Thursday, June 14, 2012

We Find Ourselves in Rio

Emma here. Our team first reunited in the Dulles airport in DC: Ahdi, Bridget and Catherine from South Hadley, Julianna from Maine, and for me, a multi-flight journey from Tennessee. From there we boarded a 15-hour flight to Sao Paolo, which was only a short flight away from Rio de Janeiro.

This is not the office:

After dropping our bags at the Mango Tree hostel, we split up to attend a civil society capacity-building workshop and get cell our temporary phones. We realized that learning Portuguese would have, in fact, been helpful. Signs of the Rio+20 conference are everywhere—shuttle bus stations, hotel check-ins and banners across the city.

Figure 2: a Google image search picture of the Ipanema beach—a five minute walk from our hostel, which we will sadly never see.

After meticulous planning and minimal sleep, we took our first shuttle-bus ride to the official conference site—RioCentro, complete with multiple pavilions totaling hundreds of rooms for negotiations, side events, closed meetings and media.

Our first victory:

The first event I attended was on the potential legacy that Rio+20 will leave. Quite a start. A panel shared tips for engaging and mobilizing communities, and participants were asked to share the things that inspired them the most, as well as their personal commitments for implementing sustainable development on ‘the morning after’ the negotiations conclude. The driving message was that the success of sustainable development depends on everyone’s participation, both in the process of creating the outcome document and in its implementation. It’s a message that we’ve heard with regards to civil society before—that non-governmental actors often feel out of place and intimidated by the process, and truly don’t know our own power. Delegates don’t have all the answers, and know from experience that top-down approaches don’t work. Stakeholder engagement is absolutely key to correctly defining problems and creating diverse, innovative and locally applicable solutions. In such an enormous and complicated process, it’s easy to forget just that our experiential knowledge and viewpoints are, in fact, just as worthwhile as those of government delegates. For many who do not have access to this process and are not adequately represented, perhaps much more so. We’ve heard this speech several times, but it continues to give me goosebumps. If we really can ‘step into our own power’—to steal a phrase from my community service advisor—and claim this document and it’s call-to-action as our own, there are no limits to the collaborative actions we can take in building the future we want.

To quote a youth delegate on this panel (to the best of my memory): ‘We are seen in this process as the leaders of tomorrow, but we are ready to lead now.’

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