Hear the Leaders: Episode 1 – Jeunesse Park – Pioneering Environmental Protection
We are proud to begin our Hear the Leaders series, showcasing people making a positive impact on the world, with a woman who was always in a league of her own, and who spearheaded environmental activism long before it was a mainstream concern.
Our first guest, Jeunesse Park, is the founder of one of Africa’s foundational non-profit organizations, Food and Trees for Africa.
Her story is one of fearless perseverance and the audacity to take full advantage of the political opportunities that presented themselves to her. Her passion and resolve to change the status quo of carbon waste in her country began in 1989, and her agility and determination allowed her to do the impossible and influence environmental policies that would positively affect the future and the people of Africa and the world at large.
Our very own Josh Klawansky sat down with Jeunesse for her story.
Q & A
How did you end up bringing these issues [carbon waste responsibility] into the forefront of conversation in a time that it wasn’t seen as that big of an issue?
With a lot of hard work.
At the end of 1989, Mandela was about to be released. I decided it was time to do something positive to try to contribute to equity, not just societal equity, but environmental equity. The majority of people were living in very degraded townships, so, I thought, well, what is the simplest thing one can do?
I was aware of climate change. The simplest thing, I thought, was tree-planting. I must say I was hugely inspired at the time by Karen Kayemet at the Jewish National Fund. I thought, let’s plant some trees to improve the environment, but also to absorb the carbon dioxide.
We [Africa] were in the top five carbon polluters on the planet.
I approached the CEO of our massive public energy company. And I said, “Listen, why don’t you give us one cent of every electricity bill towards planting trees?”
And he looked at me like I was absolutely nuts and called me a hippie tree hugger.
But I went about it very methodically. I went to the government, although that time it was still the apartheid government, I was there, from then through the transition.
I worked with the government to help to develop their very first urban forestry policy.
I know that you worked with amazing people like Mandela in the past, but I’d love to hear from you, about some of the most important people that contributed to your organization.
Well, I have to say that Dr. Mandela was a huge inspiration from the outset, and I was incredibly fortunate to meet him soon after he’d come out of jail. I’ll never forget that day he spoke to me personally about when he was a boy. He inspired the power of one. I realized what one person could do. Then I realized that I was just one person.
You are the one who can make the difference.
So let’s all be these ones that come together and make a big difference.
It’s a lot more in the forefront of people’s minds now, and people understand that this is a massive issue that we can’t ignore anymore.
What would you say to other girls or young people wanting to carry on your footsteps and power forward towards their own goals and dreams?
Find your passion. Find what you love and work with that. Focus, work really hard, collaborate and cooperate.
For me, the greatest blessing is to have found what I really believe in and to work with that. And it’s amazing what that attracts in terms of people and energy.
People need to be aware. I say always “inform yourself and then inform others”.
We need to make people conscious of their consumption of natural resources like water and energy, but also what you buy and what you use.
And we need to be really aware of our waste. We’ve already hit our global carbon budget maximum. So there’s no time to lose, and we have to really get on things now.
To hear the full interview with Jeunesse, listen here:
To learn more about Jeunesse Park’s non-profit initiatives, you can explore her sites: