Adventurer and social entrepreneur Majka Burhardt wants to change the way we think about environmental conservation. In the interests of protecting endangered ecosystems she’s bringing together a broad collation of stakeholders in an effort to create a sustainable model of mutual cooperation and understanding. The idea is to not only look out for the best interests of plants and animals but nearby communities of human beings as well. As a continuation to her Lost Mountain initiative Burhardt headed back to Mozambique in Africa to help educate an emerging cohort of young people on the importance of preserving the many species found on the nation’s second highest peak Mount Namuli.
“I put the Lost Mountain Next Generation Symposium together because I saw an opportunity to bring current students, current people in undergraduate and graduate school into a conversation about how to do conservation differently,” she said in an interview. “How do you talk about it in such a way as instead of putting a fence around something and protecting that while everything else does something different? How do we actually make something like grassroots localism appear in a place like Mozambique where we’re working in an incredibly impoverished area?”
Typically wildlife protection happens in areas that are socially and economically secure. National parks and wilderness areas are most often created by communities, institutions and individuals with money and free time to spare. In the developing world where the land and its people suffer because of famine, war and poverty ordinary citizens looking for work, a place to live or a meal for their kids probably aren’t interested in protecting natural habitats.
“If you can’t feed your family that’s not something that you have the energy to take care of,” Burhardt said. “But that localism that pride is where I think things will take off in Mozambique in the next 100 years in terms of conservation.”
Through the Next Generation Symposium Burhardt wants to advocate for the people who live around Mount Namuli. With an emphasis on environmental protection she aims to teach individuals from all walks of life on how to make practical investments in both economic development that supports emerging populations of poor and disenfranchised families as well as the preservation of nearby wilderness areas. A dramatic departure from the traditional model which creates national and regional parks that are in many ways like gated communities and favor the interests of the wealthy, Burhardt describes her work as “disruptive conservation”, a more inclusive community-focused method of achieving social and environmental sustainability.
“What it means is getting a lot of different people to the table and lot of different tools on hand. And so that’s why it’s disruptive,” she said. “It’s not taking the same formula and applying it to a place like Mount Namuli where you have incredible biodiversity and incredible need for advancing human livelihood at the same time. But do it differently. How do you get young kids in it? Let’s get economists, let’s get lawyers, let’s get conservationists, let’s get adventurers, let’s get all of us at the table and let’s talk about it. Not just people flying in to Africa, but let’s get the people who live here.”
Although Burhardt’s disruptive conservation is focused on Africa her notion of getting everyone in a given community involved protecting the environment could be practically applied to conservation efforts around the world and even here in the U.S.
“Sometimes you have to be radical somewhere else to see the connection of how to be radical in your own home,” she said.
What does it mean for us as a global society to move forward and enjoy and use and cherish these wild places and the wild things that live in them, including us. So it’s that connection and I think we can’t only tell stories about what’s in front of us. A fundamental believe I have is that we all want to be more connected to the world.”
Burhardt believes that if we begin to think proactively about how all aspects of our existence are thoroughly interrelated, neighborhoods, municipalities and governments across the planet can create safe and secure environments that everyone can enjoy. This next generation of disruptive activists she said can imagine and execute nimble solutions to complex problems that can be applied to endangered communities and ecosystems all over the world.
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