Imaging for good

Sustainability through a cultural lens

Stuart Poore
Stuart Poore

Director of Sustainability & Government Affairs

As someone working for a digital imaging company, I’m familiar with the importance of thinking about the type of lens being used to capture a story. But Canon’s Young People Programme (YPP), which has been running for four years now, has given me an entirely new perspective on the role of lenses when viewing the challenge of social and environmental change.

The YPP is designed to give young people across Europe, the Middle East and Africa the skills and equipment to tell visual stories about issues that matter to their future. We use the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a frame of reference and to help guide participants towards the social and environmental issues that matter most to them. The interesting angle here is that we don’t steer them towards any particular goal; instead they decide for themselves which direction to go.

The results, which I presented recently at the Caring in Business Conference in Dublin, are fascinating and have forced me to challenge the way I look at the Goals. Way too much of my time is spent working in a corporate environment engaging with ‘professional stakeholders’ who tend to naturally gravitate towards a particular view of Sustainability. The visual stories told by the young people attending our YPP workshops present an altogether different view of the agenda and one interestingly determined by cultural circumstance.

Kgaugelo Neville Ngomane takes part in the YPP South Africa to highlight the importance of conservation
CIWEM Young Photographer of the Year 2019 award winner Kgaugelo Neville Ngomane during YPP South Africa.

In Lebanon, for example, young people living in a refugee camp were most concerned about issues associated with boredom and lacking a sense of purpose. In South Africa, participants went in a very different direction in confronting the issue of endangered wildlife in Kruger National Park and the importance of seeing species as things to be preserved not exploited. Elsewhere in Belgium, the focus was on girls feeling safe in the city. Their work proved so powerful that the regional parliament passed a resolution dedicated to tackling the problem.

Two men captured by a participant in YPP Lebanon
Work produced by young refugees in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp during YPP Lebanon

Giving participants space and support to express their take on the Goals has been a crucial factor in the YPP. Our workshops allow the young people to slow down, take stock of their surroundings and form an opinion, and a voice, on the things in their society which bother them. The visual stories that have emerged offer a distinctive reflection of generational and cultural differences which is not always easy to anticipate. The really encouraging feature of this is that the solutions the young people determine are culturally relevant and, therefore, based on ideas that they can identify with and commit to.

Whilst the UN Goals provide a clear and useful framework for the Sustainability practitioner, they are interpreted differently by young people, who are the next generation to be affected by these issues. Seeing the Goals through their eyes lends a fresh and relevant perspective that we cannot ignore and may take us closer to achieving the Goals.

I’m looking forward to sharing more details on the diverse and inspiring outputs coming from our YPP and in hearing from organisations who share a similar goal to ours.