ABN’s Resilience Thinking

The ABN builds the resilience of the youth through the various approaches embedded in our Youth, Culture and Biodiversity thematic area. General Coordinator Dr. Fassil Gebeyehu tells the story of the network’s efforts to reconnect youth with their indigenous knowledge in collaboration with various partners.

Many people argue that the current youth generation has lost its resilience due to the many forms of external influence and adoption of ‘foreign’ cultures that have eroded confidence in indigenous/local knowledge and associated practices. Resilience is about having the ability to live with change. Change does not mean total disconnection from the origin[1]. Rather, experience from the past informs the ability to adopt and evolve. We need to ensure that our overall resilience capacity is maintained. This happens mainly through the mechanism by which we should be closely in touch with our knowledge base. The knowledge base of indigenous/local people is inspired by learning from the experience through long-term interaction with Nature, cultural and spiritual activities. This helps the youths to understand the complex interplay of all beings in Nature and live-in harmony with it.

 The Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 call to the Member States
Indigenous or local people have proven to be resilient in the course of very complex and adaptive social-ecological systems. We should, first of all, acknowledge this and respect such a long- tested indigenous knowledge. Article 8 of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity requires Member States to respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

It is becoming evident that resilience building is very important. We live in an era of rapid and unprecedented change. The influx of goods and mass production of materials such as chemicals, pesticides, electronic equipment, all forms of plastics, metals and other fabricated supplies, increasingly threaten the sustainability and regeneration of the ecosystems on which human life depends. Further, the recent challenge of COVID-19 poses a severe threat to health and the economy. The pandemic does not only affect human health. Its prevalence exacerbates economic recession by limiting mobility, exchange, and the whole range of socio-cultural activities. David Malpass of the World Bank in his presser released on October 7th, 2020 on the impact of Covid-19 adding 150 million to extreme poor by 2021 observed, “The pandemic and global recession may cause over 1.4% of the world’s population to fall into extreme poverty.”

Such a complex scenario has posed serious challenges, particularly for young people regarding their ways of life. They have become disconnected from their knowledge base and relationships with elders who would have mentored them on Indigenous Knowledge (IK) and practices. The intrinsic nature of IK is intertwined with life skills that help people to make their life with locally available resources without being dependent on external aid. Passing on cultural heritage using different forms of the knowledge through inter-generational learning approach builds intercultural understanding, respect for cultural diversity and helps youth be creative in combining it with their school learning.

Building youths’ resilience through indigenous knowledge
It seems that young people in Africa are increasingly ignorant of the culture they were born into. They have lost interest in understanding their culture and heritage which holds wisdom/knowledge on how they should live in harmony with Nature to handle shocks through traditional methods of resilience. The contemporary life style of the globalized world and the introduction of modern technology makes most young people in Africa believe that they should aspire to the western lifestyle which is highly dependent on machines/robots. Such a disintegrated mindset results in a high level of confusion and many young people frequently have to face challenges in making the right choice about life. This can lead to unemployment, drug addiction, as well as intolerance and exclusion. In rural settings and small towns, this has created a series of social problems including insurgence of street boys/girls finding it tough to survive on the margins of lands destroyed by unsustainable and exploitative practices.

The ABN strives to develop sustainable and creative local economies to open up opportunities for youth and help to strengthen resilience, identity and social cohesion. We always encourage partners and other stakeholders to invest their time and resources in cultural, social and spiritual practices to tune the mindset of youth.

Our collaborative approach has created a sense of responsibility in bringing behavioral change for youth through Youth Culture and Biodiversity (YCB) methodologies. Youth are engaged in intergenerational learning through dialogues between different age groups. They get the opportunity of interacting with elders to share ideas about indigenous knowledge through transformative processes. Such processes are designed to inspire youth, learn and appreciate their cultural heritage, which maintained indigenous knowledge for many centuries. Depending on the context of each country, culture and resource availability, ABN partners support youth to re-build their self-confidence and expose them to practical learning opportunities such as nature experiential learning in forests and national parks, learning from their roots in rural villages and natural settings, ecological action learning in school gardens and community lands, exchanges of ideas and sharing of experiences through celebrations and public gatherings. The cumulative results of these continuous processes have proven to be effective in bringing behavioral changes for youth.

Some ABN partners further transform youth with practical life skills. These partners work with unemployed youth to build self-supporting endeavors in various fields, including agriculture, sustainable energy, art and other income-generating activities. This is very important, especially in the face of COVID-19, where the impact of the pandemic on the youth’s life has been very damaging.

Therefore, resilience thinking is critical to the work that the ABN does across Africa. The ABN continues supporting partners and the communities to revitalize lost indigenous knowledge and practices, which are central to rebuild ecosystem and community resilience through facilitation of community dialogues and other YCB methodologies.

[1] Biggs, R.; Schlüter, M.; Schoon, M.L. Principles for Building Resilience, Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological System; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2015; ISBN 978-1-107-08265-6.