Stephan Bognar is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, an organisation for the conservation of Cambodia’s endangered Cardamom Mountains’ northern territory. Bognar was a keynote speaker at the 2010 International Healthy Parks Healthy People Congress, and gave a memorable speech addressing the benefits and challenges of adopting a cross-sectoral approach to projects in the developing world. He’s recently been in New York to meet with partners and discuss scaling up the foundation’s Cambodia program to apply to other countries. He took time out to chat to HPHP Central about the importance of spreading the Healthy Parks Healthy People philosophy.
What are some of the recent activities of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation?
When you go back to the whole Congress, it’s basically still that theme that really describes our efforts and our vision. It’s about creating a system that is able to satisfy human wellbeing without damaging or destroying our ecosystem. So this is what we’re doing with the foundation – we marry the two concepts together. So for us when we talk about poverty eradication we’re talking about social, economic, environmental and health.
What did you take away from the Congress that you can apply to your work at the Foundation?
I took a lot from the Congress, it was great. I clearly saw that a lot of people are still working in silos, that many people are still operating in two systems – in the healthcare system and the environmental system. It was interesting meeting with people at the Congress and finding that they face the same challenges back in their own home countries – to make these stronger connections, to implement the concepts – whether because of government resistance, or because the community at large really do not want to build an integrated system and make the connections. But clearly you saw there were still many, many challenges out there.
What do you think the next step should be in terms of this wider movement and to bring the silos together?
I think the Congress in Melbourne was a big stepping stone. I think we have to continue the movement, I think we have to build on this platform, I think we need to have more congresses, more workshops, more meetings in all parts of the world – in North America, Europe, Asia, and again making these strong connections, making this a global awareness campaign to bring healthcare practitioners, to bring the environmental movement, the conservation movement together to make sure that they are making the connections. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done targeting the health organisations, the NGOs, the international health players.
Through your work with the foundation do you see a growing in awareness across sectors about the connections between health and nature?
I think we all face an uphill battle and I see our foundation as being part of a greater movement and we’re all coming together to break down these silos and develop these connections. It’s part of our responsibility to raise awareness, to make these connections and again to make sure this movement, that started in Melbourne with the Congress and spread it across the world. In all regions, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done – including in Canada, including North America. We’re breeding a generation that really do not understand the connection between wellbeing and ecosystems. Globalisation has wonderful opportunities but at the same time it seems to have disconnected our collective responsibility to healthy parks healthy people, or again our natural resources.
What have you learned from working with developing communities about the way that traditional cultures are living with nature?
It’s very interesting, living in these under-developed economies - you would think going to places like Cambodia and Afghanistan that the people are really in touch with nature, that they understand natural operating systems, that they get it, and unfortunately that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing the effects of globalisation on these economies. We’re seeing again and again, from Indonesia to Cambodia to Ethiopia, these local communities, the original stakeholders of the land, destroying their green spaces, destroying the wilderness areas to catch up to the West. It’s really quite sad.
What you’re seeing is destruction of the forests for palm oil, to supply the sugar needs of Europe. Or you see the destruction of the trees in Indonesia to supply the teak trade. And you are clearly seeing the negative effects of globalisation on these economies on the people themselves. So you would think that they’re traditionally the gatekeepers of the land and they respect the land and they understand the connections. But they’re losing the connection. As quickly as we’re losing the forests they are losing the connection because the only thing people understand is, we need to survive.
Can you tell us about the work you’ve been doing in Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan they have actually created a national park, and in that national park there are impoverished villages. Like in Cambodia, it’s a protected area surrounded by villages and they’re trying to understand how can they introduce a system that enables them to protect the national park at the same time as develop or implement health programs in those surrounding villages. So I went to assess the situation and see what we can offer.
Of course it’s a different security situation which obviously makes it a little more difficult. In Cambodia it was post-conflict and it’s relatively safe to go into the area that we’re operating in. In Afghanistan, the security situation makes it a little more challenging to implement a poverty eradication program. There’s not actually much fighting going on in the area, but to get there you have to travel through Kabul. So we would have to establish an office in Kabul because we have to work closely with the government – who are the main stakeholders in this movement. Establishing an office in Kabul makes it a lot more challenging because a lot of the funds are actually going to security operations – to pay bodyguards and these security parameters. There are some great NGOs working on the ground but there are some definite high costs to implement security operations to ensure the safety of your personnel. So we’re just in the early stages.
In this interview recorded at the Congress, Stephan Bognar speaks about the importance of HPHP in the developing world.