At the start of the first semester, we received an email inviting us to participate in an 8-week project by Sustainia. The ultimate opportunity to get one step closer to the real world of sustainability. You get the chance to develop and apply the skills needed for a career in sustainability in a real context.
The project is called “the Arctic Opportunity Challenge”organized by Sustainia, a global sustainability consulting firm that helps connect, co-create, communicate and build communities that advance clients’ businesses. They put together a program that will enhance the skills of those eager to make a difference in the world and pursue a career in sustainability. Their expertise within different branches of sustainability, international network of partners and collaborative approach provide the basis for an enriching learning experience.
This year’s challenge was to identify a problem in the Arctic for which you want to develop a solution. Me and my team were assigned a specific mentor who guided us throughout the challenge. The projects and solutions ranged from prototypes to policy plans to infrastructure designs…. We had to identify a challenge related to sustainable development in Arctic communities. This year’s focus was specifically on gender equality and the well-being of children and youth.
When we first approached the problem and read research and reports on the problems in indigenous communities, we discovered that many problems were interrelated. Our first realization was that the problems we needed to solve could not be solved from a Western perspective, but from a decolonized perspective. When we initially thought that gender inequality was a women’s problem, we realized that the suicide rate among young men in the Arctic is very high. This is because the men are trying to hold on to traditions while being disrupted by the Western world. While the girls and women are going to school and are more involved in new technologies.
We focused on the Saami because they are the only designated indigenous people in the European Union. There has been a marked decline in the population over the years. They have retained their own languages and traditions, as well as their livelihoods based on herding reindeer. Two major problems are really changing the lives of the Saami.
The Western world taking over the country for its own gain. For example, placing energy sources all over their land: wind turbines that lead to deforestation, hydroelectric dams. The dams block the paths of the reindeer and change the natural patterns of the rivers.
The second problem is climate change: as nature changes, the snow season shortens, ice turns into water, they have trouble finding food and herding the reindeer.
Because the Saami men really feel the obligation and love for the culture, they want to fight against this and cherish their culture. They feel they are the actual rights holders of this land, while the stakeholders (government) are using this land by placing their energy resources all over the land. This is green colonialism: Saami are rarely involved in conservation projects and are deprived of their rights by conservation organizations that are meant to be stewards of the environment.
While it is positive that the world is beginning a transition to a greener future, we must do so responsibly, including respecting the rights of indigenous communities and other marginalized groups and involving them in conservation. To do otherwise would be disrespectful and would put these people at risk and exclude them from the sustainable future for which so many have worked tirelessly. Indigenous rights are as important as climate justice.
In the end, we had to make a presentation on our progress and our possible recommendation. It was clear to us that access to physical and mental health care in the Arctic could be a first step in helping the Saami people. And in addition, educating the Western world about the indigenous people so that we can better understand and help them.
It was a great project and experience, and I would recommend everyone to join next year.
Big thanks to my teammates (Nicole Lee-Kauer, Meghan Quinn and Nelson Kück).
Participant of Master in Sustainable Business & Innovation, class of 2023