Major Grant Grows Positive Youth Empowerment Across Countries in Africa


The Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) Roots & Shoots youth program is the recipient of a three-year, $1.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to foster the development of compassion and action in one million youth across countries in Africa. The award will empower young people to address issues in their communities facing people, other animals, and their environment. Building on JGI’s relationship with the Templeton Foundation – as Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace was named the 2021 Templeton Prize Laureate – this new grant demonstrates a deepening partnership to support a shared vision for a better world.

“The Templeton Foundation’s generosity will dramatically increase JGI’s ability to work with and empower youth across countries in Africa, where Roots & Shoots began 31 years ago, by promoting knowledge, compassion, and action,” said Anna Rathmann, executive director of JGI USA.

The JGI project under its youth program Roots & Shoots, ‘Growing Youth Purpose and Compassionate Action Across Countries in Africa,’ will address the essential need to promote environmental, social, and civic engagement among young people across program areas. The grant will accomplish several overarching goals: (1) activate a regional community of practice for Roots & Shoots staff in up to 18 African countries and the United States; (2) build program capacity and sustainability to support program activities in four African countries; and (3) in partnership with the University of Mississippi, threaded throughout this work will be a comprehensive program evaluation that contributes to research in positive youth development. 

“Roots & Shoots promotes positive youth development which has been identified as a key strategy for meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” says Dr. Laura Johnson, Professor of Psychology from the University of Mississippi, who co-authored the grant with Stephanie Keller. “How to best equip young people across countries in Africa with the strengths and capacities needed for effective pro-environmental and civic engagement is a question of scholarly and practical concern,” said Johnson.

The research will examine how youth participation in the Roots & Shoots program contributes to increases in their self-efficacy, sense of community, connection to nature, social responsibility, and civic action. Qualitative data will illuminate contextual aspects of Positive Youth Development relevant to each culture, social, and ecological context.

Why is this important?

Roots & Shoots was created in 1991 by Dr. Jane Goodall as a response to the growing distress and apathy in young people who inherited the local and global challenges of prior generations. In 1991, twelve Tanzanian high school students gathered on Dr. Jane Goodall’s veranda in Tanzania and expressed how they felt powerless against the problems in the world around them. As the students told stories and offered ideas, Jane realized the solution was right in front of them: their power to create change. The Roots & Shoots program was born. It has grown to include young people from kindergarten through university and beyond in over 65 countries.

“We are pleased to be supporting JGI and Roots & Shoots program for this project, which shows promise to empower youth across countries in Africa to take action with compassion” said Sarah Clement, Senior Director, Character Virtue Development at the John Templeton Foundation. “It aligns with a core aim of our funding: helping people around the world to have more opportunities to build their skills, contribute to their communities, and create lives of purpose.”

Across countries in Africa, issues with inequity, poverty, biodiversity loss, climate change and more put young people at disproportionate risk and disadvantage. Roots & Shoots provides the resources to encourage and motivate young people to take action on issues that matter to them, helping them become positive agents of change and advance in their lives and careers. Today, the tools and support offered through the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) program empower youth in all 50 states and over 65 countries to address the issues that matter most in their communities, and the world. Since 1991, millions of young people through Roots & Shoots have taken on the challenge of making the world a better place for people, other animals, and the environment we share.

Growing Roots & Shoots: Community of Practice, Capacity & Sustainability, and Impact

Through the generous grant gift from the John Templeton Foundation, JGI-USA will activate a community of practice (COP) among Roots & Shoots staff based in five core countries—Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo (RoC), Uganda, Tanzania, and the USA—as well as Roots & Shoots country coordinators in as many as 13 additional Africa countries. This will allow for greater knowledge sharing among individual Roots & Shoots programs by strengthening each country’s technology and unifying processes for sharing learning and resources. The collected information will become a toolkit for Roots & Shoots programs across countries in Africa, available in English, French, and Kiswahili.

To make sure the programs across these countries continue to flourish and grow, Roots & Shoots programs in the DRC, RoC, Tanzania, and Uganda will receive a sub-grant of $25,000 per year for three years to implement a project over an asynchronous 12-month term. Staff will work to build compassion and action in youth and empower them in their communities with support from adult mentors. Projects will combine service-learning with active engagement using ‘community mapping’ and ‘photovoice’ methods to provide maximal growth opportunities and serve as a catalyst for youth to create positive change in their communities.

About Author

Ashley Sullivan is the Director of Storytelling & Marketing for Communications & Partnerships at the Jane Goodall Institute USA, where she works to connect individuals with Dr. Jane Goodall's vision, and the JGI mission to create a better world for all by protecting the interconnections between people, other animals, and the environment. Ashley graduated Stony Brook University with a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology and a minor in Biology, and is pursuing a Master's of Science in Environmental Science & Policy at Johns Hopkins University with a focus on Environmental Justice. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, now a D.C. resident, she has a varied background including 10+ years of expert communications and digital marketing in the social and environmental non-profit sector. Her intersectional approach to this work has been shaped by a holistic world-view, having traveled to Madagascar and Ecuador for conservation research projects, leading communications for youth social justice filmmaking organizations, and as a part of several professional groups advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in environmental spaces including Greens REALIGN. With skills ranging from conservation fieldwork, policy and advocacy campaigns, strategic communications, art, digital media, and design, Ashley believes in sharing information to empower and in the magic of storytelling to transform hearts and minds. Through growing understanding, empathy, and justice, she is igniting positive change to create that better, more equitable world, every day.