Engaging youth as the next generation of forest stewards

“It does appear that most youngsters no longer want to live with/in the forests the way their parents did. However, we may be looking at the situation from the wrong angle, since there are youngsters who want to co-exist with the forests on their terms, rather than ours”

– N. Schwartz, Anthropologist, Petén, Guatemala (in memorandum)


In places where forests are managed and cared for by local people and communities – a stewardship role that global society  undervalues – the paths chosen by young people will shape forest futures.

Faced with limited opportunities where they live, and the allure of work and education possibilities elsewhere, the global trend has been one of young people leaving their forest communities, often to cities.

But is the emptying out of forest regions inevitable in an era of globalization and globalized change?

Finding solutions that work for people and forests requires a better understanding of the views, values, and hopes of those living in such places. The Future of Forest Work and Communities (FoFW) initiative and community of practice seeks to understand forests and forest communities through the eyes of young people, and invite their ideas for creating forest-based economies that can meet their aspirations for meaningful work – and a good life.

Our core team – from the University of Saskatchewan, Pilot Projects Design Collective, IFRI/FLARE and the PARTNERS restoration network – developed a multi-day workshop methodology to engage young people in conversations about their lives, their ideas, and their visions for the future. Encapsulating both the imaginary and the actual, these workshops provide a barometer of youth culture in forest communities; focusing on what young people think about, what they would like to be/do and where that might take them, and the role that forests can and do play in this. Through facilitated conversations and activities, we have been learning about the role of forests and place in the life stories of young people, and provide a platform for participants to co-design conceptual ‘pilot projects’ for their communities. These are practical ideas for meaningful forest-related work that respond to the interests, needs and values of both workshop participants and their communities, while accounting for regional to global realities and opportunities.

Workshop in Action, Madre de Dios, Peru

The stories, pilot project concepts and other data generated by these workshops are being collected, analyzed, and synthesized to gain a robust cross-sectional understanding of youth perspectives and ideas across different contexts. Our database is helping us to build insights into trends at local to regional to global levels, and to develop robust and forward-thinking research interventions, educational training, and policy recommendations that can support local peoples and forests. In our partner communities, workshop findings are shared with elders, authorities, and others to build local commitment to implementing pilot projects based on the most exciting and feasible ideas of their young people.

To date, we have organized workshops in 14 localities in 9 countries in North, Central, and South America; East Africa; and South and South-East Asia.

We hope that our network can continue to grow, and welcome nominations for new visioning workshops. If you are interested, please see “Host a Workshop.