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Alumni collaborate on climate action and the green economy at the Regional Alumni Workshop

Posted: 13 June 2023

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Alumni, Environment, Experience, Impact,

Forty-six Australia Awards alumni from South Asia & Mongolia gathered in Ulaanbaatar in May for the 2023 Regional Alumni Workshop. The theme of the workshop was ‘Building back better: Climate resilience and green economic recovery’.

The three-day workshop saw alumni from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka come together to share their experiences in responding to climate change and explore opportunities for collaboration. The alumni were accompanied by representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Australia Awards.

Forty-two participants were selected through a competitive process with more than 170 alumni applying.  Of these 42 participants, 32 submitted a presentation or video with their application highlighting their sustainability challenges or successes. In addition to the 42 successful applicants, four alumni were invited to attend as speakers.

The workshop, held from 29-31 May, was opened by the Australian Ambassador to Mongolia, H.E. Ms Katie Smith.

In her welcome address she spoke on behalf of Australia’s Heads of Mission in the participants’ countries in highlighting the role that alumni play.

“We deeply value the contribution that Australian Awards scholars and alumni bring to the relationships between Australia and our partner countries… From your time as scholars, to your present as alumni, you are creating and maintaining deep and lasting connections with Australia and our people.”

Australian Ambassador to Mongolia H.E. Katie Smith at the Regional Alumni Workshop

Reflecting on the Workshop theme, Ambassador Smith said, “While the worst of the COVID-related challenges have subsided in most countries, the world is still recovering.  Green economic recovery is defined to be a holistic and inclusive response to the pandemic crisis. It incorporates climate change considerations into short-term economic recovery and promotes climate-neutral and climate-resilient economic transformation.”

“We need leaders who are capable of fostering climate resilience and further promoting sustainability in the recovery process. I believe that the leaders who have the most to offer and contribute are amongst our alumni.”

Mr Enkhbold Nyamaa MP, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia and the inaugural President of the Mongolian Australian Society (Mozzies), welcomed the alumni on behalf of Mongolia, and thanked Australia for its commitment to providing scholarships to Mongolia.

The first two days of the Workshop consisted of keynote addresses, panel discussions, alumni presentations and breakout sessions on subjects including climate finance, climate justice, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.

Five alumni delivered the keynote addresses. Dr Farhina Ahmed, Secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, and Mr Batbaatar Batkhuu, Senior Officer in Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, delivered keynote addresses highlighting their countries’ responses to climate change. Ms Hina Lotia shared her experience on the challenges of mainstreaming climate change and responding to climate-related disasters in Pakistan. Dr Sindhu Dunghana, Joint Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment, shared his country’s experience of green economic development and the role of nature in it. Dr Mizna Mohamed, Director of Science and Innovation at the Small Island Geographic Society of Maldives, delivered a keynote on climate adaptation, biodiversity and the role of protected areas in financing the green transition.

Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, Director of External Affairs at the Green Climate Fund (GCF), delivered a keynote address on accessing climate finance, which was a highlight for many alumni.  “The idea of inviting GCF to the workshop was great,” said Tshering Penjor, a Bhutanese alumnus. “Besides learning from GCF, I also managed to apprise Dr Oyun about the real challenges of accessing climate financing and share success stories of locally-led adaptations.”

Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren- Director of External Affairs, Green Climate Fund, giving keynote speech on ‘climate finance’

One of the features of the Workshop was alumni presenting and facilitating most of the Workshop content, giving the participants the opportunity to highlight their work and further develop their leadership and presentation skills. Of those present:

  • 23 alumni delivered their presentations or videos
  • 5 alumni hosted breakout sessions
  • 8 alumni hosted a panel or facilitated a session
  • 8 alumni sat on panels.

Gayatri Pande, an alumna from India, welcomed the high level of content delivered by alumni:

“The Regional Alumni Workshop featured excellent presentations by distinguished alumni who provided unique insights on various facets of climate resilience based on their work and shared the various challenges they encountered. Participants learnt how different countries in the region are addressing some of the key developmental challenges. I take back unique learnings from this workshop and I’m eager to implement some of these solutions in my home country India.”

A climate justice panel discussion moderated by alumnus Dr Bimal Raj Regmi (far right). Panellists (from left to right) – Dr Rojee Joshi from Nepal, Anamika Sengupta from India and Tshering Penjor from Bhutan. Not pictured is panellist Nadeeka Wickramasinghe from Sri Lanka.

The final day of the Workshop featured site visits to sustainable and innovative businesses in Mongolia aligned with the workshop theme.

The alumni toured Everyday Farm LLC, a combined 10MW solar power plant and horticultural facility. It features innovations including greenhouses built under solar panels and a zero-energy cool room for storage of fresh produce. The renewable energy provided by Everyday Farm results in a reduction of 25,200 tons of carbon dioxide annually and it has the capacity to provide 15% of Mongolia’s vegetables.

Regional Alumni Participants with staff guides at Everyday Farm

The workshop participants also visited Gobi Cashmere, a sustainable cashmere producer which works with local herders to ensure responsible and traceable cashmere production and is committed to forest preservation.

The workshop concluded with a display of traditional Mongolian culture, providing the participants with a once in a lifetime experience and another opportunity to network with their hosts and other alumni.

On the evening of 30 May, the alumni attended a reception hosted by the Australian Embassy to mark the 30-year anniversary of Australian Government scholarships for Mongolia. The event featured speeches by Ambassador Smith and the current President of the Mozzies, Dr Tsogtbaatar Damdin MP.

“The networking events were touching and helped to build stronger relationships between the participants. This has established a concrete foundation for further collaboration on regional climate actions and experience sharing,” said Mongolian alumna Oyundelger (Oyuka) Enkhtuvshin.

“These cultural and professional exchanges are continuing through bilateral communications and I hope they will deepen more in the future”.

The alumni presentations and networking at the Workshop naturally led to opportunities for collaboration. For example, after they separately delivered presentations on biogas projects, Bhutanese alumnus Kuenga Namgay and Sri Lankan alumnus Gowripalan Saravanapavan sought each other out to discuss a possible collaboration.

The participants’ collaboration will continue via their ongoing membership of the relaunched Champions for the Environment and Climate Action Community of Practice (COP). The COP first met prior to the Workshop and heard from First Nations Australian scientist, Tiahni Adamson.  In future, Australia Awards – South Asia and Mongolia will facilitate regular online gatherings of the group featuring guest speakers, as well as providing opportunities for training and access to grant funding.

For Bangladeshi alumnus Md Kabir Hossain, “membership of the Champions of the Environment and Climate Action Community of Practice inspires me to contribute more as a professional.”