By Reinier Paul Santiago
This past summer, four UH students traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, for the 19th Biennial International Association for the Study of the Commons conference. With our mentor, Dr. Mehana Vaughan of the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, we relished the rare opportunity to share community-rooted research with an international audience.
The four of us – Michelle Harangody (Geography), Paul Santiago (NREM), Kaiqing Su (Political Science), and Kapono Gaughen (NREM) – participated in a panel discussing “Collaborative Care in Commons Governance.” Michelle showcased the Kauaʻi community’s recovery post-2018 floods. Kapono addressed coastal management utilizing social ecological indicators. Meanwhile, Kaiqing and I shared insights from research mapping the many groups caring for lands and waters in Hawai’i, along with interviews and stories of groups who hosted NREM grad student volunteers. Guided by Dr. Vaughan, we had the honor of opening the panel with the CTAHR ʻoli.
Other panelists covered work on co-management of Native American ancestral lands in California, revival of traditional small-grain cultivation in Japan, and fisherwomens’ influence on Madagascar’s ocean conservation. Included in the panel lineup was research featured on Ecology and Society’s special issue, “Collaborative Management, Environmental Caretaking, and Sustainable Livelihoods.”
“Though continents away, many issues discussed about Nairobi, Kenya, and Africa echoed with ones in Hawaiʻi,” Kaiqing reflected on the experience. “It’s been super humbling to see these connections and learn from Global South scholars to reflect on the value of transnational and international scholarship while committing to place-based contexts.”
Michelle added, “The conference provided space to share experiences, build relationships, and have candid discussions about historical legacies in conservation. It was a great example of creating community through research.”
The University of Nairobi hosted the IASC conference June 19-24, sparking interdisciplinary exchange among 75+ countries. In this global platform, the four of us were immersed in local conservation efforts through field visits arranged by the conference. Returning home, we brought back fresh insights and newfound connections. Our work addressing disaster recovery, coastal management, and community-led initiatives offered insights for resilient communities to an international audience. Our journey, at its core, encompassed more than just meeting new people or traversing new spaces; it became a pathway for shared growth, understanding, and learning with a global community.