Ole von Uexkull, executive director of Right Livelihood

Ole von Uexkull, executive director of Right Livelihood, one of the organizers of the seminar “Caring for the Earth, Transforming Lives: Linking Faith & Natural Regeneration” in the Ecumenical centre in Geneva on 12 May 2023.


Ole von Uexkull, executive director of Right Livelihood, based in Geneva, spoke at the 15 April meeting titled Caring for the Earth, Transforming Lives: Linking Faith & Natural Regeneration.”

He said his organization wants to work with change-makers like the WCC.

"What will it take to create a global movement to re-green the earth?" said von Uexkull, addressing the participants towards the end of the meeting.

A notable speaker at the event was Australian agronomist Tony Rinaudo, a recipient of the 2018 Right Livelihood award who worked with people in Niger to develop a technique called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, or FMNR.

Working with laureates

"Right Livelihood wants to be more than just an award in that we continue to work with the amazing change-makers we have honoured through the award," said von Uexkull.

"We continue to connect with them. Globally, we continue to spread their work. And that is why we're very happy about this collaboration with the World Council of Churches and the other co-organizers, which make up a massive global network," he said in an interview with the WCC.

Right Livelihood has presented 190 awards, and it currently has about 140 laureates who are active today.

"We support them in different ways. Some we support in little ways, especially when their life or liberty is at risk because of their work," explained von Uexkull.

The Right Livelihood head, whose uncle was the organization's founder, said that the FMNR movement or the movement of natural re-greening methods, is growing fast because it's more than just farmer-managed.

He said, for instance, it can also be managed by pastoral communities, where the potential for re-greening is huge, and the session had learned from the presentation of Denis Garrity of the  Global EverGreening Alliance that millions of hectares in both pasture land, agriculture, and degraded forests can be re-greened in this way.

"And the remarkable thing about this approach is that it's not an outside technical intervention, mainly, it's not even a tree-planting exercise, it's more a social innovation that comes down to changing attitudes so that people work with nature, instead of against nature," said von Uexkull.

"And because it's, in its essence, a social innovation, it has this potential to turn into a movement."

That had been witnessed more than once in Niger in the 1980s and 1990s.

"And we hope this conference will contribute to turning it into a global movement.”

Bringing people together

Right Livelihood supports the movement also because it brings people together with a belief in a greater good.

"And that is what this network does, globally," von Uexkull noted. "And to enlarge that now and through cooperation with the World Council of Churches -- it's really cool. And we were happy with that because of our position here in Geneva; because we're neighbours here, we could contribute a little bit."

One mission of Right Livelihood is to work against "material and spiritual poverty.”

"We believe that there is more to human prosperity than material assets. Actually, people with many material assets can be spiritually or culturally poor," observed von Uexkull.

He noted that in Sweden, Right Livelihood had worked with one of the WCCs member churches, the Church of Sweden.

"And what we've always had in common with them is a broad outlook on the transformation of society along a range of different topics.

"What connects us with faith-based actors is that we act on a strong values base, and we don't prescribe to the people we work with. We don't prescribe our theory of change in substance. We don't say the change has to come exactly in this way or from exactly those fields, but rather, an attitude that we believe—that societies can be organized based on the good that we all have in us as human beings."

Environmental care driven by faith is core to Tony Rinaudo for Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (WCC feature story, 15 May 2023)

What will it take to re-green our earth? Daylong seminar sparks ideas and inspiration to act (WCC news release, 15 May 2023)

Photo gallery of the seminar "Caring for the Earth, Transforming Lives: Linking Faith & Natural Regeneration"