“The next generation is already considered a problem before they’re born,” said Trey Fehsenfeld of the ESCAPE Foundation at the launch of MABINGWA/The Champions, a film about young Kenyans’ attitudes towards wildlife and conservation. He beseeched the crowd of concerned Kenyans who had come to see the film not to think in terms of a demographic time bomb. “Young people are the future,” he said. And the future can be bright.
It was a theme that the film had illustrated perfectly. Produced by three-time Emmy Award winning filmmaker Matt Mays, Mabingwa is based on research that explores young people’s differing views on conservation and wildlife in Kenya. It follows the lives of four young people from four corners of Kenya and explores their relationship to nature and the barriers they face. All four are an inspiration to their fellow Kenyans – and to the world.
The ground-breaking research reflected in Mabingwa was conducted by Well Told Story and commissioned by the ESCAPE Foundation through the kind donation of Courtney Fehsenfeld. The research found that many young people feel detached from nature and the environment. But at the same time, it found champions of conservation and set the course for how to better engage those who feel disengaged. Well Told Story found four segments of young people:
Conditional conservationists who have many opportunities to engage in conservation but whose positive engagement wanes when incentives decline;
Self-starting conservationists who genuinely care about wildlife but don’t always have the necessary knowledge or financial support;
Non-conservationists for whom wildlife is part of a fairy tale and not part of their reality;
Philanthropic conservationists for whom every engagement earns them social capital.
Now, the ESCAPE Foundation and Well Told Story are starting a digital campaign to grow more interest in conservation in young Kenyans.
Dr. Alex Awiti, Director of the East Africa Institute, who moderated the discussion after the film screening said, “We try to engage youth on conservation but the way we think about conservation is as a science. That’s very problematic.” A telling comment from a man with a PhD in Ecosystems Ecology. Conservation, he says, is less about science and more about individuals and communities feeling a connection with nature.
The conversation he led was rich, with Alfred Osiko of Safaricom talking through how the research should be integrated into their marketing strategies and Joan Bisonga of Kenya Airways reflecting on Kenya as a unique destination – not only because JKIA is the only airport adjacent to a national park. Vincent Omar from UNESCO highlighted the importance of inspiring love of nature in early childhood.
Lucy Wariungi Executive Director of the African Conservation Centre, teared up at the thought that there are many young people in Nairobi who don’t know how to climb trees because they live in slum areas where all the trees have been cut down – slum areas which look out over Nairobi National Park, one of the great wonders of the world. She called on young people to help the Ministry of Environment come up with strategies that reflect them rather than the perspectives of those “who are older.” She went on to say that Well Told Story and the ESCAPE Foundation are right on time with their initiative to create a digital campaign.
ESCAPE Foundation pledged $70,000 toward a Well Told Story run campaign that will create a new conservation conversation among young people. It will start as soon as the remaining funds can be raised. Well Told Story reaches more than 6 million young people in Kenya through the Shujaaz multimedia platform – incredible reach that it uses to promote the best interests of its audience.
“There needs to be a shift in our perspective so we get excited together and listen with compassion. Well Told Story will grow our understanding of how to connect with youth. The campaign will identify existing and potential mabingwa,” said Trey Fehsenfeld of the ESCAPE Foundation.
The seed funding pledged by the ESCAPE Foundation is 20% of what is needed. We are looking for additional partners to help create more mabingwas, champions of conservation because we know that Kenya’s young people are its future – the demographic dividend that Trey Fehsenfeld identified in his speech, the solution rather than the problem. If you’re interested in being part of the solution, contact me or Rob Burnett at the addresses below, follow us on Twitter and share the news with your friends. Conservation in Kenya has a bright future but we must support the next generation of mabingwa, not write them off before they are even born.
Brian Kearney-Grieve, Executive Director, ESCAPE Foundation
Rob Burnet, CEO, Well Told Story