I went to work with Yves Renard in Saint Lucia in 1997. I had heard about the work that the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) had been doing on participatory and collaborative natural resource management. I was very excited at the prospect of joining an organisation that was leading the way in interrogating the relationship between development and conservation. Yves and Tighe Geoghegan had established CANARI as a thought leader that was respected way beyond the Caribbean.
Yves was a Caribbean advocate. He understood the importance of regional institutions and the importance of sovereignty. I joined CANARI with an anglophone mindset, but Yves helped me truly understand the diverse traditions of the Caribbean as a region. He encouraged me to work alongside colleagues from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to broaden my outlook. My Spanish remained woeful, but he was forgiving.
Yves had an intellectual curiosity that helped to drive CANARI, and he had a way of encouraging you to join him on journeys to understand the meta concepts and apply them to the circumstances of mangrove harvesters or fisherfolk. Back in those days, Yves helped me to understand the concept of governance. He explained it as a sum of capacities, inter-relationships and policies. It had a profound effect on me, and I came to believe that it was the most critical lever for development.
Yves showed me what leadership looked like. He was interested in his colleagues; he was supportive and generous. At the same time, he let us know what was expected of us. I fell short on many occasions, and he had ways of letting me know that I needed to raise my game. What I had not appreciated at the time was that he was readying me to take on the leadership of CANARI. He showed me that leadership was a shared endeavour. He remained supportive and encouraging without being intrusive.
Yves and I during the CANARI office move from Vieux Fort to Port of Spain in 2000
I also learned about the need for a life outside work from Yves. The work we were doing together had a habit of taking over. Fieldwork, publications, training, and donor relations sound dull but to be working on the issues of people’s participation in the management of natural resources was captivating. Yves had many outlets. He was as much a cultural activist as an environmental champion. He brought the two together sometimes – for example with the 1.5 to stay alive initiative on climate change but he was a fierce advocate for example of the Kweyol language and the power of jazz.
When we moved to Saint Lucia, my wife and I looked at places to live and considered moving to places in and around Castries. When I told Yves this, he looked at me in a way that betrayed his disappointment. I should come to live in his village. Laborie. This remarkable place became our home for four years. Yves was at its heart – encouraging jazz, theatre, and discussion – all without being in front.
There are so many things that I learned from Yves – the importance of good wine, of strong coffee, of cutting your lime in a certain way when making a ti ponche, of making sure you are last in line for food, of having a car that is falling apart…I could go on. Even though I had not seen him for many years since, now he is gone, I feel it deeply, but I know I am not alone. What makes it easier to bear is my memory of him and knowing the impact he had on me. My thoughts are with Djamal, David, Lisa, and Marianne.