This profile was prepared when Wolimata Thiaw was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Wolimata is breaking the practice and assumption that preserving the environment is something for outside government agencies to worry about, and instead, bringing in local communities to take the lead. She started with her very own Popenguine community by targeting women, among whom she found a greater propensity for considering and planning for the future. She organized them into a volunteer organization and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between them and the Ministry of Environment—the very first of its kind in the country. With technical training provided by the government, and the women’s group serving as the first converts, Wolimata set out to demonstrate that taking care of the full spectrum of the environment—from the trees to the water to the animals—can have direct benefits for broader, more visible community needs, like income, health and education. In this way, Wolimata has won over the rest of the community, who now also participate in restoring the environment, and perhaps more importantly, in the process, a more holistic relationship with the natural habitat—not separated from the rest of life and general well being—is embedded within the community, including, very crucially, within a younger generation.