Green Shoots in Berkeley and Beijing

Grace Mang, China Global Program Coordinator (guest blog)
Grace Mang
Grace Mang

In the past three months, I've set up temporary homes in Beijing, Sydney and San Francisco, all for for my new post with International Rivers: in Beijing to polish my Chinese; to spend some time saying goodbye to family in Sydney, Australia; and finally to settle into the coldest summer in 40 years in San Francisco.

I do hope the recent upheaval has prepared me well for my new post here at International Rivers as the China Global Program Coordinator.

Peter Bosshard and I recently finished up a trip to Beijing, China where we met with many of our partner organizations, shared information about our work and made new friends. Despite the challenges of a Beijing summer, it was action-packed and very productive.

One of the things that struck me most about our meetings in China was the new and emerging generation of activists joining Chinese environmental NGOs.

If I could indulge in generalizations, just this once, these new "green shoot"s are young professionals who have: (1) spent a few years working in investment banks, government or large corporates learning the ropes; (2) realized that they could use their skills to contribute to building a better China and a better world; (3) quit their jobs - probably much to the alarm of their parents - to start working for an NGO; and (4) are loving their new work.

I identify very much with my Chinese colleagues who have chosen to engage and try to shape the debate on China's environment and China's global environmental footprint. For many of us, the decision to take on this kind of work has been a personal choice.

However for many of our colleagues in the Mekong region in South East Asia or in Lake Turkana in Kenya, it's not about making personal choices - its a matter of protecting the lifeblood of their communities. Sometimes, the only choice is to dedicate oneself to stopping dams that will seriously undermine a community's way of life. For farmers, fisherman and families in the Mekong Basin, their only choice is to join a campaign against mainstream Mekong dams, which will fundamentally change the rhythm of the river.

I feel lucky to have experienced the many changes I have had over the last few months, all of which have been prompted by my own decisions. To find that I am joining a community of young professionals who are bright, environmentally aware and passionate is a blessing and is amazing. But many people in river communities do not have such a choice. They are trying to protect their world. The cost for them for failing is the end of their way of life. In my new role here, and with the new "green shoots" emerging in the Chinese NGO community, we will help them win their struggles.

Grace Mang is the new China Global Program Coordinator for International Rivers. Grace coordinates International Rivers' efforts to strengthen the environmental and social standards of China's overseas dam builders and their global environmental footprint. Before joining International Rivers in 2010, she worked as an environment and water Policy Adviser in the Australian Prime Minister's Department on major environmental reform issues such as river basin management of the Murray-Darling Basin, national environment protection laws and biodiversity protection strategies. Grace is a lawyer by training and specializes in environment and water law.