Gathering for the 2022 Global Environments Summer Academy 

A visual essay by Samirah Siddiqui

with photos by Inanç Tekguc

Opening circle in the barn at The Quadrangle

In 2022, the Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) successfully completed our seventh Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA). This Summer Academy was meant to take place in August 2020; needless to say, it was disrupted and shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants and organisers waited for two years to re-commence and gather for GESA, a cornerstone of the Global Environments Network (GEN). 

In GESA’s seventh year, 195 candidates applied from 62 countries. We created a shortlist of 60 outstanding finalists and a panel further refined this number to 22 invitees. Finally, 17 participants from 15 countries accepted their place and came to GESA 2022 from around the world: six from Africa, six from Asia, two from South America and three from North America. This cohort is a remarkable group of  multidisciplinary researchers, practitioners, activists, academics, and artists. They came from a range of ages, and diverse disciplines with exceptional academic backgrounds and broad practical experience. Several of them are already environmental leaders in their localities and globally, with several others possessing the power to become future environmental leaders. 

The 17 GESA participants and the 25 inspiring resource people who joined us, are now members of GEN, a transformative action network of over 600 emerging environmental changemakers from more than 85 countries, enhancing its capacity to catalyse positive social and environmental change around the world.

Participants making a mandala with apples and plums gathered from the orchard at The Quadrangle, one of our host venues, during an activity led by Terra Mirrim. Participants collectively built a kabana in an immersive nature connection ritual that brought us closer to our themes of the five elements: fire, earth, air, water and ether.

GESA evolves yearly, with new topics of discussion or practical workshops added or adapted. In 2022, our guiding themes were resilience and adaptation, explored through the five elements. Throughout both the online and in-person event, we were guided by each of the elements to Spark (fire), Breathe (air), Flow (water), Ground (earth), and Lift Off (ether).

Eda Elif Tibet leading a session on affective multimodalities in our classroom at the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford.

The Academy this year included three parts: 1) a five-month online fellowship; 2) Nature Connection at The Quadrangle; and 3) Exchanges at the Oxford Academy. COVID-19 changed the way we interact and gather in groups for events and exchanges. While nothing can replace the richness of face-to-face interaction, we also discovered the immense value of online events. Participants met online every week from April to August for a series of seminars, workshops and engaging discussions. During the programme, we had four GEN In Conversations exploring themes such as what it means to be in community, transformative leadership, using the power of art in social and environmental justice and storytelling for change. We were also joined by six GESA alumni and seed project awardees who returned to lead sessions on their areas of expertise. GESA took participants on a journey from deep personal inquiry and nature connection experiences to engage with nature through our senses and immerse ourselves in our natural surroundings, to learning about theory and practice regarding urgent social and environmental problems and developing practical skills to address our planetary crisis.

GESA participants, Francis and Laura deep in discussion.


Brazilian educator Paulo Freire proposed in his seminal text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that a new relationship between teacher, student and society is essential to recalibrate the relationship between the coloniser and colonised. He argues that pedagogy should instead treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. Inspired by this, learning at GESA always aims to remove the distinction between ‘expert’ and ‘beginner’ and peer-to-peer learning is at the heart of our practice. We introduced peer-to-peer mentoring for the first time and learned invaluable lessons to further improve future editions of mentoring programmes at GDF. We also increasingly provided spaces for participant-led sessions and drew from the collective knowledge of the participants and their broad lived experience. 


These approaches acknowledge and respect that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a student, whilst creating a rich environment for sharing and expanding knowledge, networking and communication skills.


Marcos sharing his journey to becoming an agroecologist and environmental changemaker.


In August 2022 we gathered in person for a 12-day Academy in the United Kingdom, hosted at The Quadrangle in Kent and, for the second time, at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. GESA participants went on a journey encompassing deep self-reflection, nature connection, thought-provoking dialogue and practical skill-sharing relevant to our contemporary social and environmental crises. Our time together was packed with enriching, transformative and inspiring workshops, peer-to-peer learning, discussions, field trips and ethnobotany breaks. We had a host of incredible resource people who created a rich environment for sharing and expanding participants’ knowledge, networking and communication skills.


Pooja giving a presentation on her foundation, The Farm – Protecterra.

Dahvii leading participants on a guided visualisation.


In the first week at The Quadrangle, we began with an opening ceremony, guided by Minah and Kyara from Terra Mirrim, where we collectively built a kabana in an immersive nature connection ritual that brought us closer to our themes of the five elements: fire, earth, air, water and ether. The participants then shared the personal journeys which led them to become environmental changemakers, and gave presentations about their work and projects they are most passionate about.

Laura and Dahvii sharing food and drink from Mexico and Brazil. During an ethnobotany break participants are invited to bring something from their culinary traditions or ‘foodways’ and to give a short presentation on what it is, how it is prepared and why it is significant to them.

Filmmakers and GESA alumni, Eda Elif Tibet and Inanç Tekguc from Karma Motion facilitated a video-making workshop which provided participants with the tools to make high impact campaign videos and spread their message. 

Peter Larsen, Nana Haja Salifu Dagarti and a environmental defender giving a presentation at The Quadrangle.


Peter Larsen (University of Geneva), Nana Haja Salifu Dagarti and a frontline environmental defender from Guinea-Bissau led us through an engaging roundtable dialogue sharing experiences, concepts and practices of dealing with different dimensions of resource governance and conservation, bringing in concrete cases, conceptual issues and human rights dimensions for frontline environmental defenders.

GESA participants on a walking safari at Knepp Rewilding.

Chris Sandom giving a presentation on conservation and land use in the United Kingdom.

Group photo during a tea and brownie break at Knepp Rewilding Project.

In week two, we visited the Knepp Rewilding Project, a pioneering rewilding programme in England, for a field visit followed by presentations and discussions with Chris Sandom (University of Sussex) and Ricardo Rocha(University of Oxford) on critical contemporary environmental issues, ranging from the role of rewilding in conservation efforts, to the false dichotomy between people and nature.

Resource person, Oonagh and Rabia in discussion during a workshop on effective campaigning.

Participants with resource person and GESA alumni, Ruth Krause, during an activity about ethical journalism.


Oonagh Cousins and GESA alumni, Ruth Krause, guided participants through skill-sharing workshops on ethical journalism and effective campaigning where we learnt about engaging with the media.

Participants on a walking tour with Uncomfortable Oxford, guided by Devika, EDI Officer at the University of Oxford.

We then went on an immersive walking tour with Uncomfortable Oxford, where we examined racial inequality, gender and class discrimination, and the legacies of empire in Oxford.

Karen Larbi facilitating a discussion on social and environmental justice.

Karen Larbi (POC In Nature) guided us with ease through these intriguing discussions via transdisciplinary lenses and Eda Elif Tibet facilitated a workshop on building alliances and transmedia storytelling. Finally, Gary Martin and GESA participant, Laura Vallejo, offered participants practical tools and technical knowledge in a workshop on developing a Theory of Change.  

Participants during a creative storytelling activity.


This year, we continued to use learning journals and interviewed participants and resource people about the impact of their time at GESA, as part of a concerted strategy to improve the measurement of our impact on participants’ lives. GESA 2022 explored critical contemporary environmental issues ranging from rewilding and decolonisation to challenges faced by frontline environmental defenders, to community-building in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the power of using art and storytelling to create change.


We examined these and other topics through multiple, transdisciplinary lenses from spiritual activism, Indigenous Knowledge, political ecology, and transformative leadership, to conservation science. We engaged personal and collective approaches to understanding, valuing and governing ourselves and our landscapes in the face of mounting environmental challenges. 

Group photo in Oxford city centre.


Participants, resource people and the GDF team left infused with a revived sense of purpose and direction and with new friendships and collaborations forged. As with previous GESAs, this year was no exception in delivering an enriching, transformative, and inspiring experience for both participants and organisers. Participant profiles are available on our website and have been integrated into our Global Environments Network Community pages