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Threaded Together: Strategies for Engaging Emerging Leaders

By Paula Short, Confluence 2024 “Threaded Together” Session Lead

Most of us can think back to a pivotal moment or time (or perhaps several) that pulled us into conservation work. Perhaps it was an inspiring teacher, experience or observing others working in conservation. Inspiring service and leadership in conservation is a key outcome of the Rising Leaders Program of the Grand Canyon Trust, whose mission is “to safeguard the wonders of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau, while supporting the rights of its Native peoples.”

The Rising Leaders Program engages young people, ages 15-30 in work around community organizing, leadership training and advocacy that is rooted in science and stewardship. At WCCN’s Confluence 2024, Danya Gorel and Boisiu (Bo) Dewangyumptewa discussed many of the ways in which they are cultivating rising leaders with the goal of helping them create careers of impact in conservation or in any future careers they choose. Bo offered this reflection from the “Threaded Together: Strategies for Engaging Emerging Leaders” session at Confluence:

“Our interactive session was a space to start conversations about building a strong foundation. It’s important to help build a network for everyone to do their part. Then we can start to move on whatever needs to get done. It was pretty cool to create dialogue for what mentorship can look like. It’s important to be surrounded by different stories and cultures because we have something to learn from everyone. As facilitators, we don’t always have to take the reins. Sometimes we are here to support and help guide through the mess and by making these systems stronger, we can slowly make the world a better place to foster something good and beautiful.”

Boisiu (Bo) Dewangyumptewa, Session Lead

Johnny Benally, an artist, designer and program participant in the Rising Leaders Program, created a strategy map describing the process for engaging emerging leaders. Using the analogy of cultivating a crop of corn, Johnny described the process, all of which requires time. We love that the strategy begins and ends with listening – first, to understand the needs and goals for a project, and lastly, to receive feedback to adapt or learn from the process.

Danya further described the power of this metaphor:

“Before trying to influence or change something, you have to know what you’re working with. Farming teaches us the importance of observation, patience, and relationship building which is why Johnny Benally, artist and illustrator, selected this metaphor for our session. Like planting in a cornfield where you must assess moisture, sunlight and soil before even thinking about changing the landscape, programming is no different. We all work in places with a unique culture, voice, and story. I hope from this session, people walked away with a renewed perspective on the value attributed to spending time with people and places to develop awareness and trust before attempting to implement projects or sow seeds of change. When creating programs for rising leaders by rising leaders, collaboration is key. Without a strong foundation filled with thoughtful listening and planning things fall apart. This is why the work we do is guided by the communities we serve.”

Danya Gorel, Session Lead

The session at Confluence reminded us that this work – engaging young people in conservation, cultivating their passion, and creating opportunities for growth – are the building blocks for a career of impact. They are also key components of mentorship, and feedback from this session will inform the creation of a mentorship toolkit, which will be available later this year.

Thank you to Grand Canyon Trust’s Rising Leaders Program for the vitally important work you do to mobilize young people to act on environment and social justice issues on the Colorado Plateau and for sowing seeds of possibility which, with time and cultivation, will yield generations of emerging leaders in conservation.

You can learn more about the Grand Canyon Trust’s Rising Leaders Program here, and WCCN’s Confluence 2024 here.

photo by Paula Short