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Indonesian activist Gita Syahrani wins $3m award for work on sustainable growth

Mongabay - November 3, 2023

Lusia Arumingtyas, Jakarta – Indonesian environmental activist Gita Syahrani, who has worked for years to push local governments to adopt sustainable economic policies, has been named a recipient of this year's multimillion-dollar Climate Breakthrough Award.

Climate Breakthrough, a global philanthropy backed by the likes of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and the IKEA Foundation, awarded Gita $3 million in grants along with capacity-building resources to support her projects in developing alternative economic models for local governments across Indonesia. Gita is the second Indonesian awardee, following environmentalist Arief Rabik in 2019. The other 2023 award recipient is Jane Fleming Kleeb of the U.S., a prominent activist against the Keystone XL pipeline.

"Gita and Jane are two inspiring leaders who have already made remarkable contributions to addressing the climate crisis, and now they're setting their sights on even more ambitious goals," Climate Breakthrough executive director Savanna Ferguson said in a statement published Nov. 1.

Since 2017, Gita has led the Jakarta-based Sustainable District Association (LTKL), a group of nine district governments taking collective action toward greater sustainability. It has targeted to protect at least 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres) of forest and 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of peatland by 2030 while improving the welfare of at least 1 million families.

"I was so surprised to receive the award, that there was a recognition given to me as an individual," Gita told Mongabay Indonesia in an exclusive interview on Oct. 27 about the award. "It's become an encouragement for the advocacy work team together with coalition friends, the community, the private sector and the government."

Gita also heads another project, called Earth-Centered Economic Coalition (KEM), which aims to launch 100 nature-based businesses in districts rich in forest and peatland resources by 2026, as part of her pursuit for sustainable economic development. Her latest work is the HEAL Fisheries Project with community-based enterprise Alam Siak Lestari in Riau province, on the island of Sumatra, that focuses on peatland protection through creating value-added products from fish.

Through her extensive work, Gita has received other prestigious honors, including being included in the Asia Society's 2019 Asia 21 Young Leaders list; becoming the first Indonesian Henry Arnhold Fellow of the Mulago Foundation in 2020; winning the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 2021 Solve Challenge on resilient ecosystems; and being selected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2023.

"I want to ignite the imagination of my fellow Indonesians, particularly Generation Z, so they can picture a future with a more regenerative and equitable economic growth model," Gita said, referring to the age group born between 1997 and 2012.

Gita said Indonesia's greatest wealth of biodiversity, cultures and stories were in the districts across the archipelagic country. Her work with LTKL focuses on helping district governments develop a blueprint for a sustainable economy, which can be eventually adopted by others with a similar vision.

With the Indonesian government's current long-term development plan set to expire in 2025, local governments must take the initiative in drafting their future for the next 20 years, she said. She added she grew to understand the importance of such planning from her previous experience, between 2012 and 2015, working on Indonesia's national strategy for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

"In September, 59 districts signed a declaration to integrate development elements that are more climate resilient and sustainable in their long-term development plans. This is an important impetus even though it's just a document," Gita said.

Climate Breakthrough said awardees would receive separate funding for capacity-building services such as executive coaching, fundraising and communications support, legal support, and third-party impact and learning evaluations. Gita said she was keen to explore and include approaches that were more mindful and spiritual in encouraging more people to be active in protecting, rehabilitating and recovering the balance between people and the environment.

"I will help more people to realize that we are connected to nature with each other," Gita said. "The hope is that when people realize that, they will have more appreciation for it, and so they will find ways to be involved in protecting it."

– Translated by Basten Gokkon

Source: https://news.mongabay.com/2023/11/indonesian-activist-gita-syahrani-wins-3m-award-for-work-on-sustainable-growth