Four takeaways from ELP 2016

by Bishal Chalise, Nepal (in Australia) (ELP 2016)


I attended the 2016 Environmental Leadership Program offered by the College of Natural Resources at University of California, Berkeley under IARU’s Global Summer Program. As a graduate student of development economics, the three-week long summer certificate course was an enriching and fascinating experience. Here, I am listing my four takeaways from the program. They overlap as well as complement one another. You can also think it as the four pillars of the environmental leadership program.

1. There is no single story

As the name suggests, the environment was a common denominator of the program. We discussed and learned about a wide range of contemporary issues in environmental management from agroecology to wildlife conservation, from climate change to energy efficiency, from biotechnology to history of environmentalism and so forth. 

But the most important part of each of those discussions was the diversity of views that was encouraged and presented. In other words, it was not a bunch of likeminded people sitting together and appreciating what they already know. Rather, there were economists, staunch environmental activists and conservationists, EPA regulators, researchers and thinkers and people working in I/NGOs from around 21 countries in six continents. Each had their own views backed by years of hands-on experience working in the field amid different context and backdrops. Yet, they were ready to listen to others’ perspectives and try to learn from them.

It makes one realize that there is no single story to the environment problem. In order to have a meaningful solution to an environment problem, each story is important and needs to be heard and understood. A policy proposal that can accommodate the diverse concerns and perspectives is inevitable to provide any agreeable solution to any environmental problem. ELP allows and promotes the creation of such accommodative proposals.

2. Leadership counts

Well, ELP is about the environment. But it’s more about leadership. Let me explain. Oftentimes the environment is presented as a dichotomy between economics and politics on one extreme and biology and science on the other, and everything else in between. However, often neglected in that knowledge continuum is the importance of leadership. ELP acknowledges the role of leadership and put significant effort in instilling some soft-skills and leadership qualities in the participants. 

Central to such effort is the practice of collaborative leadership. What sets collaborative leadership apart from traditional leadership is its simultaneous focus on process, relationship and substance. So, how things get done become more important than who does it. When you remove focus from people to process and relationship, reaching an agreement becomes much easier and faster. In ELP, we practiced it and it turned out to be true. Everyone loved it. 

Another skill that we learned was the art of storytelling. How you can communicate your views and thoughts using your own story so that it is powerful and effectively conveys the message. It is hard. It requires a lot of thinking and practice. But it is an important skill to have, both in personal and professional life. ELP teaches you, briefly though.

3. You are on the knowledge frontier

When you listen to the professors and practitioners talking during various ELP sessions, you realize that they are talking about the present and now. They are the world class researchers and thinkers in their respective fields. They introduce you to the cutting-edge research work they are doing and development that is occurring in the field. The simulation of negotiations in a COP22 meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco was just one example that we did during ELP.

And importantly, it’s not just about US because UC Berkeley is based there. The professors are working around the globe—from the mountains of Peru in South America to the Sahel region in Africa, as a member of the governance board of EPA in US to the writer of IPCC reports. They are all around. Hence, attending ELP means you are on the knowledge frontier. You are future proof, sort of. You can at least see what is coming.

4. A lot of business cards

As mentioned, the participants of ELP are as diverse as this world can get. They are from all corners of the world and different walks of life. They are students and teachers. They are regulators and entrepreneurs. They are activists and government officials. They are researchers and policymakers. They are donors and I/NGOs. You not only learn environmental leadership, but also the culture, cuisine and character of diverse people—in the classroom, in the dining hall and at bars. And it’s beautiful. Moreover, the network is not limited to the fellow participants. It extends to the staff and the professors/lecturers/mentors in the program. 

At the end, you gain knowledge and lots of business cards (also Facebook and LinkedIn connections and if you are lucky, you get some gifts as well).

In the ELP, basically, you learn and you make friends. How awesome is that?