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Investing in our Planet’s Future

Educating the Conservationists of Tomorrow

What does it actually mean to invest in our planet?

Amidst ever changing political and social landscapes, what should our investments look like? And how can we ensure that these efforts are both locally sustainable and resilient to shifting global contexts?

Navigating these questions is complex. Yet one of the most effective solutions is this: investing in our planet means investing in our youth. By ensuring that future generations are both informed about conservation best practices, and empowered to advocate for and implement them, we can ensure a more sustainable future for our planet and all who inhabit it. 

Through our work with USAID and our partners, we explore innovative, engaging ways to bring this concept to life through conservation education initiatives. 

Effective Conservation Education - Making Local Issues with Global Implications Kid-Friendly 

The pandemic hit sub-Saharan Africa particularly hard. It left millions of young students without access to an already underfunded and inadequate education system, and communities and educators grappling with the challenge of how to keep kids learning. Against this difficult backdrop, N*Gen TV was born. Created by Peripheral Vision International in cooperation with educators and students from Kampala’s Clarke Junior School, N*Gen is the first Pan-African science show aimed at reaching both kids and families and focuses on novel ways to virtually educate and engage about topics ranging from science and technology, to engineering and mathematics. Each educational segment is delivered by charismatic teachers and scientists, who walk viewers though exciting animations, experiments, trips to the field, and even fitness and mindfulness exercises. 

N*Gen is the first Pan-African science show aimed at reaching both kids and families.

Seeking to fill an educational gap in local science and conservation program materials, the United States Mission in Uganda enlisted the USAID/Uganda Biodiversity for Resilience (B4R) Activity, implemented by RTI, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to support the development of a new episode for N*Gen TV focusing on a local issue with global implications: human-wildlife conflict. The aim was to disseminate this complex topic in a language that younger viewers would understand, and through a medium that would encourage them to engage. These young audiences would come away with not only a deeper understanding of the issue and its repercussions, but also with a vision for the role they could play in addressing it. 

B4R aims to conserve and manage biodiversity in vital ecosystems by providing technical assistance to communities, government, and the private sector. Understanding that sustainable solutions must be locally led, the project collaborates with local organizations and conservation experts with the goal of promoting lasting environmental change and economic stability. Yet, we also know that it is those who lack access to the tools and support to become influential environmental changemakers, whose involvement is also critical. That’s why the project places particular emphasis on engaging vulnerable communities and households in messaging and activities. Chief among these marginalized groups is youth. 

“In educating the next generation of conservationists, shows like N*Gen provide crucial knowledge and understanding of important conservation issues. We are proud to support the U.S. Mission in Uganda and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in communities adjacent to protected areas,” said B4R Chief of Party Dr. Jennifer Talbot. In honor of Earth Day 2022, part one and part two of the episode on human-wildlife conflict will be celebrated locally with the communities featured in the episodes, and with a national launch event in Kampala. These will increase awareness about conservation efforts and provide an opportunity to recognize the crucial role of citizens, reemphasizing an important message to local communities: you are critical to the solution. 

N*Gen is the first Pan-African science show aimed at reaching both kids and families.

As Holly Powers, Senior Health Communications Specialist at the U.S. Embassy Kampala reflected, “The collaboration was an amazing opportunity to showcase the incredible impact of work USAID and its partners are doing. The episode, when aired, will be viewed by millions in Uganda, as well as in at least 14 countries in Africa and throughout the U.S.” 

The B4R team looks forward to future opportunities to support conservation education initiatives, with staff developing social and behavioral change communication materials designed to educate both inside and outside of the classroom. 

N*Gen is the first Pan-African science show aimed at reaching both kids and families.

Bringing the Importance of Sustainability Home

Halfway around the globe from Uganda, the summer and fall of 2020 found educators across the Philippines grappling with a similar challenge. With face-to-face learning still a distant hope, and communities struggling to keep students on track, a local Philippine nonprofit called the Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc. (BAFI) was searching for an innovative way to help. Their solution? MIND S-COOL, a family-oriented show that educates through vibrant virtual explorations of topics across science and the arts. 

MIND S-COOL is a family-oriented show that educates through vibrant virtual explorations of topics across science and the arts.

Seeing a creative opportunity to raise awareness about natural resource management and biodiversity conservation, the USAID-funded Philippines Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscapes (SIBOL) Activity, implemented by RTI, supported the development of a plan to produce seasons three and four of MIND S-COOL.

A five-year project, SIBOL works with the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development to facilitate activities that will protect the country’s rich biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of those who depend on it. Implemented by RTI and its partners, the biodiversity conservation project supports the government in introducing and scaling up high-impact environmental interventions that support sustainable management and governance of key natural resources and ecosystems in five protected areas across the Philippine archipelago.

"This partnership with SIBOL has created a veritable first--a program on Philippine biodiversity that delivers updated and robust scientific content, deeply rooted in cultural context, presented in creative ways, and led by Filipino experts from The Mind Museum and the project,” says BAFI Managing Director and Curator Maria Isabel Garcia. “This is a milestone in this kind of media. With it, we are reaching families and kids at the ages where it really matters."

Garcia went on to explain, “Season three is a first not only in its content but also in its impact—ratings show MIND-S-COOL as the #1 science show across all channels, achieving over 2.2 million views from December 2021--March 2022 with very strong co-viewing by families. This show is yet another milestone in the landscape of biodiversity, sustainability, and education that USAID, through RTI, has helped make possible. We are very grateful for the trust and partnership."

MIND S-COOL is a family-oriented show that educates through vibrant virtual explorations of topics across science and the arts.

Over several months, MIND S-COOL’s production team worked closely with SIBOL’s technical experts to outline a conservation education narrative framework focused on biodiversity, community connection to nature, and the role citizens can play in reducing ecological threats and protecting the environment. Employing a family-oriented approach, the episodes use creative and engaging formats to illustrate a key message with local and global implications: if we are not protecting our environment, we are not protecting the health of our generation, let alone future generations. 

“The show is powerful in emphasizing the personal connection so many feel to the natural world. A lot of Filipinos grow up surrounded by nature, so shedding light on the ongoing rapid environmental decline helps to make environmental protection personal. It leaves viewers understanding that this is an issue we all have a stake in,” explains Jonathan Schwarz, Associate Director of Environment within RTI’s International Development Group.

The project is already in discussion about other opportunities to create educational materials for younger audiences—including playing cards, books, and other digital content. As Schwarz also attested, “when it comes to environmental protection and conservation, we must leave no stone unturned.” 

Catch all of season three on MIND S-COOL’s YouTube page and stay tuned for new episodes of season four, airing in June 2022! 

Adapting to Education’s Brave New World

We’ve known for some time that conservation solutions will only be effective when they account for the ways people, animals, land, and seascapes interact and affect one another. The pandemic has simply shed a harsher light on just how crucial it is to reach communities where they are, if we want to have a lasting impact on how they interact with their environments. With schools closed, shows like MIND S-COOL and N*Gen TV were able to bring the classroom to the children—from those living in urbanized areas and cut off from nature to those living in rural areas whose livelihoods depend on the environment. 

As we turn our attention cautiously, optimistically, forward to a future in which classrooms are again vibrant hubs of inspiration, the lessons of the last few years are not forgotten. The face of education will never be the same. Yet, if we can be resilient and adaptive, this new world of learning can open more doors than it closes. Better still, if we can teach the generations who will inherit this planet to do the same, they might just discover doors we never knew existed.

Learn more about RTI’s work in environment.