In a world fractured by the effects of environmental degradation, political turmoil, and economic crises, it is easy to forget that cultures of peace depend on good governance and equitable management of our natural resources. Sustainable development from the grassroots up can only happen if these three core issues are addressed. Furthermore, the connection between environmental challenges and local conflicts cannot be assessed separately. They must be understood and acted upon not just by academics, but by as many different kinds of people as possible – bustling city-dwellers, hard-working villagers and farmers, children, poets, dreamers – and by those who visit our country and carry away with them a sense of our key cultural developments and aspirations. Moreover, a successful fusion of university research and traditional training requires the provision not only of academic resources, but of experiential learning opportunities, community mentoring, and utilization of indigenous knowledge.
Therefore, the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI) core purpose will be to spearhead holistic multi-disciplinary research, training and community empowerment and outreach services. An inspiring, interactive permanent exhibition demonstrating the work and ideas of Professor Wangari Muta Maathai at the Institute will be an essential element of WMI’s work. Further, there will be a deliberate emphasis by WMI to forge regional and international partnerships, for the purpose of creating other centres of excellence for sustainable management of environmental resources.
The motivation for the WMI
Limited natural resources are directly or indirectly the source of most conflicts. Well conserved and governed natural resources will go a long way in reducing community conflicts. When the relationships between natural resource scarcity and conflict, and natural resources and prosperity are well-articulated, the community will be able to understand their responsibility and realize that natural resource conservation is indeed self-conservation. Aspirations for the establishment of WMI were based on recognition by Professor Wangari Maathai, that there is a need for:
i. A pioneer institute in Africa that fosters and inculcates transformative values, with the intention of creating transformational leaders for the next generation
ii. A distinctive environmental studies institute that develops an understanding of the interdependency of environmental health and human prosperity while providing skills to deal with conflicts
iii. An outstanding experiential learning institution for environmental studies
iv. An African-based 'Earth-Watch', proactively monitoring the environment and giving early warning signals that will allow for preparedness in emerging contexts.
v. A university-based entity with unparalleled transformative linkages with grassroots communities
vi. An African based leading institution to foster strategic partnerships with top environmental schools and institutions the world over as well as the private sector.
vii. A lead institute for the interdisciplinary research that will produce evidence-based data informing policy debates and policy formulation
viii. An inspiring living innovative and creative laboratory where new “green” technologies and best practices of environmental sustainability and conflict resolution can be fostered, developed, tested, validated and demonstrated
WMI’s Distinctive and Comparative advantages
WMI’s distinctiveness and comparative advantage will be in its acknowledgement of the interlinking between conflict resolution, environmental degradation and democratization. Few, if any other institutions focus directly on this interrelationship. Professor Wangari Maathai and the GBM has proven that addressing these issues in their complexity leads to simultaneous improvements in the environment and the local communities livelihoods. WMI wants to bring this distinctive experience to the brains of the African intellectuals and none academic knowledge holders. WMI’s thrust is to create transformational “green” leaders, who can manage the environment and its related conflicts, for the benefit of their community and nation.
The anticipated disparate backgrounds of its faculty and graduate students will make the institute a crossroads of world cultures and a unifying intellectual space embracing global diversity. We will draw undergraduate students and non-academic knowledge holders from every region and later send them into the world equipped with practical knowledge, skills, and a robust work ethic that will enable them to respond to challenges of environmental management.
The Creation of a Sustainable Transformative Centre
A sustainable and transformative campus will be established within the 50 acres plot allocated to WMI at the University of Nairobi. The campus will among other things house the institute’s operations, and a special trademark sustainable building will be erected. The campus will be self-sufficient in its energy needs as much is practically possible and will be a core part of making the environmental values come alive for all who will interact with WMI. The institutes shall also develop and manage demonstration farms for indigenous trees, medical plants, rain forest and wetlands management. On February 16th, 2011 an independent and international Panel of Jurors announced the winning architectural design for the sustainable campus. The Cape Town-based firm of architects, dhk, won the competition to design the Institute. At the heart of the, the scheme is the welcoming and dignified democratic space sheltered by a tensile canopy roof supported on tripod ‘tree-like’ columns evoking the tree planting work of Prof Wangari Maathai.
Partnerships and Collaborations
Without key partners, WMI cannot fulfil its ambitious vision. In a networked society, partnerships are increasingly important to create critical mass, synergies and stretch scarce resources. Thus, to achieve planned results and targets and to leverage resources, WMI will forge a strategic alliance with the public, private at international partners in implementing its mandate.
Excellence in experiential learning, transformational community outreach, and research for sustainable environments and cultures of peace
To cultivate positive ethics, values and practices towards the environment by training stewards who foster peace, promote holistic sustainable development, and link theory with practice.
WMI selected five strategic objectives to drive decisions and actions in the delivery of its mission in its first ten years.
The objectives are:
Objective 1: Global outreach
To Make WMI a regionally leading, internationally recognized centre for holistic environmental practices and peacebuilding
Objective 2: Social engagement
To improve values, ethics and attitudes towards sustainable environmental management and peaceful conflict resolution in all parts of African societies
Objective 3: Experiential learning
Develop a portfolio of innovative action-oriented training programs within the mandate of WMI
Objective 4: Research
To enhance environmental knowledge and management practices for local empowerment and conflict resolution
Objective 5: Political influence
To contribute to improved understanding of environmental policy to sharpen decision making and law enforcement
The 5 objectives will be accomplished through various strategic activities that will include:
- Research and teaching application of values that animate Wangari Maathai and the greenbelt movement work in various contexts such as Local conflict resolution, institutional development, education at the grassroots, local environmental empowerment, and adult learning.
- Developing science and experience-based curricula that offer leadership training in conflict resolution, environmental protection, as well as potential development consequences of climate change, biodiversity loss, and deforestation.
- A focus on women’s leadership. GBM’s experience shows that such focus is still necessary and has a great positive impact in patriarchal societies.
- Establishing exchange programs with universities abroad for students and academic staffs.
- WMI will be a library and resource institute for people to learn about forestry, rural development and sustainability, and leadership values.
- The Institute will have demonstration sites for innovations and methodologies such as sand dams, tree-planting, kitchen gardens, solar-driven appliances, and other appropriate technologies that may have relevant applications.