can buy home materials, food, herbs, medicine, fuel and meat. But after time the forest yields less and less timber, or the market is less lucrative, and the money cannot replace the wealth the forest once gave in material support, and the material wealth of the forest is depleted, perhaps even empty. This leads up to
- Create a plan of development that is compatible with all available resources, including a monitoring system and rehabilitation scheme should any short-term resource depletion occur. If you cut a forest, plant new trees If you find a short-term lucrative venture, make sure to invest a portion of the income into new, long term, sustainable ventures. Simple, and yet infinitely complex. Development is slower when it cycles, creating little loop-de-loops that show small movements “up,” then cycling back on itself and so on and so forth. Confused yet?
- Educate, Evaluate, Participate and Evolve. Here we are, ConservEN and Educare itself. Sustainable Development is a theory, an ideal. It is most certainly not a Western paradigm, a “Modernity” success story which “must” be shared throughout the Eastern and “Traditional” world. It’s a sharing between all societies, economic strati, communities, etc. What works in a highland community of South America will not be easily or wholly applicable to a Himalayan community in Northern India. But that is not to say that it is not applicable at all. Our belief, a belief, is that there is no “correct” or one way to develop. In fact, there are thousands, millions, billions of ways to develop. Little nuances of difference here and there that infinitely change the paradigmatic procedures of community development. The knowledge we gather anywhere has some sort of application Everywhere. We just need to sort out a way to make the application work uniquely every… single… time… we reapply it.
Confused yet? We all are. But we are learning, sharing, teaching and progressing with our ideals, theories and on-ground action. This is where I am today, with ConservEN. On the ground action, actually doing something. Living and working in small, rural communities. Forming relationships, gathering knowledge and formulating partnerships in the projects.
Please follow the ConservEN blog and its projects! If you’d like to apply for a program internship, please visit the ABOUT page of this blog and click the application link. Our website is http://www.conservenaturalindia.org.