The new organization offered programs for leaders from many sectors—government, business, academia, nonprofit, indigenous communities, youth—to build capacity in understanding and mitigating conflict. There was also programming that highlighted specific conflicts in the region, to make clear the importance of managing each conflict in order to move on from a development perspective.
“We taught people how to deal with conflicts involving natural resources—water, forests, land, oil,” Kakabadse says. “And also, the value of using a resource or not using it. How do those decisions impact the livelihoods of communities?” But above all, no matter how many conflicts a leader was dealing with, the key to resolution, she felt, was pretty simple: People have to talk to each other.
“I felt as if at that time in Latin America, we were pretty good at creating conflicts,” she says, “and very poor at addressing them. And addressing, and ultimately managing, conflict means dialogue. The problem is, when people aren’t talking, each perceives the other as the enemy. And very often, they want the same thing.”
The problem in building support for sustainability often lies in the fact that sustainability isn’t always visible. It’s built over the long term, and what it means can change from year to year. But at the heart of it, always, is community.
Kakabadse has carried her abiding faith in the power of community-involved conservation with her throughout her career, which has included time as Ecuador’s minister of environment, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and president of WWF-International. She believes that when the community is involved in conservation—when leaders and others are talking to each other— then they, too, will notice when something is wrong. And they will help make it right.