In this, our first episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Schnurr, the Chairman of Community Forests International (also know as CFI), and more recently, the CEO of Jaza Energy.
Jeff has a compelling story. After graduating from high school he traveled in over 35 countries before landing in Tanzania, East Africa, where he began the tree planting initiative that grew into Community Forests International - CFI. Starting with the dream of making conservation a rural livelihood, Jeff has spread the techniques of forest restoration around the globe and CFI has planted over a million-and-a-half trees since he started in Pemba.
In 2010, Jeff was named one of Canada's Top 10 volunteers by the CBC and Manulife. More recently, Jeff launched Jaza Energy, an energy-tech start-up in East Africa to build a network of renewable energy hubs in communities beyond the electrical grid. Each hub will provide affordable and reliable access to electricity in up to a hundred households.
In our interview, we talked to Jeff about how he started a sustainable forest NGO; and how he sees his role as someone on the front lines of environmental harm reduction, regeneration, and climate adaptation; and what advice he would have for someone setting out to make a difference.
Some of the advice Jeff gave listeners:
What advice would you offer listeners about what they can do to be a part of making a difference and having the courage to make a difference to meet the challenges of the 21st Century imperative?
I think that there are habits that you can form around this question. You don't have to start with a huge initiative. I didn’t try and start Community Forests International. We tried to help a community or two grow some trees. It was a small group, at first. We didn't know that it was going to grow and continue, but just picking that small problem, anything that you can do, and build a habit of striving for a solution, and seeing it through on the smallest scale you can. Once you get in the cycle of seeing something, and striving for a solution, holding yourself accountable to making that change, on a very small scale, you ingrain that habit, and it just grows overtime.
If you had a chance to return in time to visit yourself when you were starting CFI, what key piece of advice would you give yourself in light of what you know now about the world?
Give myself? Probably: get more sleep because you're going to need it! I think, when I did start, I was also scared to reach out. I was scared to try and become a part of a greater community. I'm 21 at that time. I think, I’d have to tell myself to keep that naivety, keep that idea. We went for it, and the sky was the limit, and it didn't work out maybe the way exactly how we all imagined it would, but it worked.
It sounds like your younger self didn't need any different advice whatsoever.
Other than to sleep more, and…
Enjoy the moment more?
Yeah. If your family comes to town, you don't necessarily need to just work on that proposal. You can stop for half an hour, and go eat dinner with them, or whatever. I think I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I probably ignored a lot of people around me. You realize that now, 10 years into it, that I could have taken a bit more time.
Final question. If you were given a full-page spread in the Sunday New York Times to publish any graphic or written material you wanted, what would you do with i
Any graphic or written material at the New York Times? I think the trends on the cost of solar energy versus the cost of coal production. If you look at those graphs, I think it just looking at these graphs – and not even looking at the trends of what's happening in the climate as a scare tactic - but I think it's so empowering to see how the things [solar energy] are sustainable, and renewable, and regenerative over time, the more of us that participate, the more accessible things become.
You can learn more about Jeff at:
You can reach Jeff through the CFI Website or on Twitter @Jeff_Schnurr
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