We Experienced and We Learned: My Journey through Rio+20

Growing up I often heard my parents say the phrase ‘tajrobay shod’ whenever they did something wrong or had an unexpected outcome. In English the phrase means “we experienced and we learned.” It always left me with a feel-good, positive attitude about my mistakes.

Like many, I traveled to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development with high hopes. But midway through the conference, the feeling of dismay and disappointment kicked in. I was ready to be a part of Bjorn Lomborg crew. It was then that I remembered my childhood lesson of ‘tajrobay shod.’ I decided that there was no point in harping about the negative outcomes that most of us predicted anyways. So, why bother getting mad, walking out, banging our heads against the wall — instead I pondered how could I make Rio+20 a positive experience.

In search of lessons from Rio+20, I’ve touched upon three themes that in my opinion would have made Rio+20 effective. I’ve experienced the frustrations of Rio+20, and here is what I’ve learned.

Putting a Human Face to Our Challenges

This point was brought up during one of my discussions with Alfredo Younis, of the Zambuling Institute for Human Transformation, at a side event by Peace Child called “Lets get Mad.” The need for identifying important actors that are at the root of the problems that we are trying to solve is key in raising awareness for a particular issue.

Putting a human face to something simply means identifying the actors that are directly involved in the action and holding them accountable for their actions. By putting a human face to the abstract concept of the green economy, one can frame an issue in a way which is more relatable to an individual. As Alfredo Younis put it, we should not demand a green economy, but we should ask for green economists.

Talking About Our Values and Priorities

There needs to be recognition that the problems and challenges that we are facing are a manifestation of broader value systems. We need to move beyond our campaigns for green energy, food security, deforestation, and so forth to focus on the greater transformation that we need to set the pace for the future we want. Our campaigns for all of these issues are important, however, the majority group and hopefully the citizens of the world do recognize their co-dependence on each other and the need for dialogue about our priorities, actions, and way of life.

Working in silos on our campaigns needs to end. We need greater recognition for a change in our mindset and actions. We cannot keep on patching holes in the fabric of our society — we need to transform the whole fabric. We cannot talk about sustainable development without talking about our consumerist and materialist habits. Similarly, we cannot talk about eradication of poverty without talking about unequal distribution of resources. And we surely cannot talk about sustainable growth without questioning growth itself.

Lets Do Something About It

So Rio+20 wasn’t a success. What can I do? I want everyone to ask themselves this question. Inaction thrives on lack of responsibility and anger — we need to turn our anger into positive lessons and take it upon ourselves to do something that will bring social change in whatever way we can. Inspired by Rio+20 (I know this sounds ironic), I decided to grow a venture I started earlier this year called “Ruminize” (www.ruminize.com), which is going to serve as a story-sharing platform to inspire people and help them form a community of changemakers for local solutions that can go global.