In a world where forest areas continue to decline at an alarming rate, and ocean acidification threatens marine environments and ecosystem services, there’s an urgent need to create strategic actions to transform our reality. Due to the poor implementation of water management systems, 27% of over 116,000 assessed species in the IUCN Red List face extinction and had 2019 as the second warmest year on record. This is why Creative Action Institute, as part of its Creative Environmental Leadership program and with support of New England Biolabs Foundation, implemented a Creative Advocacy Course in Central America.
Poverty and inequality in Latin American have been decreasing in the past twenty years, however the region still has a long way to go in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and Central America has even a more challenging path. Statistics and projections indicate that Central America will no be able to meet the SDG by 2030, despite the necessity to preserve its rich and diverse ecosystems.
Regardless of current climate projections, environmental organizations as FUNDAECO, Asociación para la Conservación Ecológica de las Islas de la Bahía (BICA), Asociación Movimiento de jóvenes de Ometepe (AMOJO), Cooperativa de Agroturismo Rural BIOMETEPE RL and Asociación TAN UX´IL are not discouraged; they continue to fight for a greener, more sustainable Earth. Eight participants from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua were guided to reflect on and analyze the work they are doing within their communities as part of the Creative Advocacy Course in its virtual self-guided modality.
The course activated participants’ power, leadership, and advocacy skills by equipping them with new tools every session on how best to implement creative advocacy actions that spark much needed social and environmental change. During the course, participants applied their newfound knowledge to analyze issues impacting their communities and explored different ways of addressing problems such as waste management, deforestation, access to water, lack of economic alternatives for local fishermen, increased violence against girls, environmental pollution and forced displacement.
By applying CAI’s tools participants were able to experience a creative process of creating tactics to promote positive social change. Since there was an organized structure to analyze the selected environmental issues, tactics created by participants were focused on addressing underlying root causes instead of superficial symptoms.
The course started by deepening participants’ understanding of advocacy and increasing their skills for development. During this stage Dayana Chinchilla from FUNDAECO stated that “a target population will lay the foundations with a vision of what is best for everyone living within the context, thus becoming decision makers, taking on the function and value of expert knowledge to then be able to exert influence in the political decision making as well.”
After grasping foundations of advocacy, participants learned how to increase their knowledge of target groups, institutions and community resources to transform this knowledge into a community asset map. According to Lidieth Cruz from AMOJO “the exercise allows us to identify, individually and collectively, who the actors in communities are, whether individual or collective, and the institutions that can accompany or play an important role in the identification of the problem”.
Once participants identified key community actors, they used the tool of iceberg systems thinking to analyze their selected climate problem. This activity helped Keyla Mena from BIOMETEPE, to identify that “solutions exist where we are able to see the problem and not pay attention to what is causing the problem, thus it is essential to know the causes in order to address them and be able to diminish the magnitude of the problem.”
Knowing root causes allowed the creation of specific and clear objectives to guide participants’ projects and actions. In this sense, SMART Goals activity contributed to strengthening skills and knowledge related with establishing adequate goals for a project. Later on, the group identified key relationships in the community and how to approach different groups, institutions, and individuals in order to accomplish projects’ goals using Stakeholders analysis activity. “Through this process of analysis, I discovered how each stakeholder can contribute to solving the problem. At the same time, what are the weaknesses of each stakeholder which could limit this project. Therefore, I can visualize and identify how to involve each stakeholder” Reynhold Gelera from FUNDAECO said.
Another important element in the advocacy processes is reflection on different perspectives of a specific issue. Through transforming limiting beliefs, participants had the opportunity to use critical thinking in order to identify sets of ideas that have a direct impact on environmental problems. For Emelly Rubio this activity was very important because “our up-bringings create in us particular ways of thinking, some beneficial and others limiting. It’s important to break some of our beliefs and improve the situations which we confront”.
As a final activity, participants designed action plans for creative campaigns. These plans integrated arts-based methods, trainings, webinars, radio spots, community festivals, forums, guided tours, and creation of educational materials. “Through this process I learned we can work with more people on one theme to reach the necessary goals, this is a useful tool given that it helped me collect information on people with whom I can work toward the wellbeing of my community” Laura Zaldivar from BICA.
By the end of the course the group stated that they’ll promote the use of the course’s activities and the actions of their plans in their work within their organization and communities. For Hellen Leiva from TAN UX’IL “these types of methodologies are adaptable and friendly on a community level.” We are sure that participants will apply their set of skills and contribute to social change having in mind what Darwin Ponce from FUNDAECO reminded us: “we should always seek improvement for our communities without harming the ecosystems.”