Today's youth can lay the foundation for a stronger world
Eshadi Mendis is a civil engineer, MBA candidate, scuba diver, and biodiversity advocate from Sri Lanka, who is involved with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network in international, regional, and national roles. In an interview ahead of the GEF Assembly, she shared her plans to help for a life and career focused on helping the environment in multiple ways.
Your background is in engineering, business, and environmental conservation. How do those areas fit together, for you?
I am passionate about environmental conservation and about business management, with a focus on sustainability. My civil engineering degree has empowered me to tackle pressing environmental issues in a practical sense, and I hope that a business degree will open doors to roles with an even stronger environmental focus. Ultimately, I am hoping to merge these disciplines, leveraging technical and strategic insights in order to drive positive change for nature.
What is your current area of focus?
At the moment, I am focused on advocating for youth engagement and environmental education. One example is my ongoing work to establish a Sri Lankan youth position for the next revision of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). This is important to me as a way to contribute to a more sustainable future by empowering the younger generation and fostering environmental awareness.
When did you become interested in environmental issues?
I was fascinated with nature as a young child. I spent many hours and days observing plants, butterflies, spiders, and spider webs in my grandparents' yard, igniting a deep connection with the natural world.
Many years later, studying civil engineering, I gained an understanding of sustainable practices and the importance of protecting the environment. Combining this knowledge with my love for nature, I sought out opportunities to work and volunteer on environmental conservation and biodiversity projects. This allowed me to advocate for youth engagement in environmental issues and to empower young people in my community with the knowledge to create a positive impact on our planet.
Joining the Global Youth Biodiversity Network had a significant impact on my journey. Being a part of GYBN has provided me with a platform to connect with like-minded individuals and engage in meaningful initiatives that continue to fuel my commitment to environmental causes. I am currently a member of the GYBN international steering committee, am the regional co-coordinator for the Asia chapter, and coordinate the Sri Lanka chapter.
If you could say one thing to today’s political or business leaders, what would it be?
My message to today's political and business leaders is clear and straightforward: invest in the next generation. Young people are the driving force behind our collective future, and by empowering and supporting them, we can lay the foundation for a stronger and more sustainable world.
It is crucial to provide ample opportunities for education, skill development, and mentorship, allowing them to grow into compassionate, innovative, and responsible leaders who will lead us towards a brighter tomorrow. By investing in their potential, we can create a legacy of positive change that will benefit not only our generation but also generations to come. Together, let's prioritize the well-being and growth of young people, as they hold the key to a better and more prosperous future for all.
You have a lot on your plate. Do you have time for other interests and hobbies?
I have a deep passion for traveling and frequently explore the beautiful landscapes of Sri Lanka. As a certified PADI Open Water Diver, I find joy in diving into the ocean to discover its wonders.
Additionally, I have a keen interest in cognitive psychology and enjoy studying the workings of the human mind. Exploring this field allows me to understand the intricacies of human behavior and cognition.
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
I look forward to seeing concrete steps taken to ensure the meaningful participation of rightsholders in the decision-making process. It is crucial that the voices and perspectives of those on the ground, the ones who are the frontlines in protecting biodiversity, are heard and are integrated into the GEF's actions.
One new development I am focused on is the establishment of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund. This new fund should provide easily and quickly accessible resources to all developing countries, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women, civil society, and youth. It should be free from unnecessary bureaucracy, ensuring that adequate funds are readily available to meet urgent needs.
Finally, I hope to see the GEF recognize the need for a youth-led funding mechanism. Engaging young people is essential to tackling environmental challenges effectively, and they should be given a stronger role in the governance and distribution decisions of international funding. Empowering the youth with such responsibilities would do a lot to drive innovation and impact for the long term, with significant positive impacts for biodiversity worldwide.