AWF-supported Pre-Forum Event Sets the Stage for Conservation Action

Africa's youth are a powerful force for positive change, and nowhere is this more evident than in the fight for conservation. With the continent facing unprecedented environmental challenges, the upcoming African Conservation Forum (ACF) organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) offers a platform for sharing knowledge, building partnerships, and connecting key stakeholders in nature and biodiversity conservation.

Ahead of the IUCN ACF, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) alongside the Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network, Uganda Youth Biodiversity Network, IUCN, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, and Post2020 Biodiversity Framework - EU support is hosting a dynamic Pre-Youth Forum (termed IUCN Youth Conservation Forum for Africa (IYCOFA)) on June 24th and 25th. This critical event serves as a springboard for young leaders to engage in critical dialogue, share best practices, and solidify a unified voice for conservation on the continent.

AWF's Senior Youth Program Manager, Simangele Msweli, sheds light on the significance of the Pre-Youth Forum and its role in empowering young Africans.

Q: The Pre-Youth Forum is a critical lead-in to the IUCN Africa Conservation Forum. Can you tell us about its primary objective and its importance?

Simangele: The forum provides a vital platform for young African leaders to discuss key themes that align with the main ACF. This collaborative space allows them to develop a unified voice, culminating in a declaration presented at the ACF's opening ceremony.

We aim to broaden the conversation by raising awareness about critical environmental issues and inspiring young Africans to get involved. We prioritize equipping young conservationists with the necessary tools and knowledge to participate in upcoming major conferences. Specifically, our focus is on COP16 of the Convention on Biological Diversity and COP29 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Q: This is a first for IUCN. How does AWF approach youth involvement in conservation?

Simangele: This forum builds from the Africa Protected Areas Congress, which AWF co-hosted with IUCN and the Government of Rwanda in 2022.  Therefore, our engagement in this is consistent with how we bring youth to the table in these settings. AWF champions youth leadership through a dedicated youth program led by young professionals who understand fellow youth's perspectives and actively involve them in shaping conservation agendas and leading events. The Pre-Youth Forum's partnership with established youth networks like the Uganda Youth Biodiversity Network and the Kenya Youth Biodiversity Network is key to our approach, which includes ensuring that the youth movement is owned by youth through their dedicated networks.

AWF's commitment extends beyond the forum. We'll launch a brochure showcasing top African youth-led conservation projects at the Pre-Forum, highlighting innovative ideas and fostering funding and collaboration opportunities. These projects come from the project pitch competition of the African Youth Summit on Biodiversity, another Pan-African initiative we support.

Q: With a continent-wide reach, the ACF is expected to see participation from various countries. What role will this forum play in conservation efforts?

Simangele: IUCN's unique membership structure, including both governments and non-government institutions, fosters collaboration without hierarchy. We anticipate a significant turnout from African countries and NGOs. This forum presents a golden opportunity for a united front on Africa-specific conservation issues. It allows the continent to develop a shared vision and effectively advocate for its environmental future at upcoming global conferences and the World Conservation Congress.

Q: What's the ultimate goal of mobilizing youth in conservation through these forums?

Simangele: The overarching goal is to mobilize African youth for conservation action and awareness. This forum is part of a larger strategy to engage youth leaders and networks across Africa. AWF aims to mobilize, empower, and equip as many young Africans as possible to become active participants in safeguarding Africa's irreplaceable wildlife and ecosystems.

>>Learn more about AWF's work in leading for wildlife