The Good Council: Akinyi Obama-Manners and Hafsat Abiola

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Akinyi: Okay, let’s start I’m like really nervous. You look so amazing. Thank you. Okay, let me begin. So Hello everyone, my name is Akinyi Obama-Manners and I’m 24 years old and I am a Youth:Present representative. I am passionate about working with children and young people to positively impact their lives by using art to allow for self-expression and creative thinking. For example, I’ve been working at Sauti Kuu Foundation in Kenya since 2019, where I helped develop the arts and creativity project activities and I work with toddlers and young people in an early childhood development program in a Nice Ju children’s village in Kenya. Today, I’m delighted to be speaking with Hafsat Abiola today and to learn more about her life, her work, and her engagement with the World Future Council. By way of introduction, Hafsat Abiola-Costello sorry, excuse me, is a human and civil rights campaigner and was appointed June 5, 2018, as the Executive President of Women in Africa Initiative. This initiative is dedicated to the economic development and support of leading and high potential African women. She is also the founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, which seeks to strengthen civil society and promote democracy in Nigeria. In 2008, she founded China Africa Bridge, an organization that seeks to ensure that growing African ties benefit between the continent and China. Hafsat received the Youth Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge Peace Commission in 1997, the State of the World’s Forum Changemaker Award in 1998, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Leader of Tomorrow Award 2000. Since 2008, she has been a Council member of World Future Council. Welcome to The Good Council Hafsat. How have you been like, it’s so great to see you again.

Hafsat: I’ve been really I think, under a lot of stress. As of Monday, I just went for my final divorce court date. So huge, huge thing. It’s kind of sad to put to bed a dream of a wonderful marriage, but I think it’s also in inspiring, at least for me to put to bed, something that did not work, you know, sometimes you just have to do that because you don’t think something’s working you think that well, let’s keep trying to make it work. But if it’s not going to work, it’s sometimes a good idea to put it to rest so that you create space for other things.

Akinyi: Yeah, and I think also especially now since Corona, it’s definitely a time of New Age kind of like rebirth for everyone.

Hafsat: Yes, yeah. So, in a way that whole process has been on one hand, empowering. And the other it’s been stressful because I’m having to move physically from where I was living with my now ex-husband, to my new home. But it’s also been it’s also been a time for reflection. I really am thinking also about I’ve been thinking a lot about Virginia Woolf. And I’ve still never gotten around to reading the book “A room of one’s one”. But I began to realize how important it is that women have spaces of their own. I think that we do so many things differently. And the world needs the balance between the male and female energies. And when I say the balance between the male and female energies, I’m not talking about an institution like marriage, where oftentimes the female energy has been subsumed into a preexisting framework. I’m talking about real partnership, where both energies coexist in equal power, because I think that that then allows for the full expression of what’s positive.I’ve been thinking a lot about that even now, as we think of them. You now, there’s so much pressure and push for women to go into leadership. And what does this mean? I can eat? When I think of my you know, and my experience of my marriage is actually genuinely very positive, because I am married to an extremely progressive person, when I think of the institution of marriage, and the institution of government and power, and corporate power, and all the various forms of power. And we’re saying that women should go away, if we’re not careful, all they’ll do is just go and be submerged. When what the world needs, is the ability to go in and transform. And I think that we need to be thinking of how women create spaces, that allows us to hold on to our power, so that we have the full capacity to transform dysfunctional spaces, instead of just going into encouraging women to go into spaces, where then they’ll just be a number a quarter, and we’ll say we have 25% or 30%. But what’s still the outcome in terms of the allocation of resources and innovation, the appropriation of benefits? Is it more egalitarian? Is it more democratic? Is it more life sustaining or not?  So, I think that I want us to begin, and especially, you know, in the end, it was because of your generation, that I was bullish around this question about divorce, not because of myself, because actually, the way that we’re raised in Nigeria, and particularly my culture, the Yoruba culture, from a very young age, girls are trained that way. So it was, you have to be like cool water. So even when you are in a hot situation, if you’re very, if you cool enough, you call the situation, you know, because we really trained to stay calm, and to absorb quite a lot. And I could have continued absorbing any number of things, when I thought of two children that I have my son and my daughter, but I want them to have the example of equal coexistence between male and female energy. And I want that given to them in such a clear and compelling way. Why do I say that? My mom died when she was 44 years old. I was at the time she died, I was about 21, I was going to turn 22. So, she has been that I’m going to be 50 very soon, in three years, I’ll be 50. So, she’s been dead for more than half of my life. And yet, I can tell you that whenever I have a question about anything, I feel my mother, I feel like voice. I just feel her like sitting beside me. And then we look at the problem together. And then I just realizing it’s just going to be this way. And you know, we’re Africans and Africans, we believe very much in the ancestors in the journey that I’ve taken just even in the last few months. So, find a new place to stay, or go to a place and they’ll say, you know, maybe they’d look at me and see this black African woman and they just wouldn’t give me the apartment. Finally, finally, if you see the place I finally found, it is so perfect in every way. The gentle children love it. It’s just walking distance from their school. It’s so perfect, and I don’t think I found it. I think the ancestors looked at the problem that I had. And they said have such as continue to conduct ourselves in the way in which we put her and so they went ahead, and I took care of everything.  And so that’s why I want to make the example as compelling. Because who knows when you’re going to go in this era of COVID? People, you, you, you hear that somebody isn’t feeling well and 24 hours later that the person died. If anything were to happen, I would, no matter how long ago I left, at the gentle children, whenever they faced with a question, I should have a very clear understanding about what their mother would have wanted them to do. I think it’s so important that we live, that our lives be a clear message, that there should never be any confusion as to what our priorities are. And that we’re here, not for ourselves, but to really uphold the human spirit in the very, very best possible way.

Akinyi: Now, it’s so inspiring to me, how you talk about your mother and her role and her legacy in your life. So, what did you learn from your mother? And what might she have learned from us?

Hafsat: So, when I was very young, I’m not just an introvert, which is kind of extrapolating as I said, I’m a learner. So, I am very, on this whole water thing. My Water is very cool, extremely cool. I remember one day, someone slapped me and someone younger than me. She was upset and she slapped me and my mother, so my mother came to hear about it. Now I didn’t do anything when the person did that, because I just thought clearly, she must be upset. And that’s why she’s done that. My mother blew a gasket. She could not believe that allowed someone to slap me that I allowed someone to slap me. I hadn’t even thought about retaliation in any way. In fact, I didn’t even want to do that.  My by my nature is just very relaxed. In fact, I just think Oh, poor girl. She’s so upset. And I’m given a Maven to thinking how to help her not to be so upset. Yeah. Then I remember the tools actually very cool native as I work. In fact, I have low blood pressure. She used to have low blood pressure when she was alive. So, because we just we just take it just takes more energy more to happen for me to be Want to in order to get any otherwise, I’m just happy going through life. And my mother taught me something at that moment that it was important for me not to allow people to walk all over me. Because let myself I’m actually perfectly comfortable with that. I have no problem with that. Because I mean, if somebody is walking all over you, maybe the person needed something to walk on. I mean, it, that’s just kind of my mentality, I’m doing very well, because my mother taught me that. Essentially, she was teaching me to stand up for myself because she got upset. And she spoke to me and scolded me. And essentially said, you have to learn to stand up for yourself. So, I think that’s the big lesson I learned from my mother is that I have to stand up for myself. that’s my daughter, because we’re invading our bedroom actually, sorry. You know, she was, she was, she felt very much that I shouldn’t allow that to happen. And actually, that has really helped me in my life. Because I think, just because it doesn’t really matter to you, isn’t actually a good reason to allow somebody to do something that isn’t respectful of you. Just because you can take it and it doesn’t really bother you so much, doesn’t mean you should allow it because because it’s also not good for that person, for you to allow them to power in a way that is limiting for others. It’s not good for them. And maybe if they are, if you allow them and they go on to do it to someone else, the person’s reaction will be so balanced and so aggressive. Whereas you because you notice that they’ve crossed the line. And because you say you stay so even tempered, maybe you’re the best person to say to them that that you’ve crossed a line, you shouldn’t cross that kind of line, we shouldn’t do that. And so I learned that from my mom. And I’ve been learning to stand up for myself. And the other thing I learned about standing up for myself. I don’t know where I learned this at you want to say that? It wasn’t from my mom, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know. But I don’t want to say I learned that when you want to respond. Okay, two things. Number one, when you want to respond, it’s extremely important that you are not reacting, but you are responding. So when you react is like somebody still have to do to just slap the president back and you start you know, fighting, that’s a reaction. Yeah. I set the terms for your engagement, and you have gone along with the term that I’ve been sexually. Where does power lie? Sorry.  So my daughter has to collect something from a room. So we’re sorry to have invaded your space? By Zoe by Bella. So um, you know, it’s something I’m not I lost my train of thought, if something happens and you, you are not, and you follow the framework that has been created. You remember this quotation? Oh, I haven’t shared the quotation with you that slavery is not African history, slavery, interrupted African history. So it’s as if you’ve allowed yourself to be interrupted. And you’re now going with the narrative from the person that has interrupted you? Well, when somebody is interrupted, you often don’t want to take you off course, maybe you are going in this particular direction, and it’s not in their best interest, that you continue in that direction. So they try to derail you push you off course. And you when you then get sidetracked, you’ve that you’ve allowed them to win, essentially. So it’s important not to do that.  Yes, you don’t want to be taken advantage of by others. But in when you say that somebody is taking advantage of you, you have to be careful to give a complete response that is, but you must act in a way that advances your own cause. You’ll act in a way that furthers their cause, you know, somebody has slapped you, maybe that person is actually physically stronger. When you slap them that they’ll end up beating you up.

Akinyi: Yeah, exactly.

Hafsat: You know, what you’ve allowed them to set the terms of engagement along the terms that best events. But when you didn’t do that, when you just step back, and you look at what the person has done, when you consider what your options are, how to respond, there’s you holding on to your power, and then applying your power in the most responsible way. Because then you could come up with a solution that at least is good for you, at the minimum. And at the maximum, ideally is good for both of you. So you could have a conversation with that person. And then the person says, you know, I don’t know why I did that, I’m sorry, I’m going to check myself in the future, and you have a better understanding.  So that I think is better, especially if you’re not physically as strong. Something else I wanted to say about that which is connected. It’s always better in any engagement. Wherever possible, the strongest power is in action. Not so much in words. So, if there’s something that we don’t like, like, we don’t like the way Africa is positioned in the global economy, but Africans spend so much time talking about the poverty in Africa, the challenges, I just think that that’s not what we should be doing. We should be spending as much time connecting me, Hafsat connecting to Akinyi, and seeing and doing research, how do we change that situation? That’s what our audience is not just an exhausting yourself, lamenting limitation.  Now, what is it going to do for anybody? What is it ever done? But it’s the innovation, always holding on to hope, and always trusting that the God that made Caucasians and Asians is the same color that has made Africans and is not a God as much as found in us to poverty and misery. So that is a challenge that he has set before us, he has set because he knows we can meet the challenge, then we work to meet it. So, I think that, and when we move in that way, we then engage all the potential allies and say, here’s where we’re at what Africans are doing. We would love for you to partner with us. You know, when you look at the history of the world, we look at the audacity of British companies going to take over pretty much the subcontinent of India and run it as their own private system. Before it was actually a British company, not even the British state that did that the East India Company. Yeah, you know, and, and those people acted and then mobilized alliances to concrete concretize, that action? We are not doing that. And I think that’s the problem is not that they did it, is the fact that we don’t have enough belief in ourselves to also take action.

Akinyi: And I think it’s about like because I think power comes from within. So, it’s how you harness that power?

Hafsat: Completely agree.

Akinyi: I think that’s so important. And I think also with how like the pandemic has happened, and how things have slowed down, I think especially as like black women, we’re always taught, like, we’re so strong, you know, we fail through whatever adversity or whatever happens to us. And I think it’s important for us to, like, be able to, like, be soft, to be able to be sad, if we need to be sad, you know, to be able to, like, be, we don’t have to be strong all the time. And I think that’s also important in like getting into those leadership roles. Because I think, as well as like being a strong woman, you also need to like have, you need to have emotions, you need to be like emotional in the sense that you can like slow down, you can see things for what they really are not just like hard as that’s what like the word expects women to be because we’re strong, you know.

Hafsat: You know, to be honest with you, I think it even goes deeper than that, I think, you know, first we’re women, and that’s a big issue that we need to unpack. And we’re also black people, that’s also I think, and the world that we live in, in a way bigger. Consider, you know, there was one day, I went to the very first trip to another West African country, Cote d’Ivoire. And its sister of mine from my yacht. One of the French departments in that is an island of African, the African post. She convened so many of us together in this case. And there was this exhibition that she organized that a friend of hers had done, where they looked at the way in which story where they looked at the way in which they looked at the way in which black people have been presented over centuries. Actually, women followed that exhibition, it started playing. I didn’t know when they looked at was wanting to child, I think I need to go in a zoo in a pen in a zoo, and all these people around her looking at her, like the way we look at monkey, you go to the zoo and over a banana. Then there was even another woman with a child that she was carrying and another child standing beside her and we’re going looking at this family, then the woman that they took from South Africa, Lucy I think she had a very big one. And I think that took her to France. And she was on a tour, she was put on a circuit, and people would come from all over to local, especially because of our bond, because he had a very big gun. You know, when she death, she wasn’t giving any dignity because they now did this effort to find out, you know, to call her up to study our body. When President Mandela will go to South Africa to France, when he became president of South Africa, immediate requests that remains should begin Even back to the people of South Africa. So she could be probably very. I think you, you know, there was another time I read about the Second World War. And Winston Churchill in England, you know, he, you know, Africans as colonial subjects that being part of that war as soldiers, Nigeria, in many countries, Kenya. But at the end, when they were doing the march into England, the victory march into England, Winston Churchill made the decision that the Africans should come in last, so that by this time, most of the crowd would have gone and then they wouldn’t have to acknowledge that Africans had contributed to helping them win that war.  We think it’s always interesting for us, when you hear about things like this, we think, well, how could that have happened? And that’s wrong? I think we should think differently, I think, you know, how are those kinds of things happening even today? In what ways are Africans being continually objectified? In what ways? Are we not getting the rewards of our labor? Because I think sometimes, those kinds of practices, we think are colonization, it went on. And in the, from 1958, when Ghana secured independence, the countries in Africa became started to become independent. But we don’t think of the kind of mindset that shaped those kinds of political systems, and the fact that those mindsets still exist.  So I think you know, that we need to realize that colonization or frameworks are like the tip of the iceberg that we can see below the iceberg is even a larger body of values, ideas, beliefs about other people. So that even if you take care of the colonization as a framework, and say, we let’s get this country to be independent, you will continually have the children, the offspring of that kind of mindset, that would also be degrading, dehumanizing for the people affected. So, I want us to take that approach.  And because if we take that approach, we become more critical, less accepting, more insistent on evidence, more insistent on data, more insistent on looking at actual results, and not to be overwhelmed and overtaken by pronouncements, you know. I’m here in Belgium, which is just a wonderful country. But you know, one of their stories was when they came at the colony, in very hot continents. And he wanted to meet a certain quota for rubber. So to make sure that the Africans could deliver this quarter, their hands were cut their feet, my car, if they fail to deliver even that of their children. Now, when you think about that, and then you think about how the country gained its independence, and what happened right after that to the first democratically elected president, and the fact that till today, Congo is the poorest black, poorest country in Africa. Even though they have coltan, which is an essential and strategic resource used for every mobile phone, then you can see the long history and how we continue the has an impact. So what I don’t want is for us to feel like oh, we’re all looking at us were victims. Woe is us, everybody is against us. Because that’s not true.  From the experience of slavery, through the experience of colonization, through the experience of neoliberal economics on our different countries and economies. We’ve had allies in the rest of the world will stood with us. But I think also that my challenge actually is that within the continent, so few realize that we need allies. So few realize that we’re still in a battle. They still Besant to say, Oh, it’s all about our governments now and the governments to do what they need to do, but it’s more than our governments. It’s always been more than the continent, because the continent and the people of the continent are considered to be special reserves of others.  And I think this is where we need to begin to address a lack of true sovereignty, then I think that we need to recognize that as Africans, There was this beautiful quote from Toni Morrison, where she said, the big, the big, the big motive of racism is distraction. So they tell you, you don’t have a history and you start doing research to prove you have a history, when they tell you don’t have a language show to prove that you were done there, you exist in all this. And I think we need to remember that our goal as Africans is not to prove our humanity to anyone.  Our goal, as Africans is to be present in the world, on equal terms with others. And so we should keep our eye on that prize. That what does the world need to have expressed today that we as Africans can also support the expression of and not get distracted by all these efforts, many centuries in the making to dehumanize and degrade us.

Akinyi: That was really, like, incredible to listen to. Like I’ve just like lost for words. Like I can listen to you all day. So now I want to know more about you. And so, my first question is, what did you want to be when you were a child?

Hafsat: When I was young, I wanted to be a diplomat. And I told my dad, that I want to be a diplomat, because I had gotten into Georgetown School of Foreign Service. I applied early from high school. And I said to my dad, but I want to go there because I want to be a diplomat. And my father paused. And he said, what kind of husband will you marry gallivanting around the world? The funny thing is that, if not for COVID, I would still be gallivanting around the world, because when he won the political presidential election in Nigeria, and this was decades ago, in 1993, and then the military put him in jail. And my mother had to begin to lead the pro-democracy efforts.  At that moment, I became an activist, I started traveling, to speak for a cause for democracy, I was traveling all over the United States, through Canada, through the United Kingdom, everywhere we went to Germany, to price our case. And then afterwards, I became involved, I created an organization in Nigeria to empower women and young people to participate in that democracy, and kept traveling because of that., because I’ll be invited to Sweden, I’ve been invited. I was working on a youth employment campaign to help generate millions of jobs for young people around the world. So, we would be holding a summit in Egypt would all the summit in India, you know, so I was always traveling.  And I always remember that my father said, you know, what kind of husband because I did find your husband over now. My ex husband, but also, because I think that’s ultimately the worst. I mean, I don’t represent any government. But oh, it’s saying that my internet is unstable, I hope returned to conversation. But it doesn’t, you know, I don’t represent any government. But as president of women in Africa, I represent African women. And I’m having to travel, engage with partners, engage with sponsors, and advocate for women’s economic empowerment. So, I think I ended up doing actually exactly what I wanted to do.

Akinyi: Yeah, for sure. And I think also, because through your work, you’re promoting the development of women, as initiators of change through leadership and awareness programs, for examples through founding the Kudirat initiative for democracy, which is named after your mother. Why did you name after your mother?

Hafsat: I liked that woman so much. Yeah, in my brain, great human being. And when the military gunned her, down on the streets of Lagos, because she was organizing the democratic effort, I wanted to let the military know that they had not silenced that voice. So created, because she’s a very kind lady. I just needed the acronym kind of starts with a case of I made it easier, and that I could write initiative for Nigerian democracy. And then I

The Good Council: Annika Weis and Angelina Davydova

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Intro: Hello, and welcome to The Good Council, the podcast of the World Future Council. In each episode, we’ll highlight current challenges and policy solutions. And we’ll also take you on a journey of inspiring stories. Listen in to another of our intergenerational dialogues from around the globe.

Annika: Hello, everyone. My name is Annika, I’m working at the World Future Council. In this episode, I’m speaking with Angelina Davydova, a renowned journalist, civil society expert, educator, and changemaker with more than 20 years of experience in Russian and international media, international non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and academia. She is regarded as an expert in Russian climate and environmental policy, green civil society initiatives, and grassroots movements. She currently writes for publications such as Kommersant, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Klimaretter.info, the Science Magazine, and she’s also the main editor of the journal Ecology and law.

Hello, Angelina, thank you so much for being here today with me, it is a real pleasure for me to speak with you and to get to know you a little bit better.

Angelina: Hello, Annika. And thank you for having me.

Annika: Because our listeners and readers probably don’t know you yet: I was just going to ask you if someone wrote a biography about you, what would it say who you are and where you come from?

Angelina: Well, I come from St. Petersburg, Russia, which was called Leningrad at the time that I was born. And I like making this joke saying that I was born in the city and I was born in a country which does not exist anymore. So I was born in Leningrad, Soviet Union. And now it’s in Petersburg, Russia. I studied economics. But then I went into journalism, and I worked many years in journalism. And I still do that now as a freelance author for a number of publications, which you mentioned. But other than that, around 12 years ago, I discovered the topics of climate change and sustainable development, and environmental cooperation. And I felt like those were very important topics for me personally, but also for the world, on a global scale. And I got very interested and I get very excited. And when I get really interested in something, I just go and explore the field. And this is what I did.

And so at this very moment, I’m active in a number of sectors, which you mentioned, I write, I speak, I educate, I’m active in international cooperation programs. I’m trying to learn many things about the world and trying to learn the way the world is in various diverse aspects of this world … problems, solutions, what we can do, what has been done already, what works, what doesn’t work. And then I’m trying to pass this information along in various forms, in form of educational materials, or media products, or something else, like, our conversation is probably also one of these formats. And I’m also connecting a lot of people together to speak about, I don’t know—maybe my life’s mission, I always feel like, if I’m being asked about how is that I see myself, I would probably say, on one hand, I’m really learning about the world and spreading this information around. On the other side, I’m also someone who connects a lot of people, like, I know a lot of people and many people know me. So I feel like it’s very important to get people connected, but also somehow to make the whole communication smoother. So to moderate the meetings, talks, be it offline, or more often online now.

Annika: How is your childhood? And how has that made you who you are today?

Angelina: Well, I grew up in a country, which was changing on a daily basis. Like something which we believe to be true one day was not true, the next day, and I believe we had to adapt to these changes. And on one hand, I feel like I was growing up thinking, nothing is forever, and everything will change tomorrow. So, you have to be flexible, you have to be resilient. I didn’t know the word resilient then, I guess it didn’t exist in my world. And you have to—I don’t know—be able to change. On one hand, it does bring a lot of flexibility. And I feel like, say, I’m always learning. I’m always learning something new. On the other hand, it certainly brings along issues of trust. Like, who do you trust and what do you trust? Do you trust any institutions at all? How do you trust people? Those are still very important issues not only for me personally, but I feel like many people in my country and especially people of my generation all around. So I would say those particular historic conditions obviously shaped me into the way I am now.

Now speaking more about personal experiences, I’ve always loved reading. And I used to read a lot when I was a kid. I also used to invent a lot of stories; we actually used to play that game with my mom when she would start a story like a fairy tale. But those would be sometimes a fairy tales about, I don’t know, various very practical aspects of life, for example, a fairy tale about a plumber, who we saw out of the window. And so she would start this story, and then I was encouraged to continue the story and think of something happening. And I still love that. Even though I don’t write fiction and I don’t produce fiction—well, maybe one day I will—but it’s still something which I enjoyed a lot. And then I also remember in our summer house, like our dacha, outside of Leningrad, we also had a lot of world maps where various countries and continents were portrayed. And I would travel through them with my eyes thinking, “Oh, my God, maybe one day I’ll go to Africa or to South America and elsewhere”, because I was out there somewhere up in the north, in a little spot. And I’m very happy that until the COVID [pandemic], I got the chance to travel to many continents, and many places in this little round planet and get to see with my own eyes the way people live.

Because even though I work in journalism, I very often realize how international journalism is somewhat limited in the portrayal of the ways of life of people, like common people like you or I, or that plumber who we can see out of our window. It’s very often that we tend to read stories about important people, presidents, Queens, celebrities, and not enough stories about just the way people live, what makes them happy, what their regular life is built around. And this is very often, you can only really see with your own eyes when you come to a place. And then when you speak to the people you see there. And then you build your own story. It might not be a 100% true story, because you only see and you only get to know particular aspects that you’re interested in. And then you still frame them with your brain, which might also have stereotypes or frameworks that you prefer to use. But it’s still feel like it’s an enriching experience.

Annika: So I take it, you’ve visited many, many countries, do you have a rough idea how many?

Angelina: Oh, actually, I didn’t count them. I don’t know, maybe something between 30 and 40? Around 30? I guess. Yeah.

Annika: That’s really impressive. So how does—how does today’s Angelina look back at child Angelina? What has come true? And what were your expectations? And did you think it would ever be – it would be like you think it would?

Angelina: Well, when I was a child, I even thought that the year 2000 is not real, you know, it seemed so far away. In a way, I don’t feel like I was making plans, or I was planning my future in a very distinct way. I thought that there are things that I want to do. There are things that I’m interested in. But I guess I didn’t have very specific plans like I want to grow up and be that. Actually, I didn’t know who I want to be. Even now, it takes me quite a while to explain what is actually that I’m doing because I’m doing so many things. Maybe there is no word for my profession. Maybe the whole idea of the profession is going into the past, and we are now being defined by something else. So yeah, I feel like I didn’t have any specific plans. Looking from my childhood experience to the way I am now, I would probably say, I’m happy with where I am. I mean, there’s still a long way to work on myself. There’s still a long way to explore me and find out what new things in life I’m interested in but also find out new ways of taking care of myself and yeah, exploring this world. But in general, I would say looking at the little girl which was out there in our summer house—in our dacha—and if she were to talk to me now, I believe that would have been an interesting conversation and mutually encouraging and happy conversation.

Annika: That’s really, really lovely. And I’d love to come back to some of the things you addressed. One of them is that you say you’re still perhaps searching for what it is that you want to be doing, and doing with your life. You did study St. Petersburg University, economics, and finance, but then you switch to journalism, is that maybe another facet of always reinventing yourself and looking for something else, or was there another reason how you came to become a journalist?

Angelina: Well, at that time, I was not framing it that way. Now, maybe if I look back, I would use exactly the same wording, like you just did. With me, I was somehow always following my inner call, I would say. I was always someone who could not spend, who could not imagine spending a year doing something which I would not enjoy. So for me, I was always like, there’s nothing that I should be doing or must be doing. There’s only something which I want to be doing. And that has pluses and minuses. Now that I think about it. [laughs] I mean, I never worked in hierarchical structures. I never don’t believe in hierarchies, I believe in teamwork. And I believe in partnerships. I never really worked like 10, nine to five jobs, or 10 to 8, or 10 to 6, which is more common here. I was always someone who felt like I want to define what I do and how I do, and I want to if I get passionate about something, I do that. However, that also has another side, which means the whole division between work and non-work disappears. In a way, I work all the time. Well, I don’t always define it as work. Like for example, what is it that we do now? Right? Is it work? Is it not work? I enjoy it. It’s interesting. Luckily, I have a colleague helping me and we are here at the office of the [Bilona], which is an NGO based in St. Petersburg, and I’m working with them, and they’re the ones who publish this magazine, environmental law, which I edit. And I’m very happy I have colleagues helping me. So… but anyway, that leads to the fact that say, two days on this week, I was working until midnight, and some other days, I have to get up very early and do something, it’s always like there are, it’s very hard to say no to exciting things. But maybe I should start learning more. So the whole work-life balance is an issue, is an issue for my so to say the mode of life, which I shaped. So now I start to think more about the balance, more about other things because I want to do so many other things in life. I want to join the choir again. [laugh] It’s so many times in my life, and I just dropped out because sometimes when you have an event in the evening, what, you miss it, right? And people cannot rely on you. And likewise, I would love to do more dancing, I would love to do other things. But yeah, it’s not easy. But what I’m trying to just think and to feel how is it I can, I can change my life.

Annika: It’s very reflective, for me actually listening to you. It’s almost like listening to a mirror. I relate to so much that you’re saying. So since we just spoke a lot about work. And you also mentioned your work-life balance, what is it that you hope to achieve with the work that you do?

Angelina: Here, once again, I would say I don’t always have very particular goals. And this is probably one of the specifics of living in, in our times in modern times in Russia as it is like planning exists, but it almost never comes to life. So in a way, I feel like I’m doing what I can. And I’m trying to do it better and better. I’m also trying to learn something new, meet new people, develop more profound and more mutually interesting, exciting and beneficial working companionships with people and organizations. And I just see what comes out of it. Like one of the factors which suddenly worked over the last, I’d say 10 years is that I’ve been and I’m still one of the people who has been putting climate agenda in Russia forward. And I would say here—I would also say not only me but also a number of us, right, people who are part of the climate circles, as we say, in Russia, we really, we put that agenda forward. Now the climate is an important issue. Everyone talks about it, there is probably every week, there are like one or two climate and decarbonisation related events, probably, out there, there’s something like a very, very tiny percentage that I’ve contributed to that factor, by writing about it, by giving public lectures, by talking to people, by bringing all these people together and facilitating a conversation between them. So that would be like one of the things that I would mention.

And then another—another thing that I would also mention is that, as you said, in the beginning, I’m also very active in the area of international cooperation. And I believe in international cooperation. I mean, these days—probably it has always been the case, but I live now, so I speak about the present—there is so many bad news about international cooperation, political complications, economic sanctions, economic conflicts, many other aspects. And most of what we read in the media is about this. However, I still, I strongly believe that aside from that there are still tracks for other kinds of corporations because very often, it’s the government or political or economic elites, which bring countries into this. And they don’t take into consideration common people, they don’t take into consideration people like you or me, who are working for a particular cause or engaged in a particular area. And we do want to develop international cooperation in our fields, not about I don’t know, military aspects, not about many other aspects, but about the areas where we’re working. And I feel it’s still important to sustain that level of cooperation, no matter what, it’s still important to talk to each other and try and think about, what is it that we can do?

Annika: That’s really important, especially right now, as you said, when it almost feels like international cooperation is somewhat going, going downhill almost. But this again ties in with you, the networker in a way, the person who brings people together, and who looks out for new contacts. And I guess one of the new sort of networks that you’re part of now, is the World Future Council. You’re a very recent Councillor, you joined just, I think, at the end of last year, 2020. What brings you to us? I mean, we’re super excited to have you and I’m super excited to learn from you today. What brings you to us?

Angelina: Well, first of all, I would like to say it has been a great honor when I have been invited to become a Councillor. And I looked up at the list of the current Councillors, and I looked up at the events and other activities of the Council. And I realized, wow, it’s such an amazing institution. It’s very interesting what they do. They bring together many exciting people. I like the level of discussions, the level of publications is indeed very professional. And I want to be part of that network. So I’ve been invited. I said, yes. I joined. And I’ve participated in a number of events, which were organized, I believe, with so far, we just had one big talk among all councillors. And the next one is coming soon. And I look forward to our real meeting, hopefully, in the fall, in Italy, if I’m not mistaken. And yeah, I mean, so far, all the activities which have been done by other councillors, the ones I read about, the ones I listen to. I’ve been to a number of events like online events, organized by other councillors and I also regularly read all the papers and research projects produced by other councillors and that’s all sounds very exciting to me.

I’m about to launch my podcast, which will be called [poslezavtra], so “the day after tomorrow”, that podcast is supported by the Goethe Institute in St. Petersburg. And for one of the podcast episodes, which is due to come out in late April and early May, I’ve actually interviewed Hans Herren, one of the councillors, and one of the World Future Council members. And that has already been very exciting cooperation outside the usual meeting track. And I look forward to furthering cooperation with other members. And yeah, it looks like a very interesting institution, it looks like a very interesting track. And a very interesting forward-thinking organization. I’m somehow very well I can, I can probably say, I don’t know if the word “progressive” is positive these days, I would call myself someone who very much likes looking into the future, thinking what the future could be, what is the future we want to be? And I feel like engaging in these kinds of conversations about the future is always something which excites me, I like thinking about the future and I’m a very, like, future-oriented person. So yeah, it’s an amazing opportunity. And I’m very grateful that I’ve been invited. And now I’m now part of the World Future Council. Oh, my God, that sounds so serious as well.

Annika: I really look forward to listening to your podcast when it’s out. Just briefly, maybe how is it that you look to use your skills and ideas and your work within the Council, and how can also the World Future Council help you amplify your work and achieve your goals?

Angelina: Well, I feel like it’s still being formed like there is no set-like forms of cooperation. But from what I’ve seen so far, and I have heard and read so far, I would be open to engaging in public events organised by the World Future Council, which are dedicated to my area of expertise, I would be open to any sort of bilateral or multilateral cooperation projects with other councillors, I am sharing everything I do through the council’s mailing list. And sometimes I think maybe it’s a bit too much. [lauhgs ]But I’m still doing it. And I like learning about what other members are doing. So in a way, a lot of exchange a lot of cooperation, very particular, educational and public awareness projects that we can do together. I’m always happy to speak at the World Future Council events and share my expertise and my knowledge of the areas and the region where I’m from. So I look forward to many forms of engagement. And I believe, right now, with the times when most of life and activities are online, we’re kind of have to rethink what international cooperation is in these difficult times. And many new forms can appear. And we’re watching them appearing and being born.

Annika: Wonderful. And there’s one thing that I’d really love to ask you about, which is since you’re a journalist, the other huge thing, obviously, is that nowadays, almost everyone can become a journalist. Right? And I mean, specifically social media and fake news. What does that do to you? And what do you think about the phenomenon that everyone can just pick up a microphone, write about something they’re interested in, and put it out there? Whereas journalists really go through all the motions and fact check, make sure what they’re saying is accurate.  What do you think about that?

Angelina: Well, I see both positive and negative consequences of that trend. On the positive side, it did become much more democratic in a way and inclusive in a form that everyone can now be a—I mean, they used to say this, like civic journalism, a few years ago, I believe now they don’t use that term that widely nowadays, but yeah, everyone now can be a civic journalist. Like, with what you do is what you’re writing in social media, with what you post or repost, like creating media content or sharing media content, you’re already contributing to the global media world. And it’s good in a way. Now the negative consequences are obviously like the ones you mentioned. And that it’s very often that people now and audiences now find it more and more difficult to differentiate between professional media specialists and non-professional media specialists. And people just say things like, oh, it has been written on the internet, or, like, I saw it on Facebook or on Twitter. And not many people really go deep down about where this information appeared. Who was the origin of it? How do I make sure it’s correct? How do I make sure it’s authentic? Like, what are the proofs? What does the other side say? So in a way, all these questions referring to fact-checking, to bringing proofs of your information, to bringing opinions of the other sides—that’s not always there. And in a way that changes the way people consume information, because now we have so much information in various forms around us. There’s a lot of noise, so to say, right, informational noise, and there’s a lot of buzzing around. And it’s really hard to pick out particular news outlets and pick out particular media products, which you can trust. I mean, nowadays, like for us, media professionals, it might be a bit easier. But I often think about people who are not that experienced also with social media, and they tend to believe many things which are written or said or otherwise represented in various social media formats, and then it’s really difficult to differentiate, it’s really difficult to find out what’s really happening. So yeah, I would say both positive and negative consequences of that.

Annika: And does it have any direct impact that you feel it has on your work?

Angelina: Well, on one hand, I feel like I need to promote my work. And now promotion of what you do is as important as creating an original media product. So, the times when you write an article, and then it was like, wow, and everyone read it and everyone paid attention to it. Again, I mean, unless you probably write about some really important political issues. But if you really want to bring the attention of the audience to your subject, you have to invest—either you or your colleagues, someone has to invest a lot of in promotion. Like you really have to knock on your audience’s door and say, look, this is an amazing story. I very often try and do it through my personal attitude, saying, look, it’s me, I do this, I came to learn about the story, I did this research, I spoke to those people and to those people, and I went there, maybe, and I produced the story. And but yeah, so you have to react. And you have to promote a lot of what you do. And then you also—another open question is, to what extent should you really react to everything happening in social media and engage in conversations? I actually a few years ago, I used to be much more active on social media, like Facebook and Twitter, like posting my materials and answering all the comments and engaging in long conversations or then writing my general thoughts about what’s happening in the sector that I’m active in. And then after a while, it became so much, it just became too much for me, and I realized, I want to do a bit less of it. And probably now I’m handing it more professional way, and I’m engaging in fewer conversations in social media than before, simply because I did not have enough time, like 24 hours is certainly not enough for that.

But it’s still an open question, especially if you don’t work for a large professional media, but you work for a number of media, and you are the one who has to do everything. I mean, say in case of our magazine, luckily, there are professional people who do this. But then sometimes when I write for other media, and I want to publicize my stories for a more general audience, I have to invest a lot of time and energy in promoting it and also engaging with the audience. And this is this very time-consuming. I mean, on one hand, it does bring you closer to your audience. On the other hand, yeah, time, time, time is the greatest resource of our lives now.

Annika: Yeah, that’s true. And I guess that also ties in again with the work-life balance that you mentioned before. Social media has almost made it even more difficult to sort of have that clear separation between the professional and the private life and there’s just always something to be done. Like around the clock, I guess, especially as a journalist, you must be feeling that.

Angelina: Right? Even when I come to a party or like to dinner, and I meet new people, and they don’t know what I do. As soon as I mentioned this, they start asking me questions about recycling, or waste management reform, or forestry, or wildfires. And I feel like, people, honestly, I came here just to

The Good Council: Annika Weis and Pauline Tangiora

Shownotes

& more information



Intro: Hello, and welcome to The Good Council, the podcast of the World Future Council. In each episode, we’ll highlight current challenges and policy solutions. And we’ll also take you on a journey of inspiring stories. Listen in to another of our intergenerational dialogues from around the globe.

Annika: This is a slightly different episode of our podcast series. For starters, it begins with a traditional Maori greeting…

Kosha: Greeting

Annika: One of the most cherished Councillors of the World Future Council is Pauline Tangiora. A Maori elder and leading figure for indigenous communities, she is described as a repository for knowledge and wisdom. She is a daughter, a mother and grandmother, and not just to her family, but to many people around the world. She is also a tireless fighter and campaigner for the rights of nature, for peace and disarmament, and for intergenerational conversations—just like the one she had with me. Pauline has been a member of the World Future Council since its foundation in 2007. But I wanted to get to know her as a person, what she did before she joined, and why she does what she does. I hoped to learn about her views on life, on her work and on her community, and about her message to present and future generations.

For example, I read that Pauline’s community is much more collective than we are used to in Europe, and often lives together across generations where generations can benefit from one another. So, I asked her how exactly she practices inter-generational living.

Pauline: Well, it’s a difficult question to answer. By bringing on board—over few years that I’ve travelled overseas, taking a younger person with me, and then dropping them into the situation that they have to speak because we, we as Maori, usually do things together. Not on our own. And that’s the way that we have been doing it for several years. My travels overseas haven’t been for me, they’ve been for the younger people to learn so that they can carry on to the future or to each other. That’s the way our people live, by sharing what knowledge we have. So, everybody is on board, because of different generations have different values. And if we can’t dialogue with the generation what is happening is a generation gap if we are not understanding or not sharing that knowledge.

Annika: I was also really interested in her indigenous community. I wondered, is there prhaps a particular message that the Maori have for the WFC?

Pauline: Well, I can’t talk for everybody. I can only talk from my perspective and my community… to achieve the dreams of this modern age we have to get everybody on board and that is like in any other community, trying to get everybody on board is very difficult.

You’ve had an extra little experience of how Maori start their day, when Kosha-Joy opened with our language and introduced me. Those things are important to retain. It’s very important that every indigenous community in the world retains those introductions in a world which is so European.

But we have some young people like Kosha-Joy and that, who are working very hard to bring the “new world” to the “old world”. Cause some of us are not prepared yet for that new world. As for indigenous people internationally, in my work with the indigenous peoples around the world, many of them have looked to Maori to help them to succeed.

But at the Rio Conference, of Kari-Oca, one thing we were all united in—the over [ninety] nationalities—was that, we mustn’t lose that, which we’ve had.

Annika: In June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—also known as the ‘Earth Summit’—was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was a major UN conference that sought to rethink economic development and to find ways to stop polluting the planet and depleting its natural resources. But while heads of governments met in Rio, indigenous peoples had their own summit at Kari-Oca, a village outside Rio: the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Territory, Environment and Development. And following their Kari-Oca Conference, the indigenous leaders shared their perspectives with the State representatives.

Pauline: One of the things that we have noticed in the international world: international companies look at some of our young indigenous peoples, they grab them and put them into places where they lose their contact with their indigenous world. And that’s a danger that all indigenous communities around the world have. And I think the WFC have given a little bit of a leeway for the indigenous peoples to come forward from their perspective, especially some of the women of Africa who have come forward planting millions of trees, the waterways; the women in India, trying to save Gujarat; the women in the Amazon, trying to stop the forest being cut down. Because indigenous peoples can only work with the environment that they’re around, those environments vary from country to country. And it doesn’t matter how big a community you have, it’s all the same, it’s retaining the knowledge of how Mother Earth works with humanity. If we don’t work this together, we are not above Mother Earth, we are within Mother Earth, and humanity must be tamed.

Pause

Annika: One thing that I learned in advance of my call with Pauline was that Maori people believe in Kaitiakitanga, which can be translated into trusteeship (of the Earth). What does this fascinating concept mean, and what does it entail?

Pauline: That number one, you have a responsibility for yourself. To make sure that you are honest, your morals are above reproach. Because unless you yourself can look within yourself, you cannot work within the environment or with the new community. Because to look after anything, you must be there for the purpose of, number one, your people, humanity, and the world as such. So, sometimes it’s a hard-y road to walk. But other times people can come to understand if indigenous peoples go to the government and say “this is not right”.

Unfortunately, the government has different values. But in my experience in approaching other governments around the world, saying “this is the way these people that I am with today, see it”—but people seem to think that you ask one or two people, how to do things, and that is why the Rio Conference in ‘92 for environment, it was set up by [Maurice] Strong [former Under-Secretary of the UN], the Kari-Oca Conference—free conference where all these 90 year old national, independent indigenous peoples of the world came together—and they decided with the Kari-Oca document “this is the way we do it”. And when Marcos Terena presented to the Rio Conference, which is only visited by heads of state, he walked in there with bare feet. And I heard somebody say “the poor man hasn’t got any shoes!”. Now, to Marcos, having his feet touch Mother Earth gave him the strength to present that document. So, if you’re a Kaitiaki, you must be able to stand for what you believe is right, but you can’t always get everybody to agree with you.

Indigenous peoples know the difference in Europeans. But if you can sit and come together, to listen to what Mother Earth is your guiding light. For instance, if I can’t hear the frogs, I know something’s wrong with the environment. Climate, and the environment is not two separate things, they work together. That’s how indigenous people see the circle is all complete. But once you start taking one thing out of the circle, and talking about just the climate, or the environment, or health, then you’ve lost the whole concept of being Kaitiaki. Because everything in that circle makes up the life force of a person, and you’re wider or your whole person is within that circle. That’s about how I can explain it to you Annemike.

Annika: Before my call with Pauline, I had the chance to speak to one of the Councillors of the WFC, Neshan Gunasekera from Sri Lanka…

Pauline: Oh, Neshan is a great man! He worked for Judge Weeramantry…

Annika: Judge Weeramantry was a Sri Lankan judge at the International Court of Justice, in the Hague. After his tenure at the ICJ ended, he took up the position of President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms and became an influential figure in the area of international environmental law.

Pauline: When Neshan came onto the World Future Council, it was great to see a young person who’s come who has worked alongside Judge Weeramantry who could bring the dreams of the youth of Sri Lankra with the old values that Judge Weeramantry had. And one of the things I really admired about Neshan was that he is carried on these workshops for the young people, in Sri Lanka, for people from all around the world together, and I think the WFC is very lucky–or very blessed more than luck—to have him on board with that sort of thing.

Annika: Neshan shared with me an amazing story about a time he met Pauline in Hamburg, during one of the early annual general meetings of the Council. He told me that on a dark snowy evening, Pauline was barefoot in the snow. She encouraged others to also take their shoes off; Neshan, who is used to the warmth and sun, actually took off his shoes, and tried not to show how freezing it was. And yet, it was a lesson of bearing the elements, and I ask Pauline to remember…

Pauline: Ah yes… Well, everything is a living live force, doesn’t matter whether it’s snow, or whether it’s the rain, or whether it’s the sun. Everything is a living life force, and without that none of us would survive for future generations. So when I sit here with the birds, and look at the sunrise here just a little while ago, they are all living life forces which starts our life when we open our eyes in the morning. We must remember to pay respect to those that living life force, it may not be the same to everybody. But if we can train or teach our young people what a living life force is, then I think we’ve done the greatest part of our lives, what the Creator created us for.

I don’t think there are any boundaries of life forces, we are all the same, we need to breathe the air, and have the sun. And without those two things, we are nothing. Because the spirituality of our life comes from those areas of the light of the days. And what we do through the day will be how we can teach our younger people, my grandchildren, and some of them say they want to go into space, and live in space. And I say, how are you going to survive in space? So, we have to bring that to our young people how the space is there as a creation of the Creator, and not to take control of the space. Because nothing of our lives can be controlled, it’s controlled by the Creator. That’s the living life force that the Creator has given to each and every one of us to use, for the betterment of humanity.

Annika: Listen to this story about one of Pauline’s grandchildren… a story that reminds us also to look at our own relations with others, and between children and grandchildren…

Pauline: I remember one of my grandchildren when he was three years old. He decided he was going to climb a tree out at the back of my place. He got up to two or three branches and then he looked up sky and he said “Nanny, one day I’m going to climb up this tree and climb and have a look at the sky”. That’s some proof of how young people learn things. And when he comes back now and again, he has a look at that tree and says “see, that tree has grown taller”. And I said “Well, when are you going to climb up?” And he said, “well, it’s not yet up to the sky”, so he’s got the idea that the tree will keep growing—simple things like that. I think it’s very important to encourage in our young people. Too often they’re sitting watching the films on space and they’ve forgotten just to run around.

And look at dandelions, for instance. One day, I picked some dandelions, and he said “what are you gonna do with that nanny?” And I said, “I’m gonna make salad of them”. And he said “you can’t make salad out of the weed!”. And I said “well, you go watch because that’s what we’re gonna have for dinner”. Simple things like that. Us as elders and young people must continually come together and talk. I don’t know why is when my discussions with my grandchildren, or with my own children where I think it’s good to help have a healthy discussion. Not with the kid, the children watching television and all these programs and learn all those things—they need to talk face to face. And the elders don’t lose anything by missing out and young people show you that you might have to have another look at your world view. One of the basic things about the world view of the indigenous thinking is: never forget that you are the creation of the Creator. Unless you continually remember that, you are not here to serve yourself, you’re here to look after and be with your people.

Pause

Annika: We then moved on to talking about Pauline’s rich experience on the international stage. As a leading figure for indigenous communities, she travelled to Mexico to face militaries with Indigenous community members, comforted child victims of chemical weapons attacks in Iraq, and drove to Big Mountain in Arizona in a peace caravan. So, I asked her: What did you learn from representing indigenous communities on the world stage? But first, rightly so, Pauline corrected me…

Pauline: I can never represent indigenous peoples, but I can be the voice to carry to the UN. For instance, the people in Africa, South Africa, wanted their land back, the bush people, but they could not get into the UN. And through Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, we could get into the UN, and have a voice because you must be accredited as you will know. And with Kim Langbecker, we managed to get into the UN and put their case so that at the World Environmental Conference at the beginning of 2000, I was very humbly honoured by the government taking me up to see that the bush people will be given the land back because the pressure of the UN on the South African government pushed it that those bush people will now have their land back. So that’s the sort of thing I think that we must be available for other indigenous peoples—or any person—to voice their concern. The honour is not ours, the honour is of those people who we are the voices of. If we don’t pick up those concerns, you don’t win any friends on the international scene, I’ll tell you that!

Annika: In the Western hemisphere, there are currently large campaigns taking place that advocate for the rights of nature to be codified in law. This would allow for the possibility that violations of nature can be enforced in a court of law. But this consideration isn’t new. The American law professor Christopher D Stone first argued that environmental interests should be recognised apart from human ones in his book “Should Trees Have Standing?”, in 1972. Similarly, there are advocacy campaigns under way to lobby the UN Human Rights Council to consider a historic resolution on the right to a healthy environment. Again, the difference to indigenous communities is striking, for in 2017, New Zealand granted legal rights to the Whanganui River. The Maori had been fighting for more than 160 years to get legal protection for the river, relying on it for food, travel, and their livelihood.

Pauline: We haven’t put it into law. It’s a natural right and responsibility of the government to accept.  You’re talking about the river, aren’t you? The Whanganui River. The government had to accept that that was the right of those indigenous tribes of the Whanganui River. That was there was a lifeforce. To me, they didn’t need a law. But for Europeans, you have to have laws. So there’s two conflicts here: one is the ‘lore’, L-O-R-E, the lore of the people. And L-A-W, the European way of living.

Annika: And here’s Kosha-Joy, joining the conversation.

Kosha-Joy: I have a question, though. What about the Takutai Moana stuff. Does that relate to this question?

Pauline: Well, we have te takutai moana on the coast. We live on a peninsula, which is three quarters surrounded by the ocean. And we made an application because the government declared in 2004 that we had no rights to the oceans, the foreshore and seabed. But they belong to everybody. What became confusing for me, was how can you make a law to say that we who were here for hundreds of years have taken your food basket from your back door is not ours to look after. And that was why our people would have applied to the court in 2004 to have it put back into the hands of the people to look after, not after the law, L-A-W of the country and we’re still fighting that at the moment. So, there is a confusion of the L-A-W with the L-O-R-E. And Europeans have come from an ownership, nuclear ownership background of the Westminster parliamentary system, which makes it very difficult for many Europeans. And it becomes then a racial thing or discrimination: Why is one people getting more than the other? But unfortunately for the world, people forget to look back at who has looked after it for the millions of years before somebody else has moved into a country and decided that they want to do it this way.

And that’s why we’ve got within the Amazon forests all those farmers that have come in after the Second World War and taken over the forestry of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Now that’s why we’ve got forest fires going on all the time in the Amazon which is affecting the climate.

Annika: Pauline’s concerns hit close to home. Her community is protesting against letting a US-owned rocket company launch US military technology from the Mahia Peninsula, which has an impact on the local flora and fauna.

Pauline: Those people know that if you start doing that sort of thing, you’re going to affect the climate. And so it is with our foreshore and our seabed. The government saying, the government argue on behalf of the people. That’s why I was our foreshore and our seabed are becoming contaminated. Nobody was looking after it because if you want to try and do something, oh, then you’ve got a local council who says, “Oh, no, you can’t go fishing this time because this area of the foreshores and seabed must be locked down, because there’s a rocket going up, on our peninsula”.

So we’ve got this now that the local council gave permission for rocket land company to set themselves up on my peninsula where I live. And now, when that rocket goes off, that company is allowed by law, L-A-W, to close down that collection area of picking up seafoods. Now, that is wrong, you can’t do that sort of thing because our people rely on them for their sustenance, for their livelihood. When people pass away, that is the most important place that they go, to get the seafood to feed all the hundreds of people who come to pay their respects, but when this rocket is going up, that coastline has closed down. So there already is a very non-compliance of recognition, or acceptance rather, that our people, indigenous peoples of the Mahia peninsula, have that responsibility, it’s not a right, it’s a responsibility to look after that foreshore. And that’s a takutai moana [the marine and coastal area] which we have taken to the court in 2004. We’re still wanting that to be accepted. But then saying that, we have to get all our people to understand, it’s not a law L-A-W we’re going for, it’s a L-O-R-E, and that nobody will be missing out if we come together as one group because within Maoridom you have fano, which is a group of families, you have hapū [“subtribe”, or “clan”], which is when those families will come together. And you have a iwi [“people” or “nation”] group which has a responsibility to carry out those things which the people, the fano and the hapū, the families and the group of families, have come together and agreed to carry out so that the iwi group’s responsibility is to go forward and carry the request with all our people on board.

Pause

Annika: After this lesson in Maoridom and the concerns that they have about the use of the Mahia peninsula, I moved our conversation to other issues that Pauline dedicates her life to, which are also core areas of work of the World Future Council: Peace and disarmament, ocean diversity, rights of women and young people, and climate and energy issues.

Pauline is particularly concerned about nuclear issues. In a previous interview with the World Future Council, Pauline clarified that the issue is four-fold: first, the mining of uranium destroys indigenous lands. The second issue is the so‐called civil use for nuclear power plants. Thirdly, nuclear energy is used as an instrument of war, and fourthly, there are concerns about the handling of nuclear waste. Aotearoa / New Zealand became nuclear free in all four aspects in 1984, but Pauline still had to witness the nuclear destruction in the South Pacific while raising her children in the 50s and 60s.

Pauline: Well, that is a very dangerous area, the Pacific at the moment, and also north of Russia, Belarus. Because people have dumped their natural nuclear waste in the Pacific, and they say they’ve got it encased in a stone vault. Now anybody with any two-piece brain in their head will know that where it’s situated that it drives on an earthquake fault. And when we’ve seen so many earthquakes going up at the moment, spitting the land around the world, that that could damage the concrete vault, and then waste will go into the ocean. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Japan has their waste sunk which is on the edge of the ocean because it’s in big bags apparently, from the blowout of some years back. And that was opened through the climate destruction which is happening with earthquakes now as well, in Japan.

What’s going to happen? Who’s gonna feed the world because 75% of the world’s surface is oceans? How do all these millions and billions of people who live around the coastlines going to feed themselves? It’s a living disaster. And before we talk about climate change, we have to look at how are we going to deal with the disaster which is sitting under our noses but we don’t want to address it. The scientists need to first come up with something, you’re getting all these warm oceans, and the warm oceans will destroy the streams. So, the basic is the nuclear waste is really hot. So that’s where you really have to start looking at Belarus, Russia, and the Pacific Ocean. Because nobody has thought about why is the Pacific Ocean warming up? Recently, people of the Pacific have said to me, “Well, naturally, if you’re warming up those concrete slabs which the nuclear waste is in, naturally that’s going to warm the ocean”. Because the nuclear reactors, when they’ve dumped all that nuclear waste, it will naturally heat up the concrete vaults which they’re contained in. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that.

Annika: To Pauline, this constitutes the greatest threat to the environment.

Well, there won’t be any humanity left. That how simple it is. The damage will kill us. The environment will die down, humanity will die down. I’m not a scientist and I’m not a bearer of bad news or good news. It’s only common sense that with the Ocean, even though we’re near the Pacific, where’s the food going to come from? Already, the fish is contaminated with mercury poisoning. And that’s not very well known. Many people buy fish overseas, that’s already contaminated with mercury poison, unless we as humanity are going to go otherwise, it won’t be even humanity if you’re going to damage the oceans like that.

Annika: So, what are her hopes for how we can improve this?

Pauline: Number one: war—sou stop the wars; you help to stop the destruction. But we don’t need nuclear bombs. You don’t need nuclear fallout. That’s how simple it is… War does not bring peace to anyone. If you look around the world today, the wars are a destruction, killing humanity on every continent, that’s very simple. Stop the wars and start living peacefully together.

Pause

Annika: Pauline has already done so much and has been a role model and continues to be a role model for many peopl

The Good Council: Annika Weis and Prof Herbert Girardet

Shownotes

& more information



Intro: Hello, and welcome to The Good Council, the podcast of the World Future Council. In each episode, we’ll highlight current challenges and policy solutions. And we’ll also take you on a journey of inspiring stories. Listen in to another of our intergenerational dialogues from around the globe.

Annika: My name is Annika, I’m a consultant at the World Future Council. And in this episode, I’m speaking with Herbert Girardet, who’s one of the co-founders and former director of programs of the World Future Council. Herbert is a cultural ecologist, author and former filmmaker. He’s worked as a consultant to UN Habitat and UNEP and is a recipient of a UN Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievements. He’s also an executive committee member of The Club of Rome, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a member of the World Academy of Art and Science, a patron of the Soil Association in UK, and a visiting professor at the University of the West of England. In 2003, Herbert was the inaugural Adelaide Thinker in Residence, advising South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, on his government’s sustainability policies, and how to reduce Adelaide’s carbon footprint. Indeed, his advice was fully implemented.

Hello, Herbie, thank you very much for being here today. It’s a real pleasure for me to be able to have this conversation with you. And to be able to learn a little bit more about you and your work, but also the World Future Council. So, you’ll be taking us on a rollercoaster tour of your very interesting life, which you describe as a journey towards concern about future generations. So, let’s start in the beginning, you were born in 1943. That means the Second World War was still raging, and you were brought up in its aftermath. How was your childhood, and how did that shape the person that I’m speaking with today?

Herbert: Now, of course, I was too young to really fully understand what was going on in the world. You know, I was two years old when the war finished. But I mean, the effects of the end of that war were sort of almost instant. Certainly, there was a lot of people arriving from the east. I grew up in on the outskirts of a town called Essen in the Ruhr, which was the main industrial centre, and the main centre for weapons production as well actually, for the Second World War, particularly companies like companies like Krupp, and Thyssen [which] produced the guns and the tanks and so many other weapons that were used in the war. So we were sort of in a little house on the edge of town, and we had constant arrivals, from people would come from the east to escape the Russian invasion of Mecklenburg and other parts of East Germany. And so it was, our house is always full of people, all of them kind of in worries and concerns about what they’d lost and how, what the future might hold and that kind of stuff. But when I became sort of conscious, if you like, when I was three or four years old, I very quickly became aware where we were because from my house we could see the chimneys, spewing out smoke, on the edge of Essen of the factories that were producing steel and coal and so on, coal mines, and coal power stations. And so, I could every night, we could see the glaring sort of smoke of these chimneys, and the flames coming out of the steelworks—it was an extraordinary sight. And I was, I can remember even then asking, when I was maybe four or five, asking my father, where does all that smoke end up? You know, in the air? What, is it going to do to the air that we breathe? And there was no answer to that question.

And then a little while later, when my father got his first car after the war, and he switched on the engine and the smoke came out of the exhaust pipe and I asked him, where does all that smoke go again? From small rather than a large chimney like that. And, again, you had the answer to that question.

So, I was beginning to kind of think about these kinds of things, even as quite a young kid. And a little few years later, when we went down to the river Ruhr, and there was foam, white foam on the river, and dead fish in the river. And I was asking, why are these fish dying? And again, there was no answer to those questions.

So, there was kind of a bit of a concern about these issues fairly early on in my life and so in some ways, I could say that it’s continued throughout the rest of my life and has shaped my consciousness if you like, to this very day.

Annika: That’s very powerful. What was that like as a as a child to see all of these things that no one can explain to you? That must have been very unsettling.

Herbert: Well, it was a bit unsettling, of course, it was. I mean, of course, it wasn’t all, what life was all about. And we also had wonderful things going on. I mean, we were living on the edge of a forest. And I was always climbing trees, and I was always out in the garden, helping to grow vegetables and stuff like that. So, it was not all doom and gloom by any means. But I mean, that certainly, that was part of the story of my childhood experiences.

Annika: So, then you set out to study, right? And how was that like, being a student during the, I suppose, Cold War?

Herbert: I went to study in Berlin, and I was studying something I didn’t really want to study which my father imposed that on me, if you like, to study art history, I really wanted to study politics and sociology. But anyway, so it was, quite extraordinary to live in this walled city of Berlin at that time, as you know, has just been closed off from the rest of the world, by the Soviets and by the Eastern German government. So yeah, it was quite an experience living in Berlin. And at that time, certainly the kind of anger about the history of Germany was bubbling up in the minds of many of us. I mean, we were sort of the generation who were just been shaped by the post war experience, and asking questions about what, what has happened to this country? The Nazi history was just horrible, the more you were exposed to it, the city was still full of destroyed or damaged buildings that were gradually being reconstructed. So certainly the aftermath of the Nazi era was very much a deep concern for all of us in that generation. So we were the sort of, if you like, the rebellious generation thar was trying to make sense of the world, from this horrible history that just had just swept across Germany, throughout the Second World War and before that.

Annika: And what was that like coming to terms with what has happened?

Herbert: Well, we kind of started to say can we build a new world? Can we create the new world? Can we simply kind of throw away all this horrible history and find a way of creating a sort of almost like a utopian future. And that certainly became very much part of the thinking of people, like I said. There was the new left movement, there was the beginnings of the Green Movement popping up, there was people like Rudi Dutschke, and my great friend, the German Jewish poet, Erich Fried, who was very close to me, and we were all constantly thinking about how can we make a different kind of world from the ruins of the disasters that happened to Germany in Europe just a few years before?

I moved from Berlin to London as a student. And I very quickly realized that what I had been asked to study—art history—was not for me. So, I basically I got out of university and became involved in living in Notting Hill Gate, which at that time was an extraordinary place. This really was the coming together, people from all over the world. I mean, lots of West Indians, a lot of people from Asia, from Eastern Europe and we were basically at that time really trying very hard to kind of come up with ideas for the future if you like. I mean, we did a lot of community action, we occupied buildings that were empty to turn into community centres. We were kind of holding film shows for, for trade unionists about how it could be like to have new people power establishing itself. And all sorts of amazing sort of activities. I was one of the people involved in organizing the Notting Hill Carnival, actually, in the late 60s so we had this wonderful experience of people from all these different backgrounds coming together with musical instruments and dressed up in extraordinary costumes parading through the streets of Notting Hill Gate, and basically telling the right wing sort of fascist who were trying to stop the immigration of people from all over the world to come into place like Notting Hill Gate: bugger off, we are going to determine what the future is going to hold rather than you writing bastards! It was very political time. And certainly, very creative. And there was, of course, all the coming together, often rock music and the Beatles were around and the Rolling Stones and all the other rock bands. So, on the one hand, there was a kind of cultural revolution was taking place, on the other hand, there was also a political process that was going on at the same time, all concerned with, what could the future be like if we only had a sense, if we only had the influence to shape it in the way that we were hoping we could do? Yeah, it was a very interesting, worthwhile time that’s still with me deeply today.

Annika: And what did you learn from all that time for yourself? And also, why did you even take that step to go to Notting Hill, to move to England in the first place?

Herbert: Well, Berlin was a very depressing place, because it was the walled city and I had been involved actually, in helping to build a tunnel under the Berlin Wall, with some students from the Freie University, in Berlin. And so my parents are getting very anxious about what was happening with my life and my rather rebellious ways of doing things. So they kind of encouraged me to actually move to London. But it was kind of in some ways, from their point of view, it was even worse than when I got involved. And all these rebelliousness in London, as well as. So my father, actually, basically, at that stage effectively disowned me and said, you get on with what you want to do. And, and so we were not in close contact for quite a number of years.

But then I actually got a job at the BBC as a newscaster at the BBC German service, broadcasting the news from London to the rest of the world, particularly to Germany, and so on and so forth. And also at that stage I had a young family. And so life then was partly rebellious, and partly very domestic at the same time. But always the question, what does the future hold? How can we create a world at this stage with young kids—can we create a world that these kids can actually thrive in rather than forever be burdened by history and by—pollution was becoming an issue at that time. The green movement was really beginning to spring up, particularly in the late 60s, suddenly the whole idea of creating a more egalitarian world and a more joyful world, but also a world that needed to really take care of the environment that we needed to have, to be healthy, to have a future. So all of that was coming together in the minds of young people like us. And it became a very creative, very productive time. I went back to the LSE then, to studied social anthropology, having met all these extraordinary people from all over the world who were living together and Notting Hill Gate.

For me, that became a stimulus to try and understand where we actually came from where we come from, in terms of human history. And so it was interesting to find out about African history, about ancient history, and through the eyes through the experience of leading reading about anthropology, anthropology, and all the various many tribal societies, who’ve been documented by anthropologists from this country, in Britain, but also from Germany and elsewhere. So that’s fascinating to learn about human evolution, if you like, the cultural evolution of tribes, like hunter gatherer tribes in Africa and the Amazonian tribes and the rainforests of South America and all of that became part of like the sort of instrumentation of my mind over the few years that I was at the LSE.

Annika: That’s super interesting. I’ve got many questions about your time in Notting Hill and the BBC, that must have been incredibly stimulating and an exciting time to be in.

Herbert: It was.

Annika: And I figure that when you then became a father and you had a young family, that must have been a bit of a turning point, wasn’t it?

Herbert: But it was, I mean, I didn’t stop being involved in all these kinds of activities. And my wife was sometimes a bit worried about what was going to happen next. But yes, I mean, basically the idea of the experience of having a young family, two kids growing up in Notting Hill Gate, and a house full of interesting, eccentric people in artists and musicians and, and politically minded people. Yeah. So, I mean, it was kind of a mixture of on the one hand, really making sure of young family and the well-being of our kids. On the other hand, if you like the well-being of the world all around us and so, that kind of, these two strands are always woven together and in various different ways.

Annika: And did you hang out often?

Herbert: Hang out, what do you mean ‘hang out’?

Annika: Like, did you did you spend a lot of time with them? Did you have any communal activities?

Herbert: Well, not so much in the house. But I mean, I was at that time involved at something called the People’s Association, where basically, we’ve taken over four buildings in Powis Square in Notting Hill gate, for the purpose of creating a community centre.

Annika: Really fascinating. That must have been—and you say that time still lives with you, and you probably think of it quite fondly, don’t you?

Herbert: I do, I go and visit people there still even though I don’t live there any longer.

Annika: Among all the other things that you’re doing, you’re also a poet. Right? You recently wrote a poem called “Sacrificing Tomorrow Today”.

Herbert: Yeah.

Annika: And I think it’d be really lovely if you would do us the honour and read that out loud.

Herbert:

Okay, I’ll try and do that. Sacrificing Tomorrow Today:

1 Hey folks, aren’t we having fun

roasting the Future alive,

in a furnace of ancient oil:

To burn ever more means to thrive.

2 Let us sacrifice Tomorrow

on the altar of Now and Today.

Tomorrow is there for disposal,

so why not just throw it away?

3  Steal our grandchildren’s future:

As long as we can do our living.

Taking, and taking some more,

and let’s not bother ‘bout giving.

4 Why not just get rid of Tomorrow,

we are good at playing this game.

Why care for some unborn child,

with no face yet, and no name?

5 We’re roaring into the unknown

in a souped-up luxury car,

and when we have arrived there

we’ll soon find out where we are:

6  Let us lie on a palm-fringed beach,

sipping cocktails and champagne,

with not a care in the world.

It’s so cool: we will do it again.

7  Let’s smudge our little planet

with plastics, poisons and oil,

let’s light some more forest fires

and then flush away the soil.

8  So now, what else can we do

to make our Future die

a fiery, premature death?

Are there other ways we can try?

9  Let us sacrifice Tomorrow

on the altar of Now and Today.

Tomorrow is there for disposal,

so why not just throw it away?

Annika: Thank you very much. There’s nothing like hearing it straight from the author, from the poet. Incredibly powerful—I’ve got goosebumps. What was your inspiration for it? It’s very topical, of course. And what would you say is the message?

Herbert: Well, when you look around the world today, I mean, wherever we are, we are really basically stealing our children’s future; doing that through all the activities that I’ve just listed throughout the poem, whether it’s rain forest destruction, whether it’s climate change, whether it is biodiversity loss, whether it’s what we’re doing to the oceans, in terms of plastics, whether it’s all the other ways in which we are consuming the planet. And basically robbing the future. And this is really obviously, one of the key themes that we also then focus on when we started founding the World Future Council in 2007. Basically the concern about what are we going to do, if you’re going to carry on like we are today, in terms of the lives of future generations? So these are issues that I’ve been very deeply concerned with for a long time.

Annika: Exactly. And that brings us, as you mentioned, directly to the World Future Council, which again, as you said, you founded in 2007, together with Jakob von Uexküll. What’s the story there? Obviously, you’ve spent your entire life wondering about pollution and where the fumes come from. And that then culminated in this organisation that you found them together. How did that come about?

Herbert: Well, I’ve been involved in a predecessor to the World Future Council. In London in the 80s, I got together with various people who are working in the sort of environmental field and in the sustainability field. And we called it the Council for Posterity. And that was basically just to get together people saying, well, we cannot carry on like this stealing the future in the way we are clearly doing. So that was just if you’d like to get together people but without any funding, or any major sort of support of any kind, or any publicity for it, really. But anyway, that certainly, if you like, was kind of the predecessor to the World Future Council, which came about much later.

So that, Jakob and I at that time, met around this particular theme of “Earth Emergency: Call to Action”. And then he said, well, he had the idea of trying to create a council of future generations—the World future Council, which was an interesting and exciting title. So, we basically tried to see, okay, how can we work together on this? And so, we did, we basically said, okay, let’s try and conceptualize an organization that really stands for something that is different from what has already been done by other environmental organizations, specifically focusing on the need to understand what the impacts on future generations are and how we can address them. And that’s what we set out to do.

It became very quickly apparent that we have to kind of find some innovative ways of doing that. So one idea was to say, okay, I’ve been working with the UN Habitat, that’s the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, on what we call best practice initiatives; how cities that are suffering pollution effects or that are suffering from loss of industries or whatever, and find practical ways in which to turn them around. And so, we’ve compiled this for UN Habitat, compiled together a list of initiatives in cities around the world, under the label of best practices. And it became very clear to me that just best practices per se, is not a sufficient concept if you really want to stimulate change in a deeper sort of way. So I suggested let’s focus not just on best practices, but on best policies that bring best practices about.

So when we first started the World Future Council, I managed to find a researcher with very, very bright young guy called Miguel Mendonça. And we asked him to put together a first brochure called Policies to Change the World. And he did a brilliant job. And he compiled a whole load of different initiatives on various aspects of the policies that really make a difference or could make a difference. So including wind turbine cooperatives in Denmark, the German renewable energy law, congestion charging in London urban transport solutions, on particular public transport initiatives in Bogota, and elsewhere in South America, urban agriculture initiatives, participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre in Brazil, eco-labeling of products, circular economy initiatives, plastic bag levies, mine ban treaties and various policies that have been introduced in one part of the world that we thought we could highlight and publicize. And in that way, by drawing attention to them get other cities and other countries to adopt them. And so that’s where we first got this idea to really focus on policies to change the world rather than just best practices. And that’s obviously being the kind of special quality, special aspect of the work of the World Future Council ever since.

Annika: That’s a Yeah, I mean, as you say, that’s a very innovative idea—hasn’t been done before, the focus on policies specifically. But a very innovative aspect, a unique aspect about the council, is the council itself, right? The composition of about 50 members from all over the world, your life has already been marked by getting to know very interesting people from all walks of life. And how did you then bring together all of these 50 members, obviously, slightly different maybe back then than it is today. But still…

Herbert: Well, I mean, you did it partly because Jakob had already been running other initiatives such as Right Livelihood Awards, and so they had been giving prizes, and special recognition to people from many different countries who’ve been doing excellent, extraordinary outstanding work, as well and with my network of people involved in the work that I’ve been doing, for the United Nations, about other organizations. So, we basically put together a provisional list of people who we thought we could invite, and we were very successful in really getting amazing people on board to became the core of this council that eventually ended up as you know, with 50 members, and that’s obviously, some some people have died in the meantime, others have decided not to stay involved. But we have a wonderful global line-up of people who are really outstanding in their own particular areas of work.

Annika: And what was that like just feeling this incredible momentum of brilliant people around the world trying to work for one cause?

Herbert: What I mean, Now, of course, not just working for one, cause they all have their own particular initiatives in their own localities on their own countries. But certainly, the idea of bringing together people around this theme of what can we do to ensure a future for this planet, that was obviously something that galvanized all of them in their own particular ways. And that’s obviously still the kind of main focus or the main concern of everybody involved in the in the Council. But I mean, it’s also a very difficult initiative to try and issue because future generations can’t speak for themselves. They’re not born yet by definition, so to be advocates of future generations, it’s not an easy task, particularly because when you try to speak to try governments and persuade them to really take these issues much more seriously, they say, well, there’s no votes in future generations. Why should we concern ourselves with people, not just be to be born in 50 years, or 30 years from now, but maybe a few 100 years from now? And that’s certainly become a very difficult thing to persuade politicians to take seriously, because their concern is to be re-elected, and often re-elected just for three or four or five years. So long term thinking is not very easily embedded in the existing political system of our countries or around the world. So that’s certainly been very difficult thing to persuade people to do. So certainly, when it comes to advocates for future generations, there’s only a very few countries that have embedded a future generation spokesperson in their own parliament. We’ve tried very hard at the World Future Council to do this. But the only place that has actually still has a future generations advocate, it’s actually Wales, were I happen to live for the last 20 or 3

Farhad Vladi

Anda Filip

Anda Filip

Jakob von Uexkull Uexküll

Jakob von Uexkull

Hiu Ng

Hiu Ng

Maude Barlow

Dr h.c. Maude Barlow

Bea Albermann

Bea Albermann