Community organization and well-being, biocultural conservation, and responsible development are the goals of OnePlanet, a nonprofit that partners with indigenous and traditional communities to build a more sustainable world. An Associate Professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University, Mike Gilmore is also the president and founder of OnePlanet. He shares his thoughts on the organization’s community-driven activities, including a stingless beekeeping project [link to article] in the Peruvian Amazon supported by Grand Circle Foundation.
Foundation: What is OnePlanet, and what is its mission?
Michael: To boil it down, OnePlanet partners with indigenous and traditional communities to build a more sustainable, empowered, and just future. So, it’s not only about sustainability and conservation, but also empowerment, environmental justice, and social justice. We accomplish our mission and our objectives through community-based work and partnerships with local communities. We think that partnering with local communities and working with them as equals is the most empowering way to do the kind of work that we do.
Foundation: OnePlanet’s activities are focused on four Maijuna indigenous communities in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon. How did you become involved with this particular population?
Michael: I’ve been working with the Maijuna for the past 20 years. I started that work for my dissertation research project for my Ph.D. and continued it on through my academic work. I then went on to create OnePlanet to do more community-based, community-driven work focused on conservation, sustainability, empowerment, and environmental justice.
Foundation: What in your background drew you to that line of work?
Michael: When I was an undergraduate, I studied biology. But I was also really fascinated by people and anthropology, and I felt that was a missing piece in my biological sciences education. After I finished my undergrad, I traveled through Southeast Asia for quite a while and was fortunate to stay in a variety of indigenous communities, especially in Indonesia. I really got fascinated by the interconnection between culture and the environment, and how those things are inextricably linked—what we academics call biocultural diversity.
Foundation: How does Grand Circle Foundation support your work?
Michael: The support of Grand Circle Foundation over the past couple of years has really been critically important for the success of the stingless beekeeping project with the Maijuna, because it’s allowed us to expand the project outward. We started the project with a pilot community, because we wanted to show proof of concept before we expanded it out. Over a two-year period, before GCF got involved, we had really good success with the pilot project, and the Maijuna bought into it, but we were struggling to find additional resources that would allow us to expand to the other communities. GCF support really allowed that to happen. I’m incredibly indebted and thankful to GCF for believing in us, believing in the Maijuna, and believing in the project.
Foundation: What is your vision for the future of OnePlanet?
Michael: My vision for the future of the organization is to continue to support the Maijuna in the most empowering way possible. My role is really listening to their needs, better understanding their vision, and helping them to achieve that vision. I think that, if we follow that guiding light, we’ll continue to achieve high-quality results.
Foundation: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Michael: I love being outdoors and spending time with my wife and four-year-old daughter. I try to get her outdoors as much as possible. I think some of the ills in our society are because people are so disconnected from their surroundings and the environment, so I strive to spend as much time outdoors as possible.
Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate, for sure.
Reading a book or seeing a movie?
Reading a book—I don’t watch movies.
Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?
Going for a hike any day—although I’m up for a good fire, too!
Talking or listening?
A little bit of both, though, with the work that I do, I’d have to say listening—listening to the Maijuna and what their needs and their desire and their vision are.
Dogs or cats?
Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?
Being interviewed—I certainly don’t want to have a tooth pulled!