Livingstone, Zambia, Greenpop Festival of Action 2016, this has been an eye-opening experience – wow.

Accepting the offer to join the Greenpop team for 2016 was a step into the unknown – unsure of what to expect, unsure of what was expected of me, unsure of what new experiences and learnings lay before me. The place of the unknown is a space often avoided, it is a place with uncertainty, doubt, and discomfort, perhaps even fear. Yet, as I continue to understand through experience, the place of the unknown is a space where we learn, grow, and surprise ourselves. Embarking on the journey that is this Festival of Action 2016, this place of the unknown would have been felt by much of the team going up for the first time, and certainly by most, if not all, of the participants joining us in beautiful Livingstone for their respective weeks.  

The journey up through inland South Africa, Botswana, across the Okavango Delta and into Zambia is worthy of its own blog piece – I will not attempt to do it any injustice here. Entering the space where many smiles, laughs, and sweat were to be shared, the team dove straight into four days of intensive teamwork, many hours of hard labor, blistered hands, and paint-covered pants to build and bring back to life this change-maker campsite. In between it all, I began acquainting myself with the shear diversity of the project – it amazed me to see how holistic the Festival of Action has become since its inception in 2012. Seeing this holistic picture I was slowly able to contextualize myself and the workshops I was going to run with the participants over the coming weeks – eco-enterprise (and social-enterprise), an integral avenue for making change.  

 

My core focus for the project is running eco-enterprise workshops for the youth that joined us in the first week and the local Zambian UNICEF Climate Ambassadors. The eco-enterprise workshops are focused at different levels; eco-enterprise 1.0 was targeted at the students in week 1 and UNICEF Climate Ambassadors between the ages 14-18. Eco-enterprise 2.0 was targeted at the older Zambian UNICEF Climate Ambassadors, ages 18-35.

The aim of eco-enterprise 1.0 is to introduce the concept of an eco-enterprise – where does an eco-enterprise fit along the spectrum of NGO to for-profit; what eco-systems (organizational, societal, and resources) may an eco-enterprise need to understand to operate in; understanding perceptions of valuable resources, and how this value changes with influences from outside; and diving into the problem space, and how we may turn these problems into opportunities for solutions through eco-enterprises. This is all done through a once-off four hour workshop.

The aim of eco-enterprise 2.0 is really to provide an ongoing workshop space – two workshops a week – where we have been able to explore the process of creating an eco-enterprise through the lens of business model planning with the older UNICEF Climate Ambassadors.         

My experience of conducting the eco-enterprise 1.0 workshops has allowed me to see that looking at business models and value systems is a place of unknown for the participants of the workshops – students in the schooling system are extremely sheltered from how business and organisations operate, what their core value is, and how they receive revenue in accordance with this value system.  As it was a place of unknown for the participants it was a great space for them to learn and hopefully grow their mind-sets and expectations around using business as a vehicle for positive environmental and social impact. It was nourishing to witness young students diving into various environmental and social problems, and then getting creative around how they may be able to address these through an eco-enterprise. I have learnt that creativity is an extremely important tool for creating change, a tool and space that needs to be given more recognition and importance in a schooling environment. The youth are on the direct path of all the environmental and social ills we, the older generations, have created – they should be afforded the opportunity to experience a creative environment, with the right understanding of these problems, and the necessary value-systems needed to move closer to solutions for an ever changing world.

The space of eco-enterprise 2.0 has been unknown for both the participants and I. For me it has been extremely difficult to predict and gauge the level of understanding of the participants around eco-enterprises; in turn this has made it tough to structure workshops and at what depth we need to dive into the business planning process. This experience has pushed me to think on my feet, adapt to each situation, stretched my knowledge and understanding of each stage of the business plan, and how to best to possibly structure future workshops. I have an inclination I am install for more spaces of discomfort and learning curves in future workshops. For the older UNICEF Climate Ambassadors I felt a nervousness to engage with the space – this I believe is spurred by their limited knowledge on what an eco-enterprise is, and why they are creating business plans. This experience lends toward incorporating certain components of the eco-enterprise 1.0 workshop – a frame of reference and context needs to be the foundation for any workshop, this I feel has been lacking with the eco-enterprise 2.0 participants. Further the process of understanding what a business is needs to be simplified – making things seems complicated only enhances the space of discomfort which can detract from the participants engaging meaningfully with the content. This being said, I believe that diving into the process of learning about eco-enterprises and the components and concepts around business models is extremely valuable for the participants – in hindsight, perhaps the process is more important than the outcome (the journey is more important than the destination)!

I am grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to take part in such a holistic project, to have been able to contribute some of my knowledge, learnings, and experiences. Through running the eco-enterprise workshops and many other situations of ‘holding space’ or control large groups of participants, I have gained an abundance of learnings and insights. Entering the space of unknown has been beneficial beyond expectations. I invite you all to step into the unknown and explore the concept behind eco-and-social enterprises – you may just be surprised with what you find.

By Mattieu Theron, Plant the Seed Education

Photography by Lee-Ann Olwage

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