5 Essential Traits that Make Youth Crucial to Addressing Ocean Challenges.

By Lawrence Dogli, Programs Coordinator, Gulf of Guinea Maritime Institute July 19, 2022

As the maritime industry faces pressure to mobilize actions for major structural transformations and common shared solutions in addressing the many threats that the ocean faces, the relevance of engaging a workforce in a new ocean front: one that is more digitized, innovative and diverse than ever before, is increasing.

What do African leaders need to know about the youth as they forge a course to build a future-ready maritime workforce that will industrialize new ocean sectors, grow their economies and provide employment opportunities for their citizens?

In this blog, I want to share five traits that make the youth crucial to addressing ocean challenges, post-COVID. African leaders that fail to involve young people in seeking solutions that address some of the defining issues including marine pollution, diminishing marine and coastal ecosystems, ocean acidification and illegal and over-fishing, risk the flowering of much needed science-based innovative solutions for ocean prosperity.

 

  1. Young people are data-literate.

Data-fuelled ocean industries provide exponential transformations in the management of ocean resources for sustainable economic development. The collection of information such as ocean patterns, sea floors, ocean currents and water temperatures could help us manage the impact of climate change, reduce pollution including plastics, and increase the equitable usage of ocean resources particularly in vulnerable coastal communities.

As the maritime industry continues to generate tremendous amount of data, countries with more data-literate people will become key to transforming ocean data into knowledge and actions for innovation and sustainability, and ultimately drive actions to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

This will require efforts by various stakeholders to share data, provide resources including innovative platforms and knowledge tools to build a digital ocean ecosystem. Young people will then play a key role and be responsible for collating and visualizing ocean data in planning for vibrant and productive ocean industries.

At the national level, institutions that play various roles in the management and usage of ocean resources should view ocean data as a national asset and garner the momentum to lead initiatives that are needed for studying and understanding ocean data.

The most successful ocean economies recognise the importance of analyzing ocean data to unlock the many benefits the ocean provides for it citizens.

   2. They’re comfortable adopting the ever-expanding technologies, new ocean sectors and markets.

The World Economic Forum report on Future of Jobs projects that in the mid-term of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, job destruction will most likely be offset by job growth in the 'jobs of tomorrow'—the surging demand for workers who can fill blue and green economy jobs, roles at the forefront of the data and AI economy, as well as new roles in ocean engineering, cloud computing and fisheries product development.

These emerging professions also reflect the continuing importance of human interactions in the new ocean economy and how these can be effectively merged not only with the increasing demand for blue economy jobs, but also with the emergence of ocean-based technology and IoT sensing as well as novel approaches to offshore energy production, sustainable aquaculture, shipping logistics efficiency and more.

While there have been concerns of mass job displacement and competing claims to unique human capabilities by artificial intelligence, a robust and indigenous African leadership will be essential to connecting economic and social systems that complement human capabilities instead of replacing them – in areas like ocean science education and training.

In all cases, organizations should institute regulatory guidelines when adopting technologies, keeping in mind that there may be friction between people and culture, especially in coastal communities.

   3. They are empowered

How can the maritime industry respond to the undersized ‘’voice gap’’ of young people all around the world? That is, a gap between the levels of influence youth can potentially have in addressing oceanic challenges given the current global context, and the opportunities they have to speak up.

The high levels of imbalance we’re seeing in terms of inclusivity and equity in a sustainable ocean economy, and the policy and economic implications that flow from it, likely has to do with the size of engagement with the broad constituency of ocean users and supporters, particularly the youth.

Today, young people are finding their voices and using available social platforms to share their views and lead ocean actions. They are finding meaning and purpose in the work they do.  

African leaders should seize this opportunity to engage in a new ocean social contract that delivers meaningful progress and social impact while supporting young people to drive change and develop innovative solutions that solve the many ocean challenges. Tenets of such a contract include;

  • Identification of young people with leadership and innovative skills

  • Continuous investment in skills development and knowledge sharing among youth

  • Respect for young people’s voice

  • Generation of opportunities  for young people to access perspectives of other ocean narratives and ways of working

   4. They respect and understand the value of “good jobs.”

Today’s youth have standards: This in the context of an ocean economy means the urgent need to focus on both social and economic motivation as a crucial component of ocean development.

As such, African leaders should aim to ensure that the outcomes of future ocean economies not only focus on monetary values but also support people’s needs and aspirations. If not, the impact of ocean values and the contributions of youth efforts to ocean services may not be fully realized.

This situation tends to hurt national economic policies as subjective well-being has become a measure of social and economic performance, now known as economics of happiness.

Raising young people’s decision-making and engagement levels leads to higher worker satisfaction. Happier youths are more enthusiastic about their work and more likely to stay at their jobs. African leaders should prioritize developing ocean action plans that link young people’s well-being and experience with the maritime industry priorities and transformational goals.

 

   5. They are resolute to advances in equity and the environment.

As we navigate towards future ocean governance, it is essential that African policy makers while defining an inclusive blue economy, cultivate fairness and equity in the workforce. Actions include exposing young people to STEM at an early age; making higher ocean science education more affordable and more equitable; hiring based on skill set rather than degree; and assessing and diversifying professional ocean networks.

In terms of changing institutional culture, the maritime industry should consider tapping into broader, more diverse youth networks when recruiting staff.

For young people in particular, the idea of equity extends to governance and environmental issues equally. A recent millennial employee study found that more millennials won’t take a job if it doesn’t have a strong corporate social responsibility policy, and would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues.

In setting environmental priorities for maritime sustainability, industry should consider adopting “inside-out” approaches, which allows for inputs from young people. This approach is particularly essential in terms of strategies for sustainable maritime businesses as it requires convening those who define the culture of a company — including young people — and discussing what the company exists for and the contribution it wants to make in the world – in the case of maritime, ocean transformations.

Collective Action Starts with You

A World Oceans Day Blog Post

By: Stephanie Oserwa Schandorf, 14th June, 2022

This year’s World Oceans Day was a great chance to reflect on the centrality of the ocean to supporting livelihoods. However, the theme for the celebration, Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean, connotes a longer-lasting contemplation of the ocean space beyond the single opportunity World Oceans Day presents. It calls for a progressive understanding of the importance of the deep blue and the harmonisation of efforts across the globe towards ensuring its sustainability. Perhaps a crucial first step towards this desired state is to ask this one question: what comes to mind when you think about the ocean?

The answer comes much more quickly to some people than it does to others. Individuals living in coastal communities for instance, have a much broader range of interactions with the ocean; thus, the answers might come more easily to them. If you do not live along the coast, or if you have had very limited opportunities to interact directly with the ocean, it may take a while. However, it is important that as individuals who are highly dependent on the planet, we each attempt to figure out what answers hold true for us.

Chances are that we may have varying responses. According to The Human Relationship with our Ocean Planet, a Blue Paper by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, we often view our relationship with the ocean at material, relational or subjective levels. This blog post will focus on two broad categories instead: material and intrinsic levels.

Let’s start with the material level. For most people, when they think about the ocean, they think about fish. They are right. The fish that the ocean produces is highly essential to supporting the well-being and livelihoods of billions of people across the globe. As a matter of fact, fisheries resources are often the most critical source of high-quality protein for developing countries and the world’s poorest nations. Without fish, a state of food security would be incredibly hard to attain. It doesn’t just end at fish, though. Seafood generally is a major component of diets across the globe and one of the primary keys to building sustainable food systems.

Of course, the ocean’s material benefits extend far beyond seafood. Although the ocean is a large body of water, we seldom think of its importance to freshwater supplies. It’s too salty to do us any good, we often assume. Get this: the ocean’s major role in regulating our planet’s climate is the reason behind rain and storm systems that provide the fresh water that is so fundamental to life on Earth. Again, with fresh water becoming such a limited resource in several regions across the globe, large-scale desalination of ocean water is becoming a very real consideration.

The ocean also serves as a great source of renewable energy and minerals. Before you even remotely think, “Who cares?”, consider the fact that our planet is battling with some major effects of climate change, largely as a result of our use of unsustainable energy sources…effects that are bound to affect your own future generations if nothing is done about them. The ocean provides a pathway out of this fate. 

Furthermore, the most under-explored parts of the ocean hold some of the greatest secrets for medical breakthroughs. Unique organisms and ecosystems found in the ocean depths are beginning to point scientists to solutions for addressing some major terminal diseases and the pharmaceutical industry is fast becoming one of the major beneficiaries of ocean exploration.

We also think of the shipping industry when we consider the ocean. We think of its implications for economic growth, for development…for the advancement of societies. We think of the wealth it brings to individuals and businesses.

It is harder to quantify the intrinsic value of the ocean; these are often felt rather than experienced in a tangible sense. Even if you are not a coastal dweller, chances are that the ocean often leaves you in a sense of awe and wonder. It gives you an opportunity to reflect, meditate and connect with your deeper senses of freedom and adventure, each of which is important to your general well-being as an individual. We tend to underestimate this value when it is, in fact, one of the greatest reasons to protect the ocean. It has served as a source of inspiration to many, inciting creativity, rejuvenating mental health and giving millions of individuals a sense of inner-peace. There’s no way we can put a price on these.

It is clear then that we depend on the ocean for our very survival. However, the ocean is facing a host of threats that have dire implications for the services it provides us as humans. It is easy for us to ignore all the raving and ranting about the need to safeguard the oceans…easy for us to look the other way, simply because it feels much better to us to pretend there is no problem.

There is; and it is not going away until we take some giant steps. Focus on the broad range of interactions you have with the ocean…on the broad range of interactions all humans have with the ocean. Let that give you the momentum you need to face the problem and take some decisive action.

AN OCEAN FOR THE YOUTH

A Holistic Approach to Engaging the Youth in the Maritime Sector

By: Stephanie Oserwa Schandorf, 22nd March, 2022

As African youth, we have, for ourselves, a continent that really is ours to run. Africa has the highest percentage of youth in its population than any other continent, and that makes us the continent with the world’s youngest population. At the same time, there’s this vast Blue Economy potential that could well be the key to Africa’s economic advancement. This is in such stark contrast to the fact that Africa has some of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

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Now let’s take a moment to shift to a global perspective of the problem. The recently concluded United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) saw States come together to try to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Here’s one thing that was clear: there was a heightened recognition not only of the centrality of the ocean to regulating global climate, but also of the adverse implications of climate change on the ocean and the ocean economy. Throughout the conference, this awareness had to be juxtaposed with the sovereign and competing interests of States and the element of political will – or more specifically, the lack of it.

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This has been the consistent challenge faced by debates centered on climate change and the need to protect the ocean. Ultimately, it has been a vicious cycle of recognizing the problems; but not having enough political momentum to take concrete actions towards addressing them. This should be of great concern to African States because climate change and its adverse implications for marine life and the blue economy is likely to hit vulnerable African States and coastal communities hardest.

So what really is the solution to this conundrum? And we’re not simply talking about positioning African States to influence outcomes at major global conventions like the COP. How can we align African State interests and political will with the ultimate goal of sustainable oceans for a vibrant Blue Economy?

We’ll need to unpack this with a few more questions.

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What is root cause of this disconnect between what is considered as being in the interest of African States and the need to safeguard the ocean? It is safe to say that one of the principal root causes is sea blindness. So now, how can this persistent sea blindness be addressed?

The best way to address sea blindness is simply to end it. If you are like me, then it’s safe to say that we were raised as a generation of individuals that were oblivious to the ocean…its importance and the career paths it holds. Now that we recognize this fact, we can begin to push for a reorientation of systems at the national level to raise future generations differently.

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Ending sea blindness requires deliberate steps at the national level to:

  • Cultivate in our young ones a love and passion for the ocean. There are really some simple ways to achieve this. For instance, elements of ocean literacy can be adapted into school curricula, even it means that they end up being integrated as co-curricular activities.

  • Expose the youth to blue career opportunities. It is really important to let youth know the range of possibilities that they can successfully explore and exploit within the maritime sector.

Groom them with the skill-sets needed to enter the maritime labour market. Of course, this definitely means taking into consideration technological advancements in the maritime sector and equipping youth with requisite technical know-how.

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I think though that what is crucial in all of this is the need to look beyond mainstream biases. Often, we think of only two sides of the spectrum when it comes to maritime career paths – we may think of seafarers on one side of the spectrum and ocean scientists like marine biologists on the other. But we need to break away from this limited focus to see how existing career paths can lead back to the ocean. Public relations specialists and communicators, journalists, economists, psychologists, accountants…each of these professions have unique roles they can play towards ensuring a vibrant and sustainable Blue Economy. As an example, when we shift the maritime security narrative to the well-being of seafarers, we become increasingly aware of the role of psychologists, for instance, in studying the impact of piratical threats to the mental health and wellbeing of seafarers.

Here's the central message: individuals in various professions who develop a passion for the ocean later on can always find a way of contributing meaningfully to the Blue Economy without having to shelve away their existing skills in order to acquire a completely different set of skills, even if their main field of work is not within typical Blue Economy sectors. The Blue Economy encompasses so many more professions than we give it credit for. If my passion is to become a journalist or an economist – a politician, maybe – I can still find a way to merge this beautifully with the advancement of the Blue Economy and build my skill-set around that, developing a unique niche in my field of work. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, industry practitioners also need a shift in perspective to truly appreciate the wealth of youth they have at their disposal. They need to understand the cross-linkages between the maritime sector and other disciplines to absorb beyond the limited range of youth that have acquired “conventional” maritime skill sets. Organisations dedicated to safeguarding the ocean must equally begin to think outside the box and recognise the truly interdisciplinary nature of viable efforts aimed at safeguarding the ocean space. As a matter of fact, the fluidity and interconnectedness of the 5 separate oceans is the perfect metaphor for these cross-linkages between disciplines in addressing ocean problems.

Now that we’ve looked at pathways to ending sea blindness, let’s take a step back. We get that Africa has a rather youthful population…but what’s so special about the youth? Why are they so essential to driving change and building a thriving blue economy for Africa?

Well, it’s great that I’m driving towards a major point here with a question because here’s something interesting: history has really pointed to the fact that the most remarkable breakthroughs are driven by asking the right questions.

Think about Isaac Newton, who asked himself: “What causes objects to stop when they are already in motion?”. Or, think of Einstein who asked himself: “If the speed of light is constant and it travels through space and time, what does that mean for space and time?”. In either case, the breakthroughs from asking these questions laid the foundation for several global advancements today.

According to renowned neurologist, Susan Greenfield, creativity starts with questioning dogma. Enough said then….and on to the next question. Take a moment to think back. At what point in our lives are we best at asking questions?

When we are young! So, it really isn’t just mundane rhetoric to say that youth are more likely to generate useful dialogue by asking the right questions. Now this doesn’t discredit the wealth of experience and insights that older generations can bring to the maritime sector. It only highlights the fact that youth have a more unique role to play in driving innovative solutions to the ocean’s challenges. This is definitely a grey area that African youth need to exploit.

Now, let’s get back to what I mentioned earlier about why it’s so important to end sea blindness. Let’s imagine a future COP (or any crucial conference centered on ocean governance and maritime security) where African States have taken concrete steps to build a love and passion for the ocean in that generation, to encourage individuals to explore ocean
careers, and so on and so forth. What’s going to happen?

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We’ll likely have a team of delegates attending the conference who truly understand how crucial the ocean is to the well-being of their citizens…delegates who are able to press for outcomes that would ultimately favour the development of a thriving and sustainable Blue Economy.

We really have nothing to lose.

Let’s conclude on this note. Climate change and its impact on the ocean and the ocean economy is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed urgently, as are all other ocean governance and maritime security concerns such as piracy and IUU; but they are also issues that are likely to remain on the global agenda for decades to come.

Grooming a large number of African youth to love the ocean and pursue careers centered around safeguarding it may not have noticeable effects now. It does imply, however, that generations to come will be more sensitised about the ocean, the threats it faces and how to effectively address them. It also means that these generations will be more willing to take collective action towards addressing oceanic threats. Let’s not forget the other side of the coin. African States will emerge with more vibrant Blue Economies championed by its youthful population because we would have exposed them to the economic potential of Africa’s maritime sectors.

Illustrations by Storyset

IWD 2022 – GENDER EQUALITY TODAY FOR A SUSTAINABLE TOMORROW

Reflections on Ocean Sustainability

By: Stephanie Oserwa Schandorf, 8th March, 2022

International Women’s Day presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the invaluable role women play in societies across the globe – and to recognise the major challenges and inhibitions they face. The theme this year rests on the intersection between a burgeoning recognition of the need to ensure a sustainable planet for generations to come, and the immutable power women have to drive innovation and change towards this end.

Perhaps this intersection is even more prominent in the area of ocean sustainability, where a convoluted mix of threats shroud a myriad of opportunities. The ocean space presents a peculiar conundrum that can never fully be addressed without the inclusion of all segments of society – especially the often marginalised and vulnerable groups. As a matter of fact, case studies from around the world have corroborated the need to include female leadership in the management of coastal and marine ecosystems for more beneficial outcomes.

From the protection of the marine environment in general, to advancing sustainable fisheries in particular, investments in women often have rippling effects across entire communities. In 2017, UN Women shared a vivid portrayal of this posit –  the story of a 68-year-old woman who defied all odds by becoming the first fisherwoman in  her community in Thiaroue-sur-Mer, Senegal. Yayi Bayam Diouf went on to empower several other women within her community to engage in sustainable fishing and aquaculture as a means of safeguarding their livelihoods.

Women’s active participation in marine environmental sustainability could also wield much deeper undertones than ever envisaged. For instance, research has begun to show that countries that have larger numbers female parliamentarians are more likely to ratify international environmental agreements. Again, women offer unique perspectives for addressing marine environmental concerns that could otherwise be missed.

In spite of these crucial contributions of women, a segmentation of roles within several blue economy sectors has systematically positioned them to earn much less remuneration than their male counterparts. As a matter of fact, women are approximately 90% more involved in low-paid tasks and are usually unable to engage in “higher-value” work based on societal segregations, despite constituting half of all seafood workers across the globe. What’s more, they are often the most adversely affected by major oceanic challenges, from the climate crisis to plastic pollution and illegal fishing.

International Women’s Day should represent an awakening of individuals across the globe that the ocean needs women as much as women need the ocean. Productive dialogues centered on the active integration of women into leadership roles to address complex sustainability challenges such as those facing the ocean are a crucial first step driving impactful change. We must #breakthebias…for the ocean.

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