World-famous primatologist and anthropologist Dr Jane Goodall first rose to international renown for her study of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. Today, Goodall is recognized as the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, notable not only for her pioneering research, but also her trailblazing accomplishments in the traditionally male-dominated field of primatology. For nearly four decades, Goodall has focused her efforts on education and advocacy, promoting conservation and animal welfare issues in over 60 countries. AmCham China sat down with Goodall as she reflected on her work, philosophy of change, and two decades of engagement in China.
Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute/Hugo van Lawick
Few scientists have attracted the same level of global attention and fame the way Jane Goodall has since she began her headline-making research in Gombe in the 1960s. Perhaps most notably, Goodall’s discoveries upended long-held beliefs that humans were the only animals that utilized tools and the only beings capable of rational thought and emotion. Her work challenged the very notion of what it means to be “human.” Goodall’s work did not end with her research – her legacy will be equally marked by the global initiatives she has founded to promote her vision of conservation and animal welfare.
In 1977, Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to support community-centered conservation and development programs in Africa. The Institute’s innovative programs adopted a holistic approach to address the basic livelihood, health, and social needs of communities to equip them to protect their surrounding natural resources and wildlife. Today, there are 30 Jane Goodall Institutes across the world, along with the global JGI that facilitates coordination and provides support for satellite programs.
JGIs engage in holistic projects that see community empowerment and poverty alleviation at the center of conservation efforts. Goodall explains that through much of JGI’s work in Africa, “we’re working to alleviate poverty to save the environment, because, understandably, if you’re living in poverty in a rural area, you’d be willing to cut down the last trees to access fertile land to grow food or provide for your family. If you’re poor in an urban area, you’re going to buy the cheapest food; you can’t afford to ask where it came from or whether its production harmed the environment or involved cruelty to animals.”
Photo courtesy of Roots & Shoots Beijing
Typical JGI approaches include sustainable livelihood programs for communities living near chimpanzee habitats, women’s health and empowerment programs, public awareness and education programs, advocacy around legal and policy reforms, and “Roots & Shoots” (R&S) youth leadership programs, among others. One of the most far-reaching initiatives, the Roots & Shoots program boasts a presence in nearly 60 countries, with over 700, individual, mostly school-based, R&S groups. R&S aims to nurture new generations of youth who are informed, inspired, and supported to take action on the environment and animal welfare; thousands of projects have been implemented by local R&S chapters.
Internationally, Goodall’s advocacy efforts have been integral to important reforms, particularly around the ethical treatment of animals, including in the context of medical research and farming, and the classification of endangered species. She has written over two dozen books, has been the subject of more than 40 films, and has received numerous awards, including the 2021 Templeton Prize.
Currently, Goodall and her team are working hard to ensure that this work continues long into the future, once Goodall is no longer traveling the globe to fundraise to support JGI initiatives (Goodall’s speaker engagements currently bring in considerable revenue to support global programs). To this end, Goodall has established the Jane Goodall Legacy Foundation (JGLF), which is currently being launched and will seek to build an endowment that will help sustain global JGI programming.
Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute
Commitment to China
China has long been a priority for Goodall, given its size, rapid development, and need for natural resources. Several years after launching Roots & Shoots, she had the opportunity to visit China, where a friend was co-founder of the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB). This visit and meetings with a handful of other schools marked the beginning of Roots & Shoots China. What began in 1994 as a small number of R&S groups convened in international schools is now a network of 830 groups with 28,000 members in Chinese universities, primary, and secondary schools across the country. Over the last three decades, over two million Chinese youth have been reached.
Lei Qian, Executive Director for R&S Beijing, explains that R&S’s work is focused on the three pillars of environment, animals, and community. R&S Beijing, which has six full-time and three part-time staff, is currently running a Youth Empowerment Program and an Endangered Primate Guardian Program. These include a Compassionate Leadership Development Project (CLDP) and an Ecological Volunteer Teaching Project (EVTP). The CLDP seeks to cultivate 3-5 future environmental leaders every year through training, field study, and long-term support.
These individuals, R&S believes, will be the educators and changemakers of the future, applying their knowledge and skills to projects and careers dedicated to conservation and animal welfare issues. The EVTP’s goal is to provide environmental education to primary and secondary schools in reserves and remote areas, helping to foster a mindset of respect for the environment and to instill a sense of hope and agency that inspires youth to take action to protect the environment and its inhabitants. The Endangered Primate Guardian program aims specifically to protect endangered primates in China through cooperating with reserves, and environmental education.
Photo courtesy of Roots & Shoots Beijing
Despite the vast amount of work being undertaken by JGI and Goodall across the globe, Goodall follows the situation in China closely, stays abreast of important issues, and actively supports R&S offices in China. As AmCham China’s interview with her commenced, she paused to first inquire about any updates on the plight of the endangered Moon Bear in China (also known as the Asiatic Black Bear, a species with a history of being hunted and farmed for Traditional Chinese Medicine) and on the recent crackdown on wildlife trafficking implemented in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Goodall visited China biannually to visit schools, meet with R&S groups, give speeches, and meet with relevant government officials. Since the pandemic, she has attended virtual China-focused events, which have had the benefit of reaching a broader, more geographically diverse audience.
When asked about the impact of JGI’s work in China, Goodall points to widespread attitudinal change toward environmental issues and animal welfare. While she acknowledges it’s difficult to know how much of this shift can be attributed to the efforts of JGI and R&S, she shares anecdotes that represent the contributing influence of their work over three decades. “What’s encouraging to me,” she notes, “is the last couple of visits I made to China, people who came up to me – people in quite high positions – saying of course they care about the environment and understand the issues impacting animals, because they were in Roots & Shoots programs in primary school. So, I just have a feeling that at least we helped a little bit to change some attitudes.”
Qian echoed this optimism, sharing that “some former members of R&S have become the leaders of environmental organizations and continue to contribute to the environment and society. For us, our influence does not come from the size of our organization, but from how many young people have been encouraged by us. Just like Dr Jane says, young people are like seeds that can break through barriers and grow up to become large trees.” Qian recounted her experience seeing Goodall speak for the first time in 2019: “I can still remember her slow, but firm voice, grey hair, and warm smile. At the end of the event, Jane encouraged the audience to raise their fists and yell ‘Together we can, together we will!’ It was so inspiring that everyone stood up, and the applause went on and on. I was deeply touched, and that’s why I chose to be part of R&S, standing with Jane, and doing my best to support young people and influence others.”
Photo courtesy of Rajah Bose/Gonzaga University
Strategies for Engagement
Goodall recently told an interviewer with The New York Times that she would like to have the opportunity to speak with President Xi Jinping. When asked what she would say to him, her response was that she would congratulate him for banning the sale of ivory and shark fin, the closing of wildlife markets after the emergence of COVID-19, and for China granting the endangered pangolins the highest level of protection under the law. She said she would also encourage China, given their leadership in developing new technologies, to take the lead on building technologies that eliminate the need to conduct testing on animals, for example using new AI and organ-on-a-chip technologies, just as China is taking a leading role in the field of alternative energy.
Goodall further explained that “it’s not productive to single China out. It’s important to understand that China is a large country with great development needs. They are behaving as many other developed countries have before them. They start using up their own natural resources, before realizing that this is harmful to the future. While they begin working to protect the environment, they realize they still need materials. So, they look for them in other places. That’s what British colonialism and European colonialism was. It’s not just China. We need to approach China with that history and those profound resource needs in mind.”
Photo courtesy of Roots & Shoots Beijing
Goodall is a firm believer that change cannot be achieved through confrontation and aggression. Rather, change is achieved by reaching hearts and minds, whether they be part of a government, corporation, or other entity. For Goodall, it’s most important to sit down and talk with people to identify areas of common ground. She relayed the story of the first time she engaged a corporation. “It was the oil and gas company, ConocoPhillips. I got a lot of flack from environmentalists, but I thought to myself that we all use and give money to these corporations to support our lifestyles; in many ways, their services are essential, and I felt that Conoco was at least attempting to be more responsible and environmentally sensitive. If they were willing to support our work – in this case, supporting the building of a sanctuary – then I was willing to work on their environmental protection projects. It seemed like a win-win and that’s been my approach ever since.”
Sharing another instance of effective engagement, Goodall said “it’s important to understand that most people are not acting maliciously, rather, they just don’t have all of the information; they don’t understand what they are doing.” Goodall shared her experience speaking with the directors of the National Institute of Health, where she expressed concerns about the treatment of lab animals. She told the group that if they understood more about chimpanzees, they would undoubtedly share her compassion and anger on behalf of the animals. She shared her firsthand experiences with the chimps, explaining how they like to lounge in the sun, grooming each other, how mothers play with infants, and their visible expressions of emotions like grief and sadness. “This is how you effect change,” she said. “If you refuse to sit down and speak with those with whom you disagree, how do you expect change?”
Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute/Shawn Sweeny
Where Do We Go From Here?
It’s peculiar, Goodall observes, that the smartest creature on earth is acting so foolishly as to destroy the one planet it has. She notes that the pandemic has highlighted the devastating effects and profound suffering that can result from humans’ collective disrespect for the environment and animals. “We have experienced first-hand what happens when we penetrate animal habitats, push animals into closer contact with people, and traffic and sell them in wildlife markets. We now better understand the increased risk of exposure to new pathogens, like the virus that caused COVID-19. This global experience has clearly illustrated that we need a new relationship with the natural world.
While Goodall tasks all of us to work towards this goal, she acknowledges corporations have a large role to play, advising them to keep innovating to endeavor to lighten their ecological footprint. She encourages organizations to take a comprehensive approach to the issue, from providing transparency on the sourcing of product materials, to greening supply chains, and compensating employees with equitable wages to lift them out of poverty. Additionally, support organizations, like JGI and others, that are tirelessly working to promote environmental protection and animal welfare. JGI’s Roots & Shoots program, with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, can design CSR projects for private sector partners and already works in cooperation with a number of corporations in China.
Most importantly, Goodall says, stay hopeful. Hopelessness, she has said, leads to complacency and inaction and that’s not an option. For Goodall, her hope comes from the youth she interacts with daily – from kindergartners to university students – who are inspired to act to help their communities and the planet. Her hope comes from “the amazing human brain and the potential for innovation” in the areas of renewable energy and in AI technologies that eliminate the need to conduct testing on animals, among many other areas. There is also tremendous hope, she says, in the resilience of nature, with China being home to many examples of this, as habitats and ecosystems that had been devastated have since been restored and rejuvenated by dedicated communities. Finally, she concludes, “there is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle what seems impossible, won’t give up, and so often succeed – and I meet them everywhere.”
Photo courtesy of Roots & Shoots Beijing
This article is from the AmCham China Quarterly Magazine. To access the entire publication for free, sign up on our member portal here.