Working from Home in Heaven on Earth!
What a great pleasure it was to meet again with Misha Teasdale, Greenpop co-founder; through the true magic of Zoom we could be this time on two continents. What a shame I could not take up his wonderful invitation to meet him again when I was at Hemel in Aarde (“Heaven on Earth”) very near where he is based, doing some work-from-“home” and walking the Fernkloof, an area with more different species than all of the British Isles put together. Our hike was over and we had had to get back to the “Mother City” of Cape Town as it was time for Orla to head back to Ireland.
Want to support trees in Sub-Saharan Africa? Look no further!
I first heard of Greenpop when gifting trees to some schools neighbouring our hosts’ bungalow back in 2017, checking what species would be suitable for such a gift. Greenpop had all the answers when I phoned them up, I though golly; must check them out further. Whenever I mentioned trees while in South Africa (a lot – it is fair to say it’s my sole topic of conversation) all local had “Greenpop” on the tip of their tongue. Everybody has heard of them. I had the pleasure of visiting one of their magical sites, the ancient Platbos Forest now being restored through their work near the Cape of Good Hope on a visit some years ago, That combined with seeing the effects of many recent fires around Cape Town (one still burning in 3 places as I walked along a golf course near Arabella two weeks ago) made me feel it would be very worthwhile to see if we can in any way support each other. Greenpop .like Easy Treesie is listed on the world trillion tree website. If you are looking to plant trees on the continent of Africa, they are the number 1 organisation I would recommend!
Misha is …(I felt like saying “Snap!”) undergoing significant time pressure issues he explained, where time has been both stretched out and compressed at the same time…tomorrow he meets with a UN team for whom he is planning a programme of side events for a major upcoming conference. I admitted to feeling guilty for taking up his time and explained that I had got SUCH a lift when I met with him and co-founder Lauren and their team 2 years ago in their Cape Town offices through hearing how they get things done. I felt it would be a real treat and privilege to be able to reconnect when I had the chance to revisit South Africa post Covid.
Africa has so much to teach the world about climate solutions; I asked Misha if I could send on details of the groups and individuals I have been collaborating with in little ways so that – all tree-planting being local in the same way they say all politics is local – some benefit may derive from my introductions. The Mellon Educate group I pointed out has such a great ethos that even though they are not financially in a position to (I expect, at this point at least) become financial donors it may be worthwhile for them to reconnect with Greenpop further. This first rate Cape Town-based environmental organisation has already supplied trees I know to one of the Mellon schools at least. The Mellon Friendship Trees are so useful and charming, present in several of their schools and the fact that they have school grounds where some trees may find homes to everyone’s benefit made the Mellon organisation I wanted to give a big shout-out to.
I mentioned the other schools we had connected with; Rondabosch Little Bosch school where our first tree planters hailed from; their olive tree is doing very well though still too small for fruit just yet and I must find out how their ironwood tree is doing. Their very ambitious and active InterAct Rotary group may be interested in supporting tree planting. Wynberg Rotary Club afforded me a great welcome two weeks ago and have pledged to do a little something involving trees. I have Misha’s permission to send on his details so that they can connect up – or in some cases reconnect. Let’s see what happens; it is of course not tree planting season in the southern hemisphere just yet and it takes time to put projects together!
Conscious of Misha’s deadlines…as well as my own…golly so much to organise …Misha was apologising that he would ideally like to finish our meeting earlier than planned. What will we talk about? Well, I added; I get the feeling he admitted to…of being almost in space with the quantity of tasks he had to do. “Tell us, I said; your top 3 bits of advice!” I stood up from my chair. “They say standing meetings help people get quickly done…we always get out of our chairs every little while on Easy Treesie meetings”, I said; I looked harder at Misha; was he in fact standing up there in his big airy sunny office? He was! He sits down too much he says! Ah; how energising he is to meet! I declared on the spot that all of my meetings will henceforth be standing ones. It can be “The Greenpop Protocol”.
Misha needed no notes to relate his top tips. I started scribbling down his every word, wishing I was filming to capture his great energy, intelligence and persuasive skills. Misha, I hope you film your next speeches and share them with us!
1. Plan for Scale
In terms of funding, Greenpop is focusing on honing down on the pledging of trees. They have approximately 80 companies now engaged in this, which they scale according to their size and ambition. Companies may take a break for a while dropping in and out as partners but they have approximately this number consistently contributing, sometimes serially and sometimes with big once-off donations. They advertise constantly using Google ads and similar. He suggested we consider asking a small agency to create an ad that never ends. Work on the right messaging by degrees for getting interest through judging and refining reactions.
(I am distracted here by an email popping up…can I help a residents’ group with planting flowers and vegetables nearby…last week I had another request looking for hanging baskets…the crazy thing is I answered both on the spot even though I have lots of important…VERY important tree emails to answer! Not to mention accounts to be done asap…)
2. Trees are the input; what are the Outputs?
Misha realised that once he was planting over 15k trees he could not plant them himself each year; up to then he did! Gosh well done Misha and crew. They have a fair size team also but it was not possible for him to be out in the field as well as doing what he did. He follows up now on large scale potential projects. Trees are an INPUT. The outputs where the trees are planted are, for example; cleaner water following tree-filtration, water issues being addressed such as drought, erosion management, access to indigenous fruits etc. The world resource institute has done a good infographic on this. Keeping this context in mind is very valuable. Misha’s organisation goes to communities and asks; What are your needs? E.g. they may be struggling with one area such as drought or erosion or with multiple areas. Once they understands the needs they counter the difficulties by addressing the issues in an asset-based way. How to catalyse farmer management development…beekeeping…orchards…supplying superfruits. The trees are a tool for the development of these outcomes. This is a landscape view and not trees as such in isolation at the heart of this approach.
3. The “Why” upfront;
Our call to purpose; If Misha is giving a speech he lands the “Why” upfront; the essence of why as much as possible is his focus. Greenpop decided 7 or 8 years ago to put together a guidebook where they decided on the language they would use. They would no longer communicate with an eye on extinction. They report the facts, keeping things upbeat by coupling them to action. The message is not despondent. They speak of their positive purpose.
4. Time in Nature = Love of Nature
Nobody will protect nature if they do not love nature. Spending time in nature is how this love is nurtured. When people are out tree planting with Greenpop every chance is taken to connect the participants in a visceral way with what they are doing; connecting using literal touch point such as touching the soil, walking barefoot on the earth. Those leading the tree planting may have a workshop outdoors or not, depending on the circumstances but the encounter will be very authentic with a well-constructed sense of this purpose; not idealogue-driven such as for example a going-back-to-paganism approach. It is a truth that human beings are part of the planet; we share 80% of the same DNA as trees. For 200 years human beings have been on something of a rampage, doing ourselves the disservice of seeing ourselves as being above nature. Spending time in nature, making connection through practices such as forest bathing ..looking beyond what we see to the magical nature of biology – yes it is real science and also magical. The approach used by Greenpop is one familiar to me through Ireland’s Engineers without Borders organisation who brought this approach….a close communication with communities in advance of implementing change…to our third level engineering schools in the last decade lead by Aoife Wilson Salizzo who set up EWB formally as a company in Ireland some years ago. A great friend of our project and how great we can report EWB partnering with us through Arup Engineering in a safety document this season.
5. A chance to learn what works
I congratulated Misha and his organisation on their great deeds and in particular their cultural contribution (pointing out that our patron of the charity Crann is our Head of State, president Michael D. Higgins, a poet and showed Misha his picture on our virtual wall where he was receiving our 100,000th sapling planted back in 2020. I added that Ireland it has been commented had no moral high ground sending evangelical missionaries promoting peace all over the world given our history which has been not a model of peace until perhaps our very most recent years. Nor have we any advice to give on tree planting in our position as most-denuded-of-trees country in Europe if you disregard Malta and the Netherlands. We do have more scope than many countries in that we have space and rain galore and for that reason it is so beneficial for us to learn of what works in a great setup like Greenpop which plants, Misha reminded me not just in South Africa but all over sub-Saharan Africa.
Very. Well. Done. The Climate Heroes of Greenpop and all their supporters! We wish you every success! You can contribute to their work at www.greenpop.org