In conversation with Naturefriends
Hannu Puhalainen | President of Naturefriends Finland
Hannu Puhalainen, 66 years old, living in the city of Rovaniemi, is the president of the Naturefriends in Finnland, and he also acts as the chair of the local association of nature friends in Rovaniemi. As his home is in the Finnish Lapland, nature and trekking have been elementary parts of his life.
In this interview he talks about his personal motivation for his commitment to Naturefriends and about his ideas for the future.
Tyovaen retkeilyliitto, Naturefriends Finland, was founded in 1971 as a national sports association. What are your aims and main activities today?
We aim at strengthening our operations further, by arranging different activities and promoting the trekking and nature values in the way that people would get interested and start being active in issues concerning nature. We also want to increase the number of our local associations so that we could be present in all parts of Finland.
We coordinate and support the activities of local associations. We maintain our own cottages and rent them mainly to our own members. We publish a magazine which is the connecting link integrating our members and enhancing cooperation between associations.
What is your personal motivation to get involved with Naturefriends?
For me the major motivation is to meet people sharing the same values, being in the nature, enjoying the sounds and silence of nature, fishing, berry-picking, camp fires with coffee and sausage. I also enjoy helping and supporting other people to get connected with the nature.
Tyovaen retkeilyliitto is a small, but very active organization, with around 1.700 members.What does it mean to you to be a member of the international Naturefriends movement?
As a member of international naturefriends we get information and inspiration of events and trends in Europe. Today, Naturefriends are bringing also Africa’s nature and environmental issues closer to us. We hope that the international aspect is attracting younger people to join our activities. So far we have not been able to fully utilize this opportunity in our operations.
What will be the biggest challenges in the next 10 years – for Naturefriends Finland and for the international Naturefriends movement?
For us in Finland the major challenge is to attract young and active people to our organization, and to maintain the number of members at least at the present level.
For international Naturefriends movement, I think that it is important to find the balance between local and global. The shared, common activities should be interesting enough to attract a wide audience, and at the same time the local country organisations should see the benefits of global cooperation. Communication and interaction in joint projects could contribute.
(september 2018; the interview was translated from Finish into English by Hannele Pöllä, Coordinator of International Affairs at Naturefriends Finland)
Maritta Strasser | Executive Director of Naturefriends Germany
Since the first of July 2018, Maritta Strasser is the new Executive Director of Naturefriends Germany. She takes over from Hans-Gerd Marian, who will retire after his many years spent working for Naturefriends Germany. Maritta talks about her ideas and plans.
With more than 70.000 members, Naturefriends Germany is the second biggest member organisation of Naturefriends International. Where do you see your strengths and priorities for the future work?
There are so many activities within Naturefriends Germany: Sport courses, holidays, the Naturefriends houses, nature conservation projects, cultural programmes… Naturefriends do a lot and most of it with volunteers. I think this is really impressive. However, we are not known well enough. We should be more self-confident. We have a lot to offer! We should be more pro-active in asking the people who take part in our sport courses or visit the houses to become members
Where do you personally see the biggest challenges?
I would like to emphasize the need for growth for Naturefriends so we can lay the ground for a sustainable future. Thus, I would like to focus more on effective public relations work. I want to promote a change in culture within the association. I would like to make sure we are more open and inviting, especially to reach young people. Working together with the youth association is very important for me.
Naturefriends Germany see themselves as a “political leisure association” . What is meant by that exactly? And how important is political work for you – at the national as well as at the international level?
We are basically the campfire where people, who think that there is something fundamentally wrong in our country, come together: Nature is ruthlessly being exploited more and more, in order to accumulate wealth for only a few. We are powerless alone and can only create change together. Since not only nature, but also people need to relax, we not only fight together but also enjoy sport activities and free time together.
We are needed more than ever. The political parties have less and less answers to the challenges of our time. Their power is declining. Thus, it is up to the civil society to develop social alternatives – for a policy of isolation, for the redistribution from the bottom to the top and for the ruthless exploitation of our planet.
An important goal of the international work done by Naturefriends is to promote the values of our movement, as for instance international solidarity, and to actively contribute with for example the Naturefriends Climate Fund or the Landscape of the Year in the border region between Senegal and The Gambia. In your opinion, how important is international engagement for a movement like Naturefriends?
Personally, I think global engagement is very important for two reasons: First of all, climate change and depleted global resources know no borders – they are global problems, which can only be solved with an enormous global effort.
Second of all, solidarity is our core value and solidarity can know no borders, if taken seriously. Because exclusion and limiting support to certain groups of people is definitely not how solidarity works. Since we are all people, we are equal in rights and free. Our diversity is our treasure.
Jacques Leton | President of Naturefriends Belgium-Wallonia (UFAN)
Jacques Leton was re-elected as President of Naturefriends Belgium-Wallonia in April. He tells us about his goals for the next years and his personal motivation for his commitment.
Congratulations on your re-election as President of Naturefriends Wallonia! You had many intense discussions in the last months regarding the development of your organisation. What are your goals for the next years?
Our primary goal is to lower the average age of our members by supporting our youth group. Motivating young people to join the Naturefriends movements has to be the goal, if we don’t want to die out due to our age distribution. This is a significant challenge, but it can be done, if we put a lot of effort into it and provide the necessary means. I am convinced that Naturefriends will always have a place in our world and that we have to give it our all in order to save mother earth and our movement.
Volunteering means a lot of work and responsibility – but is also a chance to make a difference and support the sustainable development of our society. What is your personal motivation to volunteer? What is especially important to you for your work as president?
It is obvious that „work and responsibility” are both important and are inseparable for the future of our planet. However, we have to realise that it is not an easy thing to do. Thus, UFAN has been considering how we can generate the needed resources.
Naturefriends Wallonia are one of the smaller member organisations of Naturefriends International and have – just like many other associations – limited resources for international work. In your opinion, which international activities should Naturefriends focus on in the next years?
We should focus much more on saving our planet while including our members more strongly. I believe, NFI should initiate more conservation projects at the European level. And yes, we need to support our African friends – I am completely convinced by this – but the thematic work is important too. Closing the gap between the different organisation should be enabled, however the resources are limited, and we also need our members to compromise in that area.
The Naturefriends movement turns 125 years old in 2020. What is needed to remain successful in the future?
We need to rejuvenate our movement if we want to proudly celebrate 125 years and look towards a secure future. We can only survive if we do more than politics – though that seems to be a trend - but focus on the future of our movement and the future of our planet.
Let us not forget our elders, who worked hard for what we have now. If we want to continue their work, we have to fight for a younger movement.
I also believe that we are not only Naturefriends but are the tourism association of Naturefriends. We are here to protect the environment but also want to enable our members and other people to discover nature.
Ciprian Costa | President Naturefriends Romania
Ciprian Costa is President of Naturefriends Romania and recently attended an international Naturefriends workshop about creating accessible outdoor sport activities in Vienna. In conversation he talks about highlights in his work within the Naturefriends organisation and about his visions for the next years.
You have been active for Naturefriends Romania for many years now. How did you get in touch with Naturefriends and what made you decide to be so committed over the years? Can you describe the most impressive moments with Prietenii Naturii Romania?
25 years ago, while I was a student in Timisoara, I was a member of a mountain club, partner of NFI. I loved the “nature and culture” motto and all activities, but also enjoyed being a member of a “ big family”- Friends of Nature.
One of the most important moments was when Romania became an "A" member of NFI.
Other important steps: the prize for Cabana Codrin at the Climate Competition; Landscape of the Year – Danube Delta; 2 new associations Friends of Nature in Romania; introducing the Banat area in the project “Hiking Europe”; in 2017 we succeeded in a new way to keep records of all our members.
Prietenii Naturii Romania is one the small member organisations within NFI. What does it mean for you to be part of the international Naturefriends movement? How do you participate in the international network and how does that benefit you?
We are a small organisation which exists in the Western part of the country and we also have one NF house. Our members have contact with other NF organisations from Europe. We participated at workshops and seminaries and shared our experiences with the other members. When travelling abroad throughout the year, our members use as much as possible the NF houses.
This year, you are taking part in the Erasmus+ project “Naturefriends Sports for all”. The member organisations are given tools to develop outdoor sports offers for people with disabilities. The first workshop, where you were present as well, just took part in Vienna. Why do you think that project is so important?
I liked this idea from beginning and the first workshop in Vienna was extraordinary. Because these activities in nature for people with disabilities are quite new in Romania, we almost have no infrastructure for them. This was the first step for us to understand and learn more about what people with disabilities need and how we can fulfil those needs.
2028 – where do you see Naturefriends Romania in ten years? What is your vision, what are you excited about and which challenges will have to be overcome?
In 10 years? It will be a challenge for us to have at least 10 local organisations with more than 100 members each, 10 NF houses, and many more activities.
Marie-Bernard Lefebvre-Dumont | President of Naturefriends France
Marie-Bernard LEFEBVRE-DUMONT has been re-elected as president of Naturefriends France on March 31, 2018. She talks about her personal motivation for her long commitment to the Naturefriends movement and her visions for its development.
You have been active for Naturefriends for many years – on the national and as well on the international level. Help us understand your motivation for your deep commitment.
Just like many other French Naturefriends I joined the movement (more than 30 years ago) after working with youth hostels. I had just had a child and the work in „my” first local group was more compatible with my circumstances at the time. While the life in the local group and the exchange with Naturefriends from different backgrounds and countries was very appealing, I only took over a bigger role more than ten years later. Here, I find everything, that gives life sense in my opinion: Exchange, friendship, shared experiences, learning about different ways of life and cultures, tolerance and solidarity. Of course, none of this can be taken for granted but the example of our predecessors, as well as the needs of the current society in general and the Youth in particular, motivate me to continue.
What are your priorities for the work of Naturefriends France for the next years?
The 33rd Congress of our association clearly showed in which direction we need to go. It is about:
- Support of the Youth Group which was constituted during the Congress and from which a Youth representative was elected into the board. With this we want to enrich and energize the movement while keeping in mind the current realities of life as well as the work done by the “elders”.
- Improve communication: The first step was renaming the organisation – we are now called “Amis de la Nature France / Naturfreunde Frankreich”. It is true that despite having almost 8.000 members we are not well known, except maybe in the Alsace. However, the 100 local groups, which are part of our association, play an undeniable societal and social role either via their diverse leisure activities and/or the activities regarding nature and environment. However, we cannot forget – which differentiates us from others – that we operate houses and campgrounds (60 in France) with the help of our volunteers and can offer good deals. We also have to improve internal communications because despite communication tools constantly improving, the association and the members do not know each other well enough, which leads to problems when it comes to sharing experiences and making our shared values public.
- Developing partnerships with other organisations which have similar values, in order to work together to influence political decisions regarding tourism, the development of events or the environment. In addition, we could offer our members better holiday and leisure options (as for example better offers when working together with other houses).
- Organising the leadership structure in the association, networking regarding more democratic decision making processes, educational offers for people wanting to take up more responsibility in order to open up possibilities for new officials
Naturefriends France have played a major role in the development of the Naturefriends movement in Africa. You are a member of the Steering Group for the Naturefriends Climate Fund which is used to finance climate protection projects of Naturefriends Africa. At the same time many European Naturefriends organisations struggle financially. To be provocative: Would it not be better to invest into the European associations than to support organisations in the Global South?
No, I do not think there is a valid argument there and we should beware of playing off the South against the North. Of course, some European organisations struggle; and they need help – France has provided help in the past. However, this cannot be done at the expense of the countries in the Global South. In addition, I would like to point out that the problems of the Naturefriends in Europe cannot be compared to the struggles in the African associations. In Europe, we are looking at political issues (for example in Hungary) – and here it is up to the NFI, with the support of the member organisations, to raise their voices at the European level. Otherwise, we are looking at issues regarding organisational development, which affects all associations. Here we need, together with NFI, to make sure that the goals of the movement are aligned with the current societal demands to give our movement new meaning and avoid to fade into insignificance again. If it concerns financial problems, we could maybe look into establishing a special solidarity fund, which could be for example financed with EU funds or by all members together. The Naturefriends Climate Fund is solely intended for African countries, where poverty and developmental issues are aggravated due to acceleration of the Climate Change and North-South trading relations. All projects submitted by African Naturefriends to the Fund deal with local development projects which aim at improving the livelihood and supporting the local population to live a life of dignity. The projects are financed by European Naturefriends in order to compensate the negative effects their travels have for the climate. This is about climate justice.
The Naturefriends Movement will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2020. What do we need to remain successful in the future?We constantly need to evaluate if our values are being heard by those around us and figure out which steps to take in order to make that happen. We need to improve the exchange between the member organisations, stand for a common message and achieve more publicity. Last but not least, we need to listen to the Youth and give them their rightful place.
Mamadou Diallo | ecretary General of Naturefriends Senegal (ASAN)
Mamadou Diallo, Secretary General of Naturefriends Senegal (ASAN), expressed his excitement that ASAN will be right in the centre of the international Naturefriends activities when he gave his speech during the opening of the Landscape of the Year Senegal/The Gambia. In his interview with NFI, he explains how important this initiative is for the region and his association, as well as his visions for the future.
In your opening speech you expressed your excitement about the new Landscape of the Year Senegal/The Gambia. In addition to the many participants from the region and the neighbouring countries, more than 40 Naturefriends from Europe came to visit, in order to take part in the festivities and to get to know the area. What does this mean for Naturefriends Senegal?
For us, Naturefriends Senegal, it is a great honour and a token of friendship and appreciation that NFI is showing us. Putting the organisation of the “Landscape of the Year 2018/19” into the hands of Naturefriends Senegal, an African Naturefriends organisation, is a first within the history of the Naturefriends movement. You are giving us once more the chance to express our warm thanks to those responsible at NFI, as well as the participants from Europe and Africa – they have enriched the official opening of the Landscape of the Year with their presence.
Which parts of the region do you want to show visitors the most?
As you know, there many things to discover in Senegal, as it is a country with a rich biodiversity, many ecosystems, a lot of exceptional tourist attractions and a vibrant culture. In addition, the Senegalese are wonderful people, very hospitable and open, also because of their diverse ethnic backgrounds and languages. We created different eco-tours for tourists which we can warmly recommend.
In addition to the different geographical zones that our country contains, the Gorée Island is worth a visit, which reminds us of the slave trade and slavery that lasted for centuries. Other destinations are the Lac Rose lake, the different museums in the capitol, the art markets and the African Renaissance Monument. Those wishing to stay close to Dakar can visit the Bandia reserve and watch the giraffes, giant elands, different kinds of antelopes, monkeys, buffaloes and many other animals. They can also visit the seaside resort Saly and pass Poponguine on the way, as well as forests with Baobabs, the trees with many healing properties.
The tour through the North, offers visitors a chance to experience Saint Louis, the old capitol of Senegal and a world heritage, its historical monuments (hotel Mermoz, Faidherbe bridge, palace of the governor), the fishing village Goxxu Mbathie, the Langue de Barberie, the colourful and lively return of the fishers, the traditional villages of the Moors and Peulh and last but not least the Geumbeul reserve, as well as the bird park Dioudj, the third national bird sanctuary world wide with its thousands of birds and pelicans. People interested in religion, can visit Tivaouane, the capital of Tidjanisme, as well as Touba, the capitol of Mourisdisme and Kaolack, the capital of Niassènes… Everyone interested in great nature and culture should visit the regions Tambacounda and La Casmance.
For the Tour d‘Horizon this year we suggested to the Naturefriends to visit the border region between Senegal and The Gambia. Here, they can experience “Senegambia”, with its special eco-system – a geographical region with a high biodiversity, a vivid culture and fascinating people.
One aim of the Landscape of the Year is also to put concrete actions into place which should improve the life of the local community. What do you think is necessary, to make that possible?
The program should be aimed at protecting the environment, fighting against climate change, increasing biodiversity and especially at strengthening eco-tourism. Indeed, the plan is to plant trees that can be used in many different ways in the family gardens: Trees with many leaves to provide shade, fruit trees to fight malnutrition and to support the family income, trees for firewood and to stop deforestation, trees that can used by traditional healers for medical purposes – in summary a reforestation to bind CO2 and to fight against global warming and climate change. In addition, it is also a chance for the local population to visit their cultural heritage. Once you get in touch with the diverse population in Senegal, you will admire how rich and multi-faceted their culture is. According to African tradition and the Senegalese “Teranga” (hospitality), your hosts will teach you to dance Mbalakh, Yela, Ndawrabine, Sawrouba and much more, to the rhythms of the tamtam, kora, balafon, riti etc. With the Kankourang Festival in The Gambia the guardian spirits will come from the holy forest. Not only to dance and to welcome the Naturefriends, but also to help the “Landscape of the Year” succeed.
After the successful first tour through the Landscape of the Year, the next tours are already being planned. How important is tourism for the region and what is needed so that the community benefits from tourism?
Tourism is an economic factor that can benefit the people. It can be helpful to keep young people in the region and to minimise illegal emigration and its terrible consequences such as long odysseys, many lives lost in the desert and on the ocean and modern slavery in Libya and other countries. Yet, it is important to support the local population so that they can indeed benefit from tourism. Thus, it would be helpful to build tourist accommodation in the villages, to support local artists in selling their handicraft as souvenirs to tourists, to educate and employ women to work in agriculture, the processing of local fruit, vegetables and grains, as well as in the food service industry.
Naturefriends Senegal, as well as many other African Naturefriends organisations, has developed greatly as an organisation in the last years. What do you think was the recipe for success for a positive future of the Naturefriends movement? How important is the fact that our movement is international?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is the work that counts. We have to realise that we, in my opinion, can profit from three main aspects: 1. The example of a wonderful man, the late president Alioune DIAGNE MBOR, who with his wisdom, foresight and his position in the community united the group and opened many doors for us. 2. Competent members who were committed and volunteered. 3. Reliable, generous partners who were just as committed as we are, as Naturefriends International, who were ready to support us and take up the challenge together. I personally do not regret to have asked Naturefriends France and NFI for a partnership with ASAN in the past. The fact that the Naturefriends’ movement is international is very important, as it expresses the common vision to work for environmental protection, against climate change, against poverty, for the support of eco-tourism and the international solidarity between the people, based on shared values, messages and specific initiatives. Your presence here, especially in times of worldwide
Kommentiert [KK1]: Weiß nicht ganz ob das Frage oder Antwort ist? Formatierung war nicht klar
conflicts, is definitely a way to increase mutual understanding and bringing people together in order to work for world peace together.
Petra Müller | Vice President of NF
Petra Müller is long term Vice President of Naturefriends International and an active member of Naturefriends Germany for a long time. In January she attended the opening ceremony of the first Landscape of the Year in Africa at the Senegal-Gambia borderregion. In conversation she talks about her impressions and experiences on working within international Naturefriends projects.
Petra, you are the Programme coordinator for Africa of Naturefriends Germany. Why are the Naturefriends Germany so involved in Africa? What does the partnership between NF Germany and the African Naturefriends Network look like?
Naturefriends Germany have been working with Naturefriends Senegal and Togo for many years now. It all started with the trips to both countries organised by Naturefriends, which gave us a chance to experience our friends’ activities regarding environmental education, biodiversity and climate change first hand. Those topics are also very important for NF Germany. Our projects always have a social aspect so that the local community can benefit as well. To improve the cooperation and to help coordinate joint-activities we established the Africa-Europe-Network within Naturefriends Germany in 2012. The network is open for all interested Naturefriends and has its own mailing list. There is a yearly seminar with representatives from the African Naturefriends organisations. Together, we discuss common issues such as climate justice, genetically modified organisms or land grabbing. In addition, experiences regarding mutual projects, reports about our group activities and the development of our cooperation are being shared. When choosing the location for the next meeting, we always include the local Naturefriends group so that our friends from Africa can get to know the local activities within the NF Germany network.
So far, what are/were the highlights of working together with Naturefriends Africa?
The highlights are and always were the personal encounters with Naturefriends during our tours in Africa. The commitment of the teenagers in the environmental clubs of the Naturefriends, talking to student groups and the local groups about their specific projects, seeing the visible improvements and the continuing development of the projects show that our cooperation is well on its way.
On January 13, the Landscape of the Year 2018/19 was opened – the first Landscape of the Year in Africa. Naturefriends organised a two-week tour through Senegal and the Gambia; the so called “Tour d’horizon”. How important do you think is the slow expansion of tourism for a sustainable development in the region?
In my opinion, there is a lot of potential for sustainable tourism in the chosen region. In Janjanbureh (the Gambia) tour guides for nature and city tours are being trained by our partner “Just Act”. The Gambia River offers many possibilities for nature observation on and off the water. In Koungheul (Senegal) you can find the first guided nature activities. The main road connects the region close to Tambacounda und Kedougou – in this region first tourism developments are already the visible. Necessary for the development of sustainable tourism is the connection of the existing offers with the new offers from the Landscape of the year. All this will influence the economic, structural and cultural sustainable development.
You attended the opening ceremony and took part in the Tour d’Horizon. What impressed you the most?
There were many details that made the event unforgettable. We were able to experience the diverse local culture, saw the serious interest of the local stakeholders for the Landscape of the Year - and the strong participation of the people in both Senegal and the Gambia really impressed me.
Which opportunities do you see for the border region Senegal/the Gambia being the Landscape of the Year? How can Naturefriends groups outside of Africa support a sustainable development in the region?
One important aspect is the network between the local stakeholders. There are already different initiatives in the region on both sides of the border, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The best options are definitely to work on developing good methods of communication and joint action plans. A first, vital step has already been taken, since the road between Senegal and the Gambia has been developed and is in good condition.
A long-term support of the development in the region can only be done in cooperation with the Senegalese Naturefriends. Naturefriends groups who want to be part of this development need to familiarise themselves with the activities of the African Naturefriends. It would be wonderful if many groups would focus on “Consequences of Climate Change in Africa and Climate Justice” in 2018/19. In addition, they can raise awareness for the Climate Fund of NFI. Down the road, it would also be possible for groups and member organisations to support the region by creating their own tours. Naturefriends Senegal has a lot of experience with the organisation of tours for Naturefriends groups and can offer support when needed.
Manfred Pils | President of NFI
Manfred Pils from Austria was re-elected as President of the international umbrella organisation by the Congress of Naturefriends International in Lage Vuursche (Netherlands). The staff at NFI congratulates him on his re-election!
Manfred Pils shares his vision for the future of the Naturefriends movement and talks about current challenges, as well as his personal goals.
The 23rd Climate Conference has just come to an end in Bonn recently. In addition, the Congress of Naturefriends International was placed under the motto "Living climate justice! In solidarity towards a better future!". Climate protection and climate justice are also key issues of the international Naturefriends movement. What do you consider the biggest challenges in this regard and how can comprehensive climate protection be achieved? How would you describe a climate-just world? What can and will Naturefriends International do to achieve this?
Climate protection needs to deal with the core issues. This especially means the radical reduction of CO2 emissions in the western industrialised nations, as well as the emerging nations – in particular energy production, traffic, industry and heating.
The technologies already exist - we just have to use them, which will in turn benefit the economy. At the same time, we need to assist the people in the South – who are already strongly effected by climate change though they in no way contributed to it – to mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change. This means that reforestation projects, necessary structural measures to stabilise coastal areas, projects to ensure water supply and irrigation, as well as necessary resettlements need to be financed.
To achieve this, active solidarity at the international level is needed – which is exactly what NFI stands and works for. And of course us Naturefriends need to also actively work for climate justice, which we already do through a few projects – for example planting trees in Senegal and the Gambia, which is financed by the Naturefriends Climate Fund.
Naturefriends currently face many challenges. Core issues for many national associations are for example maintaining the Naturefriends Houses and adapting their offers for members to new social developments. At the same time, many national organisations struggle with the declining income from membership fees and national subsidies. What are your visions for a successful future of the Naturefriends Movement?
NFI cannot and will not tell its member associations what to do. However, our common basis is the sustainable use of our natural resources, experiencing nature together and internationality. We connect recreational experiences with dedicated services for a sustainable society. For me, that is what makes our movement special and what we should emphasize. We can convince people to join our movement through a modernised image, we can renew our movement sustainably.
What can Naturefriends International do to achieve those visions? Can you tell us more about your personal goals you set yourself as President of Naturefriends International for the next three years?
Naturefriends International is the figurehead for the Naturefriends Movement – very important to spread the movement. Our strength is the diversity of the Naturefriends, the creativity and the dedication of many volunteers. We would wish to support the exchange and enrichment, while showing that internationality is an important value within a global society – not only for the individual member but also for the political work of Naturefriends, as for example our activities for climate justice.
Especially now, in times when international politics is driven increasingly by national interests and the core values of our society are being questioned more and more, NFI needs the full support of its member organisations so we can speak with a strong voice and be heard. This will be at the heart of my work in the next three years.
Henk Schaaf | President of NIVON (Naturefriends NL)
On November 2016 Henk Schaaf took office as president of Naturefriends Netherlands. In our conversation, Henk talks about the reasons for his involvement with Naturefriends and his ideas for the future of the organisation.
What made you get involved with Naturefriends now?
I was asked to be active in the Rotterdam division (1200 members) of NIVON Naturefriends. In no time I was elected as the local secretary and later I became vice-chairman. In our own NIVON center we have organised a lot of activities in the areas of nature and culture. For instance, there was a crowded festival at the ninety year anniversary of the Rotterdam NIVON section.
In an attempt to meet other members I visited a national assembly of all divisions. A member of the board who was responsible for communication retired and I mentioned that would be be interested in this function. Some months later I was elected as a member of the national board. Since then, we try to make NIVON more visible and known. Free publicity, presence on fairs, a restyled magazine, et cetera. But more important are the special campaigns: children free of charge as guests in our accommodations; vouchers to get a free midweek stay; actions to save energy and much more.
With a lot of diverse experience in journalism as well as in politics, you have an excellent basis for mastering the complex tasks as head of one of the largest Naturefriends’ organisations. What are your personal priorities for the next years?
Thanks to my forty years of experience as a newspaper reporter and ministerial spokesman, it’s easy for me to approach the press or government authorities. So I could invite a prominent Dutch politician to make a key note speech at the NFI Congress in October 2017. And we had a conference at the Ministry of Social Affairs for getting financial support to organise short holidays for children of poor parents. Accepting the presidency I delivered my intentions: in the next few years I like to promote the international contacts, we will re-erect NIVON Young, we shall discuss great issues and take up a strong position.We don’t need to write new copious and detailed statements. No, we prefer executing concrete actions and preparing practical solutions. Our volunteers see the results. NIVON Naturefriends is in the winning mood now. We lost thousands of members in the last ten years. For half a year now we see an uplifting curve. A thousand members more! NIVON undergoes a revival.
In many countries, people still perceive Naturefriends mainly as a leisure-time and sports organisation. Political work is of different importance to the various national organisations. What are your ideas on Naturefriends' political work?
NIVON was one of the members of the Fair and Green Deal and made a successful attempt that NFI members and NFI as an organisation should join. Some months ago, NIVON joined the National Energy Committee. This interest group presented a plan with proposals about a society without fossil materials and asked the Dutch parliament to adopt it,according to the ‘Paris’ agreement. First of all, NIVON is a friendly meeting place, a spot for adult and social education and recreation too. NIVON isn’t a political club, but many things we do, can have political meanings. In discussion and projects we want to make people aware about climate change, but also about peace problems, nuclear weapons and the future of a democratic world. Our core values are: “NIVON = honest, green, social and tolerant”. We share the ideal of a society based on freedom, justice and solidarity, democratic socialism. Is that political or not?
With more than 350,000 individual members, the international Naturefriends network is one of the largest NGOs worldwide. A common understanding of our core values, such as solidarity and global justice, unities our network, but it is a difficult task to fill these values with life and make them perceivable for the single member. In your opinion, how can these challenges be met in the future years?
As I said: be aware, discuss, be active on many platforms. Be a part of national and international initiatives in the field of durability. Writing a declaration of principles every three years is nice to the inner circle, but not interesting to the outer world. My advice is: be practical. Then the members will understand what we’re doing, because the approach is recognizable and not theoretical.
Mag. Günter Abraham | Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria
Since the beginning of July 2017, Günter Abraham has been on duty as Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria. He followed Reinhard Dayer, who has led the association very successfully for 44 years.
In conversation with Andrea Lichtenecker, Günter talks about his motivation for his commitment to Naturefriends and his future plans.
You look back on a varied career. What motivated you to apply for the position of Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria?
I have spent a wonderful childhood in Styria, a beautiful Austrian region. My parents have always been living in tune with nature and have shared their enthusiasm with us children. Naturefriends inspire me as a movement, which has dedicated itself to the preservation of the environment as well as to sports activities in nature. In my previous professional activities, I have been working on sports and environmental issues. Both topics are of great interest to me. When the vacancy of the position of Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria was announced, I knew I had to follow my passion and applied for it!
Within the international family of Naturefriends, Naturefriends Austria is the association with most individual members. In times when many other Naturefriends associations are struggling with declining membership numbers, Naturefriends Austria has succeeded in keeping membership numbers at a stable level. Nevertheless, Naturefriends Austria also faces major challenges – what are your priorities for the next few years?
When I took over the position, I set myself some goals: I would like to make Naturefriends more attractive for all generations, especially the young ones. From my own experience I know how important it is to raise children's awareness of nature and nature conservation in their early years. I have often witnessed how much fun kids have when discovering and exploring nature! I will emphasize competence-oriented learning – learning outside, in nature and with nature.
In addition to cooperation with schools, a main focus of my work will be the preservation of alpine infrastructure. In Austria, Naturefriends take care of approx. 15,000 km of hiking trails and about 140 Naturefriends houses. The effort of maintaining this enormous network is almost unimaginable.
New climbing and bouldering halls, innovations in the technological field, educational offers for environmental and nature conservation issues, as well as modern methods in managing Naturefriends houses shall secure that membership in our association is desirable. We will achieve these goals through team spirit and cooperation!
Naturefriends are often perceived as a leisure and hiking association only. Formulating political positions is of different importance for the national associations of Naturefriends, and the topics vary from social policy and free trade to free access to nature for everybody. What are your ideas for the political work of Naturefriends?
We will continue to stand up for free access to nature for all population groups, irrespective of their financial circumstances. Conflicts between recovery seekers and landowners occur quite often. With our brochures and articles in various media, we will continue to communicate the legal basis and place demands whenever it is necessary. Thus, we stand up for the opening of all forest roads for mountain bikers – a legal standard that has already been reached in many neighboring countries!
Naturefriends will continue to safeguard the interests of people and nature. Free access to nature, including free access to the Austrian lakes, shall not be restricted but must be extended!
Naturefriends’ “Berg frei!” is a strong manifestation of rejecting all attempts to restrict the free access to nature.
In your first speech as Managing Director, you used a very beautiful African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together with others.” Team spirit is not only a central element of Naturefriends’ activities, but also the basis of cooperation within the international Naturefriends movement. What does internationality in relation to Naturefriends mean for you?
I am a committed European. I believe that international cooperation in a united Europe is a particularly important task. Just as we work together in families, local groups and communities, I would like to have cooperation of Naturefriends on the international level – in order to pursue our path together.
Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli | President of Naturefriends Switzerland
On 13 May 2017, Urs Wüthrich-Pelloli took office as president of Naturefriends Switzerland. The education policy-maker and former member of the cantonal government has big plans for his time as president. In our conversation, Urs talks about the reasons for his involvement with Naturefriends and his ideas for the future of the organisation.
You look back on a long political career. What made you get involved with Naturefriends now?
As a private person, I have been making a contribution to a sound environment for a long time, and I've been a member of the Naturefriends organisation since the 1980s. I have a triple connection to this association. A historical connection, because Naturefriends arose from the labour movement, where my roots are, too. A sports connection, for I'm committed to sports and I love to go hiking. And a connection of values, because I think that friends of nature also need to take responsibility for the latter.
Many people still perceive Naturefriends solely as a leisure-time and hiking organisation. Political work is of different importance to the various national organisations. At the same time, different topics are important at the national level - from nuclear energy over free trade to right of way. What are your ideas on Naturefriends' political work?
I think it is crucial for the Naturefriends movement to intervene in political issues on nature and the environment. I explicitly don't say that Naturefriends should become a political party or be instrumentalised by one. But Naturefriends clearly need to regain a political profile and position themselves as allies of organisations that champion sustainable development and stand up for "Friends of Nature".
The Naturefriends movement is currently experiencing difficult times. Many national associations have been struggling for several years because of decreasing membership figures and the loss of national funding - e.g. for the maintenance of their mountain lodges. How do you intend to counteract this situation at the national level?
The development of our membership figures and the ageing structure of various local groups bring to light the shortcomings in attracting the young generation that need to be made up for. Various sections successfully show that renewal in continuity is possible. I am confident that this success will be infectious.
A topic that is very close to my heart is to run our Naturefriends houses successfully and sustainably. This is where we need to combine the indispensable commitment of volunteers and the expectations of high professionalism.
And, as I mentioned before, the substantive profile and political positioning of Naturefriends Switzerland is a top priority. I consider our movement's depoliticising a disastrous development - a development that brings a loss of identity, profile and unique feature and which makes our guiding principles and values remain empty phrases and futile statements of intent.
In the past years, you held numerous international offices, such as the head of the Swiss delegation and the presidium of the Franco-German-Swiss Conference of the Upper Rhine as well as the representation of Switzerland at the Congress of the Council of Europe and at the Assembly of European Regions. How important is internationality for you - especially with regard to the Naturefriends movement?
I have repeatedly experienced cross-border encounters as enriching and an indispensable prerequisite for mutual understanding. It is only the exchange of different opinions and experiences and discussion about other perspectives that provide development and stability for our society. Especially in an ever more globalised world, movements such as Naturefriends need to join forces across borders and become strong networks if they want their voice to be heard by international decision-makers. Consequently, I welcome the work of NFI and I am looking forward to contributing to this commitment with my expertise.