Razan Al Mubarak – Hope is Empowering Individuals and Centering Community (Jane Goodall Hopecast #7)


Full Transcript:  

Jane Goodall  0:00   

JANE SPLASH: When I was a little girl, I was really shy. I never ever spoke in front of the class. And when I realized, having been with the chimpanzees for about a year, [that]I was required to give a talk for the National Geographic Society — they were funding my work, and they required for me to give a talk. That was in Washington, DC, in what used to be called Constitution Hall and now it’s called the DAR Constitution Hall. And there were about 5000 people. I’d never given a talk before. And I was standing up there in front of all these people. I was so terrified. So the Geographic wanted me to rehearse. Well, I’ve never been good at rehearsing. I work out what I’m going to say, and then I stand up and it gets pulled out of me. So when I was rehearsing to this film, I was kind of mumbling to myself, kind of reminding myself what I had to say. And I heard afterwards that they were absolutely terrified, and they were talking to each other and saying, “Should we cancel the whole thing? She can’t do it.” But, luckily, they let it go ahead. And I swear to you, for the first three minutes, I couldn’t breathe. I was so completely terrified. And nobody noticed that I couldn’t breathe. And then finally, you know, I got over it. And I got immersed in the chimpanzees on the screen. And that’s when I discovered, “I can do this.” I did it. And the audience loved it. And they clapped. And at the end, I gave a little talk without even the film. So that was an amazing moment in my life, because it’s the first time I realized, “Yes, you can do it.” I went on being scared, but never like that first moment, Oh, my goodness. 

CONSERVATION CHOIR INTRO: There are so many ways we can save our planet. What is there without a hope? I just want people to find empathy for all the species we share this planet with. I have so much hope! Can nature of bounce back? Earth is pretty special because– Jane Goodall made me believe in my own power– She devoted her life to this. Together we can! Together we will! What is your greatest reasons for hope? I’m Jane Goodall and this is the Hopecast. 

INTRO: Today, I have the great pleasure of introducing Her Excellency, Razan Al Mubarak. She is the managing director of the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. She is a very dear friend of mine and a role model of grace and dedication in the fight to save our planet. I’m particularly fascinated by Razan’s viewpoint on government involvement, global conservation efforts, and how we must always consider the individuals that make up large international efforts. I hope you enjoy this hopeful conversation with Razan Al Mubarak.  

INTERVIEW: Razan, this is really exciting. And, you know, welcome to these Hopecast. I was thinking back to when we first met, and that big conference. When was that? I couldn’t remember. 

Razan Al Mubarak  3:35   

You know, with this pandemic, my whole notion of time is completely warped. But I guess this was almost, I would say, eight years ago, the first time we met was this conference on Island Earth. This was the idea that the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi actually put forth which is, “How do we democratize access to data in order for the community of the world, really — of NGOs, governments, civil societies — to collectively work together for action towards conservation?” 

Jane Goodall  4:07   

That’s right. And it was a whole new world for me and a whole new friendship. And I couldn’t be happier that we’ve met and continued to communicate through these eight years, or whatever it is. And we’ve had adventures. You remember when, I guess it was you Razan, and I got invited to give a talk for the Crown Prince during Ramadan, to all of the sheikhs, and ha! talk about being intimidated. 

Razan Al Mubarak  4:38   

And it was really extraordinary because we met at this incredible setting, if you remember. This was a setting that is known here in the UAE as the Majlis. So this is the gathering of the community to discuss issues that are important to the community in terms of from an economics social and political perspective. And it’s normally presided by the head of the community or head of the tribe in my country. The host of this measures was actually the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. And so, you were asked to provide some leading thoughts on conservation, on nature. And I was lucky enough to be asked to moderate your session. You know, it was a very special time in the Islamic calendar, where we fast from dusk til dawn. And so not only were you speaking to a very high profile audience, but you were potentially speaking to a very hungry audience that were in the middle of their fast. 

Jane Goodall  5:48   

And then if you remember, the Crown Prince got delayed, and you and I were sitting next to each other in this big room, surrounded by mostly people in white robes, and then a small group of black robes, which was the women. And I kept saying to you, “Well, my talk can only be so long, because then there’s the call to prayer.” So I’ll have to dump my videos. And you said, “No, you’ve got to show the videos, it will make the question shorter.” And we will getting, both of us, I think, quite agitated, but it worked. It everything fitted in. 

Razan Al Mubarak  6:24   

Absolutely! And and you really set the bar quite high, because those are a series of lectures that the Crown Prince hosts for the community of decision makers, in order to really open up their minds and in order also to push them beyond the borders of their existing discipline. So we had ministers who were, who were ministers of the economy, of tourism, we had heads of sovereign funds, and your talk there really tried to push the boundaries of our own discipline, conservation, to meet other disciplines and other thoughts. And I think that was so powerful. And until today, it is still regarded, eight years on, as one of the most popular lectures that were hosted in those Ramadan series. So thank you. And since then, you’ve continue to be not just an inspiration for me, but really an inspiration for many of my compatriots and residents of the Emirates. And we now see you pretty much on an annual perspective. You come for the Emirates Literature Festival. You come for a number of important meetings, including, of course, the Roots and Shoots program that has been now going very strong in the Emirates, as well. 

Jane Goodall  7:43   

Yeah, and you made that happen. You found the funding for it from the Environment Agency. And you know, so it’s all due to you.  

Razan Al Mubarak  7:54   

You know, your message, it’s universal. It doesn’t see any creed, religion, economic background. It sees us all as, as humans in in this wonderful journey to protect nature, and in protecting nature, protecting who we are. 

Jane Goodall  8:19   

You, know, I love learning new things. And I learned so much about the Crown Prince, his father, the first sheikh, and, you know, the, the tremendous conservationist that he was, and the area he set aside, and the beginning of the breeding of the Arabian oryx to eventually release them back. So much has happened in the Emirates, probably all started by him. And it’s an area of the world that I really knew nothing about. So I remember that, when you took me to the desert — remember taking me to the desert, and how windy it was? 

Razan Al Mubarak  8:57   

Absolutely, absolutely. And I’m glad you mentioned that, because I think many people perhaps may not know about the conservation efforts of the Emirates that were really sort of established with a very strong foundation. And as you rightly said, this foundation was this one man, the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed. So it’s incredible, because you should never underestimate how one individual can make such a big impact. 

Jane Goodall  9:28   

How badly was. So Abu Dhabi, Dubai hit by the pandemic? 

Razan Al Mubarak  9:32   

I think similar to many of your urban centers around the world, the density of the population obviously makes transmission much more susceptible. But at the same time, what’s amazing and that’s sort of this sort of, I think, you know, the silver lining is that what we’ve learned is that behaviors that we once thought were set in stone, could and can actually change overnight. The way we conduct our business, for example, sadly, the way we conduct even our, our social activities. But the point is there that things that we often say, you know, from an environmental perspective or a conservation perspective, or these are, you know, deeply rooted behaviors are very difficult to change. Well, this pandemic has really turned that perspective on its head. And it’s challenged our ideas of what makes, I mean, you know, we’ve obviously, worked on this idea of, you know, “How do you make nature more resilient?” And we know that nature is more resilient when it’s most diverse. And, similarly, societies are more resilient when they’re also very, very diverse. And what this journey, you know — and it’s been a very arduous journey for many of us — has put to question, “What are the social structure that are able to provide the foundations of a community that benefits from well-being?” And of course, one pillar that has made a very big difference in people’s lives, particularly in urban centers, is access to urban parks and an assemblage of what nature can offer. And I think it is, it has made people a lot more, I would say, conscious of the value of what nature can provide from a mental and overall human health well-being.  

Jane Goodall  11:28   

But, Razan, at what point in your life, did you know that you wanted to work with nature and do what you’ve done? 

Razan Al Mubarak  11:37   

I mean, I think it’s incredible, because I see this in my daughter. And I think, “This is what I probably had as well,” which is, you know, you’re born with this, you know, with this inherent connection with nature. And of course, the great Edward Wilson coined this as “biophilia.” So we have this genetic affinity to being part of the natural world. But then, you know, unfortunately, you know, as we grow older, something happens. And we are separated from from nature, and we forget our connection. And we’d get so separated also from the sources of goods that we consume. So the assumption that we have as we go on in our daily lives is that, “Yes, in fact, we are separate from nature.” And I was lucky enough to have, to continue to have access to nature. Because as you know, because nature has been destroyed at such an alarming rate, being able to access it has become also quite an exclusive phenomenon. But here in the Emirates, growing up —  you know, my country is a young country. We’re a traditionally purling and fishing community, as well as a Bedouin community. So access to the desert and the sea were very much part and parcel of my upbringing. And I loved it. And I didn’t just love it, because, of course, the incredible animals and plants that I learned about, but I loved it, because of the way I felt it influenced my identity, and really the identity of the Emirates, it influenced our songs, our poetry, even our names. I mean, the one some of the most common names in the Emirates are “Rheem,” and that’s, you know, the gazelle, or, you know, or “Shaheen,” which is a part of that, which is a falcon. So, you know, that, you know, even you know, what we call ourselves is a mirror of nature. And it’ll be interesting, actually, to see how that’s changing over time. So — but my interest, you know, really stemmed from this kind of love and accessibility to nature that I feel that it’s a duty to make sure that the coming generations have that access to nature, and at the same time, this connection to culture and identity. 

Jane Goodall  13:51   

So how did you get to take up the positions that you have managed to so nobly fill? 

Razan Al Mubarak  13:58   

I was lucky enough to have a passion and then to kind of follow that passion and in whatever form I was able to do. So the first form was get an education within the field of environment. So I did an undergrad in Environmental Science and International Relations, and a master’s in fisheries. And then, you know, following that passion, trying to really find employment in that sector. And then I was very lucky that, you know, during this time, the Emirates and particularly Abu Dhabi was establishing one of the largest environmental regulators in the region. So I had the opportunity to be employed there. And so, you know, I’ve always followed the mantra, “Love what you do and never work a day in your life,” and that’s what I continued to follow until today and hope that many people do the same. You know, we talk about unemployment, and that’s definitely a very critical issue, but addressing the issue of unemployment isn’t just about providing jobs, it’s also about providing a sense of purpose. And I think that’s critical when we, when we think about employment issues moving forward.  

Jane Goodall  15:13   

You can still help the environment and animals every single day, you don’t have to have a job in conservation to make a difference. 

Razan Al Mubarak  15:23   

Absolutely, we need to embrace that, you know, we can’t just embrace the scientists, we need to embrace the accountant, we need to embrace the person working in advertisement, communication, finance, and, through this multidisciplinary approach, be able to not just provide solutions or work on solutions, but also understand the problem from different disciplines. You know, Jane, I’ve always, always been fascinated and intrigued by the sweet spot that really comes together when you get the humanities and science coming coming together. Because I feel this is really where you get true innovation. And there’s many, there are many, many examples in history that demonstrate this. I mean, closer to home, in the golden age of the Islamic civilization in the eighth century, Baghdad, in Iraq today, was actually one of the largest cities in the world. And the ruler established this house of wisdom, where scholars from various parts of the world, but also, interestingly, from different disciplines, were mandated to work together. And this was this great consilience of knowledge. And it worked, you had incredible results. And it’s amazing, I mean, one of my favorite poets of all time, Omar Khayyam, who lived during the eighth century, actually, was the one credited with establishing some of the most important theory in geometry. You know, and that’s what I feel, is I feel that this multidisciplinary approach needs to be reignited, of course, not only in conservation, but across other sectors. And of course, you, Jane, are the embodiment of that. You know, you went in initially to study chimpanzees, not necessarily with a scientific hat on. And look what you’ve done. 

Jane Goodall  17:30   

Well, I know I wanted to be a naturalist and write books. That’s why Roots and Shoots is so great, because it does bring them in from everywhere, then they don’t have to be just little environmentalists, little conservationists, little animal lovers. We want people who love working with people and helping poverty. We want people who really do come from all these different disciplines. We encourage art, and we have plays, poetry, dance music. Especially in Africa, that’s really, really important. So bringing all of it, because that’s what makes us human, isn’t it? Our ability to see outside the box. And sadly, so much education today channels people into boxes, and it’s so tragic to me. 

Razan Al Mubarak  18:18   

Absolutely, completely agree with you. You know, the question that I have for you, I supposse is, “Where do you stand?” Are you an optimist? Are you a pessimist? Are you somewhere in the middle? 

Jane Goodall  18:30   

I think you know, I’m not a pessimist, or I wouldn’t be talking to you know, probably, age nearly 87. I’m definitely an optimist. You know, there are so many scientists who say we’ve reached the tipping point. And because of climate change and soaring temperatures, and, and all the changed weather patterns, and the melting ice, and the rising sea levels, and the terrible fires, and the floods, and the, and the droughts. You know, yes, that is true. But I still believe that we have a window of time. But, and this is a big, but in my optimism, we do need to get together — now. I mean, we can’t afford to wait. We’ve all got to do our bit to try and heal some of the harm that we’ve inflicted. And to please try and slow down climate change. 

Razan Al Mubarak  19:23   

Again, I want to quote one of my favorite authors, Elif Shafak, a Turkish author. She kind of says, “You need to have the pessimism of the mind and the optimism of the heart.” And the idea is that you can’t have blind optimism, that’s naive. You need the pessimism to make you act, and the heart and the will to make you succeed. 

Jane Goodall  19:59   

I always talk about, we only achieve our true human potential when head and heart work in harmony. And so you’ve spent a lot of time working with governments and probably business, as well. And so how do you approach them? How do you get this kind of philosophy into your dealings with them? And does it work? 

Razan Al Mubarak  20:20   

I think it’s work sometimes, I hope. But, you know, we talked about the importance of the provision of the facts. You know, you need to be able to provide, transparently and confidently, the facts. You also need to build on a narrative. And you need to have that credibility. And you can’t have that credibility if you’re only using, I think — and it is an approach that have that I truly believe in — that you’re only kind of taking a certain cadre of scientists. You need to speak to scientists. You need to speak to economists. You need to be able to speak to the local communities and indigenous communities that see on a day to day what is happening in their environment, and ultimately, are going to be the custodians of the solution. Of course, the government, committed government, because a political will is extremely important. We may have all the signs, but without the political will to act, and for a government to set direction for the private sector to act, we are really in a conundrum. So it’s really about bringing various actors in different sectors together. And that is challenging, because, in doing so, you’re going to have your narrative shot down. But that is when the greatest learning, I think, happens. When you’re open enough to speak to an economist, to a politician about your scientific findings, but work with them with respect to finding solutions. You know, we talk about community-based conservation work. And I think, really, that’s the essence, the essence that I work in today, is about empowering individuals. There are what, 7.8 billion people on a planet. And you’ve got 10 million species. So you think about if you have one individual out of ten that is empowered to protect a particular species, we have addressed the problem. So we need to empower the individual, we need to recreate this house of wisdom that brings, you know, scholars and activists and individuals from various sectors together, but also not forget about the youth who are inheriting the problems that unfortunately, we’ve put on them. But I have a question for you. This is something that’s been on my mind now for for again, you know, since I, since I started a career in environmental conservation — Why is biodiversity loss, in your opinion, you know, as important to address as climate change? 

Jane Goodall  23:08   

Well, I think, as you’ve said, we are part of the natural world. Not only are we a part of it, but we depend on it. We depend on it for everything. And too many people think they can live in bubbles. But actually, we can’t do that. Because we depend on the natural world. But we say we depend on the natural world for water for food, this, that, and the other. And also mental health, because we need nature. A healthy ecosystem is what we need. And as we get losing species after species after species, the ecosystem becomes damaged. And a damaged ecosystem is so vulnerable to climate change, and everything else. So it’s that biodiversity that keeps the particular ecosystem vibrant, an ecosystem we can depend on. We know that it’s going to give us clean water because of the trees. It’s going to increase the rainfall. And you know, the roots will will stabilize the soil, it will stop landslides, mudslides, and so on. But it’s got to have that biodiversity to keep it whole. 

Razan Al Mubarak  24:16   

What often frustrates me working in the field is, you know, many people think of biodiversity and climate change as the same issue or two sides of the same coin. But as we know, addressing one won’t necessarily mean you’re addressing the other because the drivers are different and the solutions are different. And we saw this very clearly during the pandemic, when the economic slowdown, particularly in aviation and transportation, reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by 8% in one year, which is the greatest percentage drop in 100 years. So this also shows you that, you know, if we want to make a difference, we can. So there is the possibility, and it happens fairly quickly. But on the other hand, you know, biodiversity loss continued, and, in fact, pressures increased. But over, you know, the last, I think, 20 years, the international attention has been very much focused on climate change. And while I very much subscribed that climate change is a true existential threat, so is biodiversity loss. And biodiversity loss as an issue should not be overshadowed by the issue of climate change. 

Jane Goodall  25:35   

It’s these things that are leading to climate change. And those same factors are also leading to biodiversity loss. The same kind of factors and our disrespect of nature causes both 

Razan Al Mubarak  25:50   

This planet’s foundation is, like you said in nature and biodiversity, and the more you chip away from it, the more you chip away from your lifeline, it’s important that we recognize and we raise the issue of biodiversity as an existential global priority in the same way that climate change has been raised over the past, I would say decade. 

Jane Goodall  26:15   

Well, I think the way to introduce that now, is that, yes, we need to control our greenhouse gas emissions. And the other two important things, which also protect biodiversity, we need to protect and restore of forests, because there’s so rich in biodiversity. And we need to clean up the ocean, because the ocean is the other great lung of the world, absorbing CO2 and giving out oxygen. And the ocean also is a hotbed of biodiversity. So it all fits nicely together. There’s enough people to be able to form meaningful groups to tackle all these different problems. 

Razan Al Mubarak  26:58   

You know, we need to kind of think about our relationship with with nature. I mean, you know, we’ve kind of all grown up with this mantra, you know, that sounds maybe potentially naive, which is, you know, “Think global, act local.” And at the same time, you know, when one acts local, you need to be able to contribute to a global vision. And perhaps one of the things that is missing from a nature perspective is a global vision on what a world can look like when you protect nature. Recently, the Convention of Biodiversity published a progress report on how we’re doing from a nature protection perspective. And, you know, the goal is that as a, as a globe, we’ve — or as countries — we’ve adopted in 2010 to be met by 2020. And unfortunately, none of those goals have been achieved. The question that is begging to be answered is, “Why?” Why has this not happened? And we need to, as a community, be open to to that criticism to understand why we were not able to achieve our goals, and to really look within the conservation community to to understand some of our shortfalls. But at the same time, one also needs to recognize and understand that, you know, no country can do it on its own. We know that animals know no boundaries, we know that to actually protect them, you need living corridors across boundaries. And this cannot happen in a singular world where a country can act completely on its own. You need multilateral institutions to be able to put that framework, but we need to think about what that framework is, and is it fit for, for purpose. The other thing and we talked about it, really, at the beginning of our talk, Jane, is this idea that also, as a conservation community, we can’t act alone. We need to be able to engage with — on a global perspective — with other global multilateral institutions, such as you know, the WHOO, for example, such as the World Trade Organization. We need to be able to speak to the non-converted, and to be, like I said, open to building bridges. And if you’re open to building bridges, you need to also be open for criticism. And we need to have that courage to do so. 

Jane Goodall  29:33   

We can’t have unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources. And yet, big business and governments in some instances, don’t want to admit that. And so they went out, because they’re powerful, and they have money, and there’s corruption everywhere. This is what we’re up against. We’re up against people who honestly don’t care. So how do we change them? One way: through their children. 

Razan Al Mubarak  30:03   

I was going to say that. I think youth and empowering youth is a critical part of this puzzle. But going back to this community that was trying to protect, for example, the the forest and they, they’re going against such a big corporation, you know — who has their back? They can’t do it on their own. And that’s when we go back to this global network. And that’s when we go back to a genuine, multilateral institution that can have their back, which unfortunately, today, we don’t have. We need, you know, we have it in the form of institutions like, you know, the United Nations Environmental Program, the IUCN. We need to strengthen those institutions and give them the teeth that they require. And I think with that, we have the science, we have the local actors, but we really need to sharpen the teeth. 

Jane Goodall  30:59   

Yes, and you know, when I think around to some countries today, and the government and the Presidents or whoever is governing the country, you know, and I think, “How on earth would you get this country or that country to join in this global gathering of people who want to protect the future for our children?” It’s not easy, because you get these arrogant so-and-so’s who really are in it for their own wealth. And, and they have so much power. As you know, very well, so often, individuals in government positions are supported by big business, because of this corruption or boys’ network. You have to break that too. It’s a huge job. So we do need to empower this critical mass of young people who are out there wanting to do this. 

Razan Al Mubarak  31:53   

Exactly, including industry. There are examples that have worked, and we need to learn from those. And you know, they may not be perfect, but for example, all the countries coming together to agree on a target for climate change, from my perspective, is a great success. And so we need to be able to emulate that and establish a pact, a global pact for nature conservation. Otherwise, we would have only, you know, succeeded in closing half the deal — so addressing the issue of climate change. But if we only succeed in closing half the deal, we’ll have a world where potentially the climate has stayed stabilized, but it would be completely devoid of life, which we don’t want. And we won’t be able to survive on it. 

Jane Goodall  32:41   

I don’t think the climate can stabilize if we destroy biodiversity. 

Razan Al Mubarak  32:46   

Well, maybe perhaps we can reduce the emissions, you know, but lose the planet itself. This is the greatest challenge but the greatest opportunity. 

Jane Goodall  32:57   

Well, Razan, for me, this has been a very insightful, meaningful and wonderful conversation. And I always enjoy talking with you. And so I really want to thank you for joining me in this Hopecast. And please give my love to your family. And I hope that we can talk together again soon. 

Razan Al Mubarak  33:20   

Absolutely. It’s been such an honor and privilege as always, so thank you. 

Jane Goodall  33:38   

FROM THE ARCHIVES: For me, for us have always been the most special places on the planet. And how lucky I was because I went out to Gombe National Park in Tanzania in 1960. spending hours and hours days alone in a rain forest, understanding the interconnection of all living things, how each little species no matter how small it seems, has a role to play in this magical tapestry of life. And if one species disappears, it may be a small, seemingly insignificant plant or insect, but maybe it was the main food source of another kind of creature. And sometimes this can lead to total ecosystem collapse. You know, we need these forests they absorb carbon dioxide, they breathe out oxygen. They one of the great lungs of the world, the other being the ocean. 

Feeal hopeful and inspired to act with the Jane Goodall Hopecast by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and anywhere podcasts are found. I’m your host, Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute. Our production partner is FRQNCY Media. Michelle Khouri is our executive producer Enna Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest-Filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelssohn, with additional violin tracks from Angie Shear. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest-Filler.


The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.

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About Author

Scientist. Activist. Storyteller. Icon. Jane Goodall blazed the trail and changed the world. Now, she's studying new subjects – humans! This brand-new podcast will take listeners on a one-of-a-kind journey as they learn from Dr. Goodall's extraordinary life, hear from changemaking guests from every arena, and become awed by a growing movement sparked by Jane and fueled by hope. Join us as we get curious, grow compassion, and take action to build a better world for all. As we face some of the greatest challenges to humankind and the natural world, we have a unique opportunity: the power of technology to connect and share ideas. Now is the time to galvanize people around Jane’s message of hope in action and bring big thinkers together to change hearts and minds alike. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute by Dan DuPont, Shawn Sweeney, and Ashley Sullivan. Our production partner is FRQNCY Media. Michelle Khouri is our executive producer, Enna Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest Filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelson with additional violin tracks from Angie Shyr. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest Filler.