IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Involving Community in Environmental Action



Through the IVLP Impact Awards Initiative, recent alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program administer community impact projects that bring the experiences of their exchange program home to their communities and promote innovative solutions to shared global challenges. Among the most pressing of these shared global challenges, the climate crisis continues to impact every region of the globe, and the IVLP network continues to bring together community leaders from across the world to ask what each of us can do to meet this challenge.

On Friday, September 22, 2023, Meridian International Center hosted a virtual webinar panel of IVLP Impact Awardees with projects addressing climate change and the environment, with a particular focus on community outreach or involvement. The panel was moderated by Samara Mortada, Bangladesh, and featured panelists were Kemo Fatty, The Gambia, Nuravni Sallons, Suriname, and Kirsty Hammond, United Kingdom. The awardees discussed their IVLP Impact Award community impact projects, how their IVLP exchange program experience influenced their idea and work, and how they have and plan to involve their communities in environmental and climate action.

Some top takeaways from the program were:

1. Engaging Underrepresented Groups in Climate Action

All four Awardees reflected on the importance of engaging diverse and underrepresented groups in their projects. For Kemo, whose project brought together multi-level stakeholders in the agricultural sector, this meant including not just farmers but fishers and herders as well as agricultural extension officers and other government stakeholders. Nuravni's project is introducing sustainable farming practices to indigenous families who "are affected by climate change due to their close connection to the land and nature. They face challenges like loss [of] traditional knowledge, displacement and increased vulnerability to natural disasters.” Kirsty spoke about her use of "craftivism" to engage youth in creative ways, noting how critical it is to engage youth from the start of these conversations, given that they are the next generation who will inherit these issues. Samara also shared an example of how well-meaning donors from outside the community often give out "dignity kits" to women in the frequently flooded Sylhet Region of Bangladesh, where her project takes place, not realizing that without a disposal plan these used sanitary pads end up in the same flood waters that the community then has to use as a water source.

All of these examples illustrated to the audience the vital need for diverse perspectives to be part of our conversations about climate change. Not only does this lead to better solutions, but the communities these IVLP Impact Awardees are working with are also on the frontlines of dealing with the daily impacts of climate change, making their inclusion in the conversation even more essential. As Kristy remarked “We need to increase participation and collaboration because we're not going to do this on our own. It will take everyone from community leaders to residents to policymakers.”

2. The Panelists' Shared IVLP Inspiration

Kemo reflected on how inspired he was by visiting Iowa during his IVLP exchange program, U.S. Approaches to Climate Change Challenges III, organized by the U.S. Department of State and American Councils for International Education. Kemo remembered that "We've seen how communities in Des Moines, local people, are able to come up with innovative ways of engaging their communities [like using] faith as a way of communicating and involving people." Nuravni's IVLP (Climate and Energy Innovation in the Caribbean, organized by Meridian) also took her to Iowa as well as to Florida, and she shared that she was "inspired by my experience in Iowa and Orlando, where I learned about traditional agriculture (Iowa), and regenerating land towards thriving ecosystems (Orlando wetlands.) With that information, I realized that there are different and alternative methods to sustain life." Samara's IVLP exchange, A Global Moment in Time - Peace and Justice, organized by the Institute of International Education, brought her to Florida as well, and she summed up the group's sentiments, "through our experience, we were able to have conversations and see how different stakeholders operate and then how they work together...towards a solution.”

3. Creative Ways of Engaging Communities

Both Kirsty and Samara are producing videos as part of their IVLP Impact Award projects. They shared the rationale behind this choice, explaining that the aim is to galvanize the community and the broader world into taking action to address climate change through engaging the emotions of the audience. Kirsty shared that she believes these sorts of videos help to foster a "sense of ownership...and pride" in the communities where they are filmed. She noted that "often we talk about things like Net Zero and carbon emissions and those things don't actually seem really real, they just seem like words...when you can visually see something and see how others have engaged in that [it can inspire] behavioral change."

4. Replicating and Scaling-up Projects for Greater Change

The panelists all reflected their hopes that the various projects they are implementing can touch multiple audiences. Firstly, as Nuravni shared, "it can be used as an example and a prototype for other organizations and funding partners to build upon, expand, and continue in the future." Additionally, these leaders aim to share the stories and experiences of the communities they are working in with leaders and decision-makers. As Samara put it, "My hope is that decision makers and policymakers and people who are sitting in the capital...hear about these stories and they think about how they can kind of scale up these solutions," The panelists also acknowledged that each community is unique, and as Samara pointed out, it is necessary to consider what ideas or solutions communities themselves can offer, "instead of going with a fixed mindset." Kirsty agreed, noting that "It's not a one size fits all, it can be tailored [to the needs of each community.]"

5. The Urgency of Taking Climate Action Now

The audience left the panel feeling inspired by the passion and dedication of the moderator and panelists. There was a clear sense from these four leaders that climate action is urgently needed in all corners of the world. Kemo said it well when he remarked "we already know what we have to do when it comes to climate...we have all the knowledge" and that it is a matter of acting on this urgent knowledge. The IVLP Impact Awards team is proud to be supporting the important and meaningful work of these four leaders and Awardees, and we hope that you will continue to follow the projects of these and our many other impressive Awardees on our web page.

“This conversation also made me think about how climate change actually is so interdisciplinary and how it affects each and every sector. Whether it be food, agriculture, sexual minorities as well as health in general… what we aim to do is to reach out to the marginalized community’s people [who] are usually the most affected by climate change.” - Samara Mortada, Moderator


If you have any questions, please reach out to the IVLP Impact Awards Team at IVLPImpactAwards@meridian.org.

If interested in attending more IVLP Impact Award events click here.

Project summary

IVLP Impact Awards Alumni Discussion Series: Involving Community in Environmental Action | September 2023
Countries: Gambia, Suriname, Bangladesh, United Kingdom
Impact Areas: Energy and the Environment
Program Areas: Global Leadership