We’re excited to welcome the inaugural cohort of Open Doors Travel Grant recipients to the 10th World Conference on Ecological Restoration. In May of this year, over 100 individuals applied for the new Open Doors Travel Grant, a program of SER’s Membership for All Initiative. From these applications, the Society for Ecological Restoration’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee had the challenging task of selecting exceptional individuals to receive funding for attending SER2023.

Who are the SER2023 Travel Grant Recipients

Please help us welcome the following 22 outstanding grant recipients from 16 countries, who will be joining us in Darwin, Australia!

Photos go left to right and top to bottom: Anna Calle (Ecuador), Zanxu Chen (China), Noah Chongo (Zambia), Gustavo Gatti (Brazil), Indrani Hazel Govender (South Africa), Abdalla Kiteo Kisiwa (Kenya), Florence Mazwi Murungweni (Zimbabwe), Nur Mujid Abdullah (Indonesia), Bheka Nxele (South Africa), Kripal Singh (India), Yitbarek Tibebe Weldesemaet (Ethiopia), Selene Torres (Colombia), Natalia Uribe-Castañeda (Colombia), Simone Vongkhamho (Laos), Jagruti Yatinbhai Rathod (India), and Guy Herman Zanguim Tchoutezou (Cameroon). 

Not photographed: Yoba Alenga Extasié (Democratic Republic of Congo), Daginnas Batsukh (Mongolia), Shivona Bhojwani (India), Colan Grant Balkwill (South Africa), Bryan Kyalo (Kenya), Djibril Sidzabda Dayamba (Burkina Faso).

These inspiring SER members will have the opportunity to present their work and network in-person with 1,000 delegates representing every continent and various professional backgrounds and industries, including the natural and social sciences, environmental engineering, urban and regional planning, public policy, landscape architecture, natural resource management, and more.

Here is some of what the 2023 cohort is looking forward to about SER2023. Anna Calle, Junior Researcher for the Galápagos Verde 2050 Program coming from Ecuador, says “Besides the Galápagos, my other favorite place on Earth is the Amazon. Having participated in conservation projects in the Amazon with indigenous nationalities like the Kichwa, Shuar, Siekopai, and Cofán, I have developed a deep respect for their dedication to preserving their ancestral lands and biodiversity. I am excited to learn from the experiences of Australian indigenous communities and gain valuable insights that can be applied to restoration efforts in the Amazon.”

Kripal Singh, a Plant and Soil Ecologist from India, says “At SER2023, we’re hosting a special workshop on “World reference ecosystems: the Blue List of Ecosystems.” I’ll be discussing the significance of incorporating reference ecosystems in restoration governance. I’m eager to attend SER, learn from the conference, participate in hands-on restoration at McMinns Lagoon Reserve, and meet fellow restoration ecologists. I’m especially excited to hear from exceptional restoration ecology researchers, real practitioners, and possibly engage with policymakers, stakeholders.”

Anna Calle (left) and Kripal Singh (right) in the field

We also asked how this opportunity will make a difference in the short and long term for their research and career. Bheka Nxele, a PhD Candidate at Stellenbosch University, coming from South Africa told us “Had it not been for this Open Doors Travel Grant, I would not have been able to attend this World Symposium. The Grant literally opened doors for me! It provided me an opportunity to share my passion on restoring life, for that is exactly what ecosystem restoration is, at least to me.” 

Natalia Uribe-Castañeda, Ph.D. candidate in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida coming from Colombia told us “The distinct interdisciplinary framework of SER2023, which synergizes natural and social sciences, deeply resonates with my Ph.D. and professional goals. This year’s conference theme, “Nature and People as One: Celebrating and Restoring Connection,” is particularly resonant, mirroring the core tenets of my research and professional aspirations. In the long term, my aim is to cultivate collaborative relationships and extensive networks through my active participation.”

Bheka Nxele (left) and Natalia Uribe-Castañeda (right) in the field

Opening Doors at SER2023

The Open Doors Travel Grant program offers need-based travel support and a registration waiver to delegates worldwide. These grant opportunities available to SER members aim to remove the cost barrier of participating in SER conference programming and provide opportunities for learning across different regions, areas of expertise, and cultures. Additionally, SER is pleased to be working with several partners to further our commitment to opening doors at SER2023 by providing travel or registration support to a number of Indigenous delegates, especially from Australia.

“Witnessing our Open Doors Travel Grant recipients who will be joining us at SER2023 is a realization of our collective vision. By opening doors and breaking down barriers, we empower the restoration movement with fresh perspectives, enabling us to restore ecosystems and forge connections that transcend boundaries, cultures, gender, and disciplines.” — Kingsley Dixon, Chair, Society for Ecological Restoration

Funding the Initiative

A portion of all conference sponsorship packages was allocated to support our Open Doors Program. Thank you to all the SER2023 conference sponsors who made this year’s program possible:

Business Events Australia, The Royal Commission for AlUla, Mars Inc., UNCCD | 20 Global Land Initiative, Heidelberg Materials, The Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Stantec, Conservation International, Ecosure, and Syrinx.

By supporting this first cohort of Open Doors Travel Grant recipients at SER2023, we are excited to foster high-quality and inclusive programming while promoting networking in the field of ecological restoration.

SER’s Selection Process for Applicants 

SER’s DEI committee assessed the candidates’ grant applications using five criteria:

  1. Presentation Type: Candidates with an approved oral presentation earned a score of three, while those with an accepted poster received two points. Participants without submitted abstracts received one point.
  2. Relevance of Background: Applicants with academic or professional backgrounds closely tied to the conference theme, particularly in restoration, ecology, or social fields, were awarded two points. Those with ecologically or socially pertinent backgrounds received one point. Candidates with unrelated backgrounds received no score.
  3. Professional Goals: Individuals who offered a clear explanation of how attending SER2023 would help them achieve their professional objectives earned full points. The DEI committee evaluated this based on content, not language or writing skills.
  4. Knowledge Sharing and Contribution: Applicants who outlined a plan for disseminating gained information and contributing to the ecological restoration field within their local community after the conference received full points.
  5. Underrepresented Groups: Applicants from underrepresented groups in ecological restoration, low represented countries, or those not well-represented in SER membership received full points. Priority was given to countries from less-represented continents and lower-income nations.

These criteria led to the selection of 22 outstanding individuals from 16 countries as Open Doors Travel Grant recipients, all involved in scientific research and practice related to the conference theme in restoration, ecology, and social studies.

“As a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity committee and the SER2023 committee, I am thrilled to support and be part of a program that is making a tangible difference in the lives and careers of our diverse recipients. Their presence at SER2023 enriches our shared learning, amplifying the voices of emerging leaders who will play a pivotal role in driving ecological restoration forward, fostering a world where nature and people truly unite.” — Amarizni Mosyaftiani, Restoration Fellow and member of the DEI committee at SER

SER’s Open Doors Program

At SER, we firmly believe that ecological restoration is a collaborative and inclusive process that thrives when all sectors of society participate. The Open Doors Program recognizes that not everyone can afford SER Membership dues, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (CERP) program fees, or World Conference registration and travel expenses. In recognition of these barriers, SER adopted the Membership for All Initiative in 2020 to expand access and eligibility for income-qualified pricing of our programs, and diversify SER membership. In the same year, a standing committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) was established to enhance member engagement and organizational capacity to address DEI issues on a global scale.

SER’s Open Doors initiative helps to identify and reduce barriers by offering reduced rates for membership and CERP fees. This year, it will also provide travel grants for our World Conference for the first time. We recognize the importance of the Open Doors initiative as a resource to provide increased opportunities for the restoration community globally. We are excited to expand access to SER2023 through these travel grants.

A Commitment to Inclusivity

SER is committed to continuing this initiative beyond SER2023 to increase the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness of all our future World Conferences. For more information about SER’s Open Doors program, please visit here: www.ser.org/opendoors

Banner photo credit: Russell Charters, Yellow Water Cruise Kakadu NT-70 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)