Washington, D.C.—The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize a new partnership aimed at ensuring young Black Americans have greater opportunities for rewarding careers in the forest and conservation sector.
This partnership seeks to provide transformative solutions to address the urgent need to create more inclusive, sustainable communities around the world. This need is recognized by leading global entities, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations (UN). By aligning with IUCN global priorities, including empowerment, enhancing capacity, improving representation and accountability, and applying knowledge to strengthen resiliency for a more sustainable future, and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including quality education, this partnership is positioned to scale its impact.
“This MOU is an important step in SFI’s commitment to providing all young people with opportunities to advance their skills, networks, and careers, so they can contribute to nature-based solutions in the forest and conservation sector. I am excited to be collaborating with MANRRS so we can reach more people from diverse backgrounds,” said Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of SFI.
Over the next year, initiatives outlined in the MOU will focus on the spectrum of needs across the green career trajectory—including recruitment, awareness, mentorship, and career opportunities—collectively designed to help the forest and conservation sector recruit, retain, and advance a diverse and resilient workforce. Career pathway resources like webinars and skills training will be tailored to highlight the journeys of Black American professionals in the forest and conservation sector. The MOU will also support working with employers to establish welcoming and inclusive workplaces.
“As organizations that foster the relationship building of young people from diverse backgrounds, it is important for MANRRS and SFI to collaborate and continue to expose our present and future leaders to opportunities that help create a pipeline of diverse talent,” said Dr. Antomia Farrell, Past President of MANRRS and Assistant Dean and Director for Diversity for the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.
SFI and its educational initiative Project Learning Tree (PLT) are already working with MANRRS on one of the MOU’s goals—producing The Journey of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide under the direction of an advisory committee composed of Black American thought leaders in this space. PLT is an award-winning environmental education program that advances environmental literacy, stewardship, and career pathways using trees and forests as windows on the world. The guide will inspire young Black Americans to pursue forest and conservation careers by telling the stories of Black Americans who have taken this career path and who have advice and resources to share.
“Given the need to address diversity in the forest and conservation sector, I am excited about this collaboration between SFI and MANRRS. This builds on PLT’s and SFI’s efforts to promote a diverse and resilient workforce that can result in positive and transformational change,” said Ebonie Alexander, Executive Director of the Black Family Land Trust and SFI Board Member, who sits on the career guide advisory committee.
This partnership builds on Project Learning Tree Canada’s (PLT Canada) track record of success in engaging and supporting Indigenous communities. Since 2018, PLT Canada, an initiative of SFI, has helped place over 580 Indigenous youth from over 100 Indigenous communities in Green Jobs, many of whom found placements in their own communities. PLT Canada’s A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals features the first-person stories of 12 First Nations and Inuit leaders working in the forest and conservation and parks sectors across Canada.
PLT Canada also offers an industry-leading mentorship program and several online skill-building courses that further support youth on their green career pathways, thereby helping to remove barriers to employment while growing a diverse and resilient workforce. This MOU will build on these successes in Canada and explore the development of a PLT Green Mentor program in the USA for young Black Americans working in or interested in exploring entry into the forest and conservation sector workforce.
The success of this MOU also depends on support from other committed organizations that are prepared to invest in diversity around the world. Both SFI and MANRRS have a track record of success, a representative advisory committee in place, and lessons to build on from Canadian initiatives. SFI and MANRRS are grateful for the financial support provided by the US Forest Service on the career guide and are seeking additional support to create transformational and long-lasting change.
The MOU aligns with an increased focus from SFI on the importance of diversity in the forest sector. SFI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy helps guide the organization’s goal of creating space for all communities to fully and meaningfully participate in the journey towards a sustainable future. This work also supports the UN SDGs, particularly Goal 4, Quality Education.