Nurturing environmental leaders: The Beahrs ELP

Last Friday we celebrated the graduation ceremony of the 13th year of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program [ELP], a three week summer program that targets up-and-coming environmental professionals. The ELP has 502 alumni from 102 countries, and the geographic composition of the participants changes over time. This year we had 38 participants, twenty from Africa and the Middle East, eleven from Asia and the rest from the Americas and Europe.

Fotor0722115125What do these environmental leaders do for a living? They have diverse occupations and responsibilities. Ebinimi has a PhD in fisheries biology and is developing sustainable strategies for aquaculture in Nigeria; Khaled strives to protect wildlife and restore the national zoo in Libya; Arizona is a law scholar working with an NGO aiming to reform natural resources law in Indonesia; Diana is an environmental manager at a mining company in Mexico; Richmond is the director of a large sustainable development NGO in Ghana; Ming is from the Global Environmental Facility [GEF], which assists in establishing climate change mitigation projects in China; Mouna is establishing a center to provide environmental solutions and education in Saudi Arabia and Byrones and Stella are part of the Human Needs Project that provides clean water and improves living and environmental conditions in the largest slum of Nairobi, Kibera.

Various artistic talents enhance these leaders effectiveness and made the ELP more enjoyable. Alexander, who is the co-founder of, which is an online source for environmental solutions, and an environmental organizer in Moldova is an excellent poet and creative writer; Anne runs a major soil and plant fertility research program in Kenya and is also an outstanding singer. Her performance, accompanied by the piano playing of Irina, who is an environmental psychologist from Russia, was a highlight of the course. Finally, Boun has outstanding filmmaking skills that undoubtedly benefit his programs as a researcher and scholar of environmental engineering in Laos.

Shared values

The participants share many values and beliefs. All are very concerned about the recent epidemic of poaching, rapid deforestation, and the disappearing of valuable species, and are frustrated by the lack of meaningful actions to address climate change. There is a clear consensus that war and poverty are the great enemies of the environment and that global collective action is needed to tackle global problems.

Yet the group is not monolithic. Participants have different perspectives on the significance of population growth as a threat to the environment. While many are in favor of transition to organic farming and oppose genetically modified food, some, including me, view the utilization of the advanced tools of molecular biology, including transgenic varieties, as crucial to improving access to food and reducing the ecological footprint of agriculture. Some of the program was directed to address these differences in opinions. The participants visited organic farms in Sacramento and the lettuce growing industrial farming region near Salinas. These and other tours provided invaluable lessons about how environmental management is practiced on the ground in California and the real challenges facing practitioners in the field.

While much of the instruction and discussion was dedicated to environmental issues: environmental policy, climate change, water resource management, etc., we allocated significant time to more general issues and methods. Participants had a three days sequence on conflict resolution, providing them with tools to get along with their bosses and colleagues and to mediate between stakeholders in various disputes. We had presentations and held a discussion forum on the world food situation and the fast changes in global agriculture, and also had a session on marketing and business strategy. Environmental leaders can not be separated from the reality in other sectors, and need to understand the workings of markets and corporations to be effective. Furthermore, some of thinking and techniques developed by the private sector can improve the performance of the public and non-profit sectors.

What’s next for the Beahrs ELP-ers?

After graduation the participants join the alumni network where they are entitled to participate in the Kingman small grant initiative. This initiative finances collaborative projects between Berkeley faculty, students, and members of the ELP alumni networks. Some past projects include workshops for practitioners in developing countries, assisting alumni and their collaborators in project design and implementation, and collaborative applied research projects on water quality, among others. The alumni network also provides internship opportunities to students of our new Master of Development Practice program — a collaboration that is likely to expand over the next several years.

The Beahrs ELP is only thirteen years old — a young teenager far from maturity. As we grow, we intend to expand our activities to provide more training – both at Berkeley and overseas. We are now considering a series of one-week intensive training programs targeting our alumni and others on topics like impact assessment, water management, design of payment for ecosystem services, etc. to be held all over the globe in locations such as the Middle East, West Africa, South East Asia, etc. with instructional staff comprised of Berkeley faculty, students, ELP alumni, and local experts.

We believe that the Beahrs ELP can be the gem of a Berkeley global environmental education program. In the coming days, we hope to obtain funds to establish an extension position in the global environment and to utilize our alumni and Berkeley community to provide support for nurturing environmental leadership.

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