[#FutureGenerations series] Julia Bodin: radical changes through dialogues

Anh NGUYEN

Future Generations is a series of interviews in which we invite individuals in different fields to talk about their visions of the world we will leave for our future generations. We discuss the biggest challenges faced by future generations, their hopes, and why not, a little piece of advice. 

These individuals are chosen among our network of colleagues and friends, who are experts and specialists in their field. 

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Julia Bodin is the founder of Let’s Talk Waste, a series of workshops and team experiences for companies to raise awareness and find solutions to stop plastic pollution at the source of consumption and conception habits. She is also a co-founder of Future of Waste, a project that creates the right conditions to foster dialogue, connection, and collaboration between decision-makers who have a role in the transition towards a regenerative economy in a region. 

We have been staying in touch for a while with Julia, sharing our analysis and convictions around our common focused topics: waste and how to eliminate waste at the source of the design, production, and consumption phases. Conversations with Julia are always full of positivity and hope. Thus, we decided to invite her to the Future Generations series so that she could tell us more about her wonderful insights: the first step to tackling any complex and systemic issues such as sustainability is “deeply human”. 

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Anh (A): What do you think are the biggest challenges for future generations?

Julia (J): I think one of the biggest challenges for us, and for the future generations, would be to define a new way to be connected to one another and to nature. Most of our current issues – ranging from immigration, gender equality, waste, and how to move towards a more circular economy – come from the fact that we are not collaborating enough. There are not enough discussions, dialogues, and conversations to understand and be understood so that together we can find out solutions that make sense for all involved people.

The question is how can our generations start the work? We could learn from nature and natural ecosystems. They are the perfect example of interconnectedness, in which everything is interlinked, and everyone has a role to play. All species rely on each other in order to thrive and survive. 

Learning about this natural interconnectedness, and trying to duplicate it in our human societies – so that collaboration instead of competition, roundedness instead of fragmentation becomes the new normal – would be the first step towards a better and more stable future. 

(A): What are the conditions that can favour this vision of the future? What are the groundworks that we could prepare for future generations? 

(J): Again, we need to have more dialogues and above all, nurture open-mindedness and open-heartedness. I have an example to illustrate this: a several-month process on obesity and malnutrition including dialogues between members of a school community, members of the favelas, and decision-makers at Coca-Cola and Pepsi, yielded an unlikely result. The idea was to discuss how products with a high level of sugar could lead to obesity and malnutrition problems in young children in the community, hence affecting the life-long health of these children in the future. Through conversations, not confrontations, a decision was made by the big corporation to against business as usual and to stop providing sugar drinks in the schools of the region. 

The dialogues, I believe, helped the decision-makers to reconnect to their humanity, by asking them the right questions: what are the things that they would be proud to leave behind and to be a part of? What is the legacy they would leave on Earth: raising a generation of children that are obese and at the same time malnourished, or bringing up healthy and intelligent children for the future?

Another dialogue that I can tell happened in Switzerland, between an activist for animal rights, who advocate the banning of industrial animal farming in Switzerland, and a person who runs a slaughterhouse. Through conversations, they became friends with lots of respect for each other, despite their many differences. The slaughterhouse owner also questioned the legacy he would leave behind, and shared that he also wanted things to change. As a starting point, he let the activist’s team use his facilities to advocate for animal rights. 

(A) Wonderful stories to illustrate the power of such a simple action as talking to each other. This gives me much hope for my own work. And you, what would you hope for the future generations?

(J) What I really hope for them is to keep an open mind, to meet people without judgment. I also hope that we – the parents, the people who come before – find the strength to continue to educate our children to keep an open mind and to have no judgment towards any group of people. This is an enormous responsibility, but also enormous power to shape the minds of future generations. 

(A) Besides parents, what is the role of schools in shaping future minds? 

(J) We tend to rely a lot on the educational system, but they can only do the supporting work. I think parents have a key role here. Indeed, our schools can also support by teaching more important things than the typical school topics, such as empathy and emotions. Even though math, reading, history, and so on are important, what is the point if we don’t have human beings who can behave correctly, righteously and lovingly? 

Nordic countries are definitely on the right track on this. For example in Finland, young students spend much less time doing math and science, but play more outdoors, and have more moments for creativity through drawing and knitting. Meanwhile, in France or Switzerland where we live, students are still having very long and often stressful days at school, learning science and literature, etc. slowly forgetting how to be creative and connected to their emotions. In addition to that, it has been proved that Finnish students still can score better on math tests than those in France and Switzerland. 

Basic school subjects are important, but in order to raise healthy and loving children, we definitely can shift our schools towards more physical activities, or ones that require empathy and collaboration

Julia in a workshop of Let’s Talk Waste (Photo source: Let’s Talk Waste)

(A) Indeed. And the benefits of that, as you said, are to bring up human beings who can behave righteously and lovingly. Can you tell us a bit about your work? 

(J) Sure! Regarding Let’s Talk Waste, we create awareness and increase commitment towards sustainability through gamification and dialogue. In the end, we hope that participants gain a better understanding of how important a role they can play as consumers, instead of just relying on industries and policymakers. Because we, as individuals, do have the power to influence change too. And every change starts with us.

Meanwhile, for Future of waste, we create spaces for interconnectedness, in which stakeholders in the regenerative economy transition can come together to have a series of meaningful dialogues to understand each other’s point of view and posture as well as collectively identify the root cause of our failure to move toward a better future for the generations to come.

These touchpoints, seemingly simple at first, will spark curiosity and appreciation from all parties involved, leading to a more fruitful transition and transformation in the region. We do not have successes to share yet, but we are creating our first prototype initiative in Arbon in the canton of Thurgau, Switzerland. We know that deep down something new is needed to address the current challenges, and we are convinced that our approach can make a difference.

(A) Thank you so much Julia for your sharing. It’s been wonderful talking to you. Good luck with your projects and talk to you soon! 

(J) Thank you! 

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