As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, at the Young Commonwealth Climate Change Summit I discovered many inspiring people and organizations working toward tackling climate change. One of them was a social enterprise called Worldview Impact that works on mitigating climate change and reducing poverty by creating green jobs in poor communities.
After watching a dynamic presentation by founder Bremley Lyngdoh, I asked if he’d have time to give the Youthink! audience a little more background and insight into his organization. When I arrived for our meeting at Worldview headquarters, Bremley first treated me to some “conflict resolution tea” (lemongrass, in case you’re interested, and delicious).
Curious? I was. It’s thus named, Bremley informed me, because it was grown on Paradise Farm.
Even more curious? It turns out Paradise Farm is one of Worldview Impact’s projects—a farm in Sri Lanka where both Tamil and Sinhalese women work together to produce organic food. For those of you who’ve been living on Mars for the past few decades (or ok, are out of touch with Sri Lankan politics), the Tamils and Singhalese were opposing factions in a decades-long civil war that took place in the country.) “Farming releases the negative energy in people,” Bremley tells me. “You can’t fight over there.” From what it sounds like, the people who work on Paradise Farm are probably too busy to think about fighting. They not only grow crops like tea, cocoa and cashew nuts; they also grow rubber trees which they then harvest to make a host of products—yes, including carbon-free condoms.
Interview with Bremley
Q: What is Worldview Impact and how did you get the idea to create it?
A: Worldview Impact is a social enterprise that I created with the goal of taking my research and my learning from university to actual implementation and practice. I didn't want to just have this thesis with a tremendous amount of data and recommendations, and not be able to implement it - what a waste!
I wanted to start small pilot projects, and having done research in India and Sri Lanka, I thought I would go back to those communities where I’d worked and engage them. So, I set up a social enterprise with the idea to engage communities and to share the benefits and profits, and to address the triple bottom line, which is: social, environment and economic. Which are the 3 arrows you can see in the logo. To address the environmental arrow, we try to mitigate climate change through the creation of green jobs. The economic arrow is sustainable livelihoods – which we’re doing through agroforestry, renewables, water, waste and sanitation. And lastly, to address the social arrow we are reducing poverty through training and capacity building and focusing on a lot of women on the ground. So, that’s Worldview Impact!
Q: What was your biggest challenge in creating it?
A: The most challenging experience for me was negotiating with the Sri Lankan government to get approval on the land that we were going to lease. It took almost 2 years of negotiations, but we now have 4,000 hectares of degraded land in southeast Sri Lanka. Of course, we’ll have to deploy different strategies of how we work with governments, local landowners and chiefs in every country. We can’t use a one-size policy fits all. In India it’s very different because we’re working directly with the local chiefs who own the lands, so we don’t have any governmental interaction. Obviously, in Africa we will have to use a different strategy and in Latin America as well. But what’s interesting is that we’re using the same species of rubber tree, in different climatic conditions, in different cultures, working with different people. So you can actually map out where we grow it, and how different things are in different parts of the world, but always the same plant species.
Q: And why rubber trees?
A: Rubber trees sequestrate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, one rubber tree sequestrates about 1 ton of carbon in its lifetime. So, if you plant 1 million rubber trees, you can sequestrate about 1 million tons of carbon. In addition, rubber trees lift the water table from the ground and improve soil fertility over time. So those are the environmental benefits. The economic benefits are that the women can harvest the rubber and produce organic carbon-free gloves (which are used in operation theaters), gum boots and condoms—carbon free, organic condoms, which in turn address public health. So, we have 5 targets: environmental targets, social, economic, conflict-resolution and public health. From one project. That’s why we’ve chosen the rubber tree - it’s pretty amazing.
Q: Is there any story from your work that stands out for you?
A: When I first went to Sri Lanka 2 years ago I met a young man, whose name is Chandra. He’s about 30 years old, and he has 3 younger sisters. He had about 5 acres of land. That was all he had – they were orphans. Their parents had died in the conflict. When I met him, I said, “you’re the perfect example [of someone to start the project]!” His dream was to become a rubber expert, but he didn’t have the resources, he didn’t have anything except his land. So I said, “I’m going to seed the nursery in your land, and your sisters are going to take care of the trees and you’re going to help manage that.” And he said, “that’s my dream come true!” And I said, “no, no, actually you’re making my dream come true because you’re helping me seed this little project in your land, in your farm."
And A Bit About Bremley...
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in northeast India, in a mountain town, Shillong, which was called the “Scotland of the East” by the British. Shillong is the capital of the State of Meglayaya (meaning where the clouds come home in Sanskrit), and it’s in the Eastern Himalayan foothills.
Q: What's it like over there?
A: Shillong is a beautiful mountain town which has grown into a city full of colorful, music-loving people. It has the highest percentage of people with musical skills per family in the country (hence my appetite for great music!) Also, it’s a matrilineal and matrilocal society, which means descent is traced through the mother and the youngest daughter inherits the property. My mother tells me that my father is the head of the family but she is the neck of the family. So when the neck turns the head also turns!
Q: Did your environment play a role in deciding your future?
A: I belong to the Khasi Tribe, a small indigenous community that still practice the old ways of sustainable living. The village where my family came from was once the rainiest place on Earth, getting about 55 feet of rainfall a year. But now, due to deforestation, Cherrapunjee has become a cold desert. My father’s clan still maintains their own Lyngdoh sacred forest which has been around for centuries. So from a young age I have always had the passion to protect the environment and indigenous ways of forest and land management.
Learn more about Worldview Impact in this video from MTV Switch.