Racing against time and distance, Virtual Community Agreements in mega-biodiverse post-conflict Colombian communities
Talking Transformation worked with Colombian partner, E3Asesorias, on a joint project to reach agreements amongst rural communities that are living in some of the most remote, war-torn and mega biodiverse areas of Colombia.
What was due to be an in-person dialogue to reach Community Agreements was quickly converted into a virtual dialogue process through innovative mobile phone-based methodology that was accessible to all during lockdown. This work has been some of the most challenging and most rewarding in all my facilitation experience.
Why the need for Community Agreements to bolster the capacity-building for eco-tourism?
Botanists from Kew Gardens have found multiple plant and fungi species new to science in the few missions they have made to these communities. These species are of huge value to science, medicine and food security. Sadly, since the Peace Agreement was signed in Colombia, deforestation rates have risen to 80% as traumatically displaced people return to their homes and struggle to make ends meet. Unscrupulous logging companies are taking advantage of both the precarious financial state of these communities and also the fact that these primary forest areas are now safely open to timber exploitation and transport for the first time in decades. Nevertheless, these communities dream of an alternative: creating unique community ecotourism that allows visitors a glimpse of this incredible biodiversity whilst also celebrating the human history of their resilience. We were joining the efforts to help them achieve this dream.
The role of Talking Transformation was to facilitate the dialogue necessary to reach Community Agreements that strengthen social cohesion as part of their peace-building efforts, champion the need to protect biodiversity and the forests around them, and prevent conflict that can emerge, within the community and between tour operators through equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of this new activity. As soon as lockdown started, Talking Transformation worked with E3Asesorias, Kew Gardens, Think Galapagos and Acorn Tourism to adapt to a virtual medium for the training and dialogue. Talking Transformation innovated with virtual methodologies to enable access and empower participation through an innovative mix of phone-based WhatsApp and Mentimeter applications. WhatsApp is a medium that is already commonly used by all communities in the region. These amazing local leaders – all of whom were in lockdown in these isolated rural areas with very little connectivity – engaged so passionately despite all the challenges. They sent replies by text, photos and many through voice recordings (for those who find it easier than writing text) and even short phone videos.
Nevertheless, the challenges and recent trauma of the decades-long conflict are very real. Over 25 local leaders have been killed across Colombia during the lockdown. How do you deal with that at distance? That’s where experienced facilitation is key. On our WhatsApp Group, we were able to provide a safe space for the outpouring of grief and outrage at the lack of protection from the authorities despite repeated requests. However, even stronger than the grief, was the determination to not let this stop them and their decision to continue in the name of these local leaders, to make this dream come true. We were able to facilitate the adoption of key community agreements in the two regions, involving multiple local organisations, particularly around conflictive issues of the equitable distribution of benefits and costs of eco-tourism.
The strong and trusted partnership in-country that Claudia and E3Asesorias have with the Programa de Paz y Desarrollo in each of the regions was absolutely critical to this programme. Talking Transformation methodology seems simple when it appears as exercises on the phone but is based heavily on socio-environmental conflict transformation, Theory U, Do No Harm conflict-sensitive programming and MEB (multiple evidence base) knowledge-sharing.
Key partners in the project are also the Programa de Paz y Desarrollo in each area, ThinkGalapagos (a British-Ecuadorian community tourism company) and Acorn Tourism Consulting (based out of the UK). The project is funded by UK PACT, the UK’s climate finance initiative support to Colombia.
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Our multi-cultural team is made up of associate facilitators, policy advisors and environmental governance experts based in South America, Africa and the UK.
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