Governance, forests, and Instagram: How youth can put the pieces together

Forest scenery, Gede Pangrango, Indonesia. Photo by Ricky Martin for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Forest scenery, Gede Pangrango, Indonesia. Photo by Ricky Martin for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

By Andhyta Firselly Utami

Several days ago, I came across an article that jokingly amended a famous quote from John Lennon, to “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making Instagrams”. Beyond the intended humor, the line is very relevant for today’s youth and offers a unique way to reflect on what has been happening with Indonesia’s forest governance in the past couple of years — noting that Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, according to Global Forest Watch (Forest Watch Indonesia, Global Forest Watch. 2002. The State of the Forest: Indonesia).

Now, I would argue that Instagram might have been overlooked as a parallel explanation of what Indonesia’s forest governance really needs. If you have an account, you might be familiar with Instagram’s five major features: home, explore, upload, updates, and profile. I believe these features have built a framework that has made the thinking of today’s youth different, and therefore gives youth a chance to make a difference, particularly in the forestry arena.

‘Home’, for example, represents the stream of inspiration, or vision, coming from the Instagram accounts we follow. In the context of forest governance, this would be an umbrella commitment or worldwide goal that leads everyone in the same direction. After all, the key to making long-lasting change and achieving sustainability lies in effective policy and sound implementation.

‘Explore’, however, reminds us that we should always go beyond our comfort zones, in terms of knowledge. I figure that solutions can come from places where we never cared to look. Stakeholders, especially those that make decisions, should demonstrate the goodwill to listen to people outside the system (such as environmental think tanks or campaign organizations, including youth) and, when needed, go the extra mile, beyond business-as-usual.

I’d like to think of ‘upload’ as a call to action. It’s a statement that says someone can only be a real part of something once they contribute to it. Furthermore, it tells us that it is okay to showcase not only how we see today’s forests, but also how we envision them to be — in other words, we’re allowed to put certain ‘filters’ on the issue. In my case, one filter would be the urgency for us to see degraded-land utilization as an overlooked potential option to relieve pressure of deforestation.

‘Updates’ and ‘profile’ work as a gallery to help us remember how far we have progressed (so we keep on going), and how there will always be people who appreciate us if we dare to make the effort to create something.

Instagram might have taught us exactly that: our government lacks inspiration (home), the business sector still fears going beyond common practice (explore), civil society organizations need to take bolder actions (upload) and, most of all, there needs to be a larger space for achievement documentation (profile) and cross-sector appreciation (updates).

With the launch of Global Forest Watch by the World Resources Institute, zero deforestation policies from a number of companies, as well as emission-reduction pledges from many countries across the globe, we can see that the means and commitment to fight deforestation are there. The remaining question would now be how far would we go to achieve these goals. Youth — including people busy posting on Instagram — are, I believe, a crucial part of this process, not only through contributing ideas but also because they are hands-on in implementing mechanisms.

On May 5 this year, the Forests Asia Summit, organized by CIFOR, will host a dynamic youth session in which young people and their supporters will take a closer look at how youth can contribute more to the forestry sector. The session will aim to connect youth, along with their fresh ideas, and forests, a very important issue with its own set of challenges that need out-of-the-box solutions.

Andhyta Firselly Utami is the opening speaker of the Forests Asia youth session.

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