American University of Beirut

Seeds of Change


June 8, 2022​​

In 2002, AUB faculty from different departments gathered together under the vision of Dr. Salma Talhouk to create a hub for nature conservation efforts and awareness on campus. She believed that conserving nature would require information from as many relevant perspectives as possible. From this was birthed AUB’s Nature Conservation Center (AUB-NCC), and 20 years later, we celebrate its vicennial anniversary.

Today, the center has become one of AUB’s platforms for contributions to communities across Lebanon by instituting partnerships dedicated to nature conservation. “What makes AUB-NCC unique is its transdisciplinary outlook and our deep commitment to working with communities on the ground. This is done through citizen science,” says Dr. Alain Daou, current director of AUB-NCC and associate professor of entrepreneurship at the Olayan School of Business. Citizen science uses the strength of community knowledge to answer questions and collect and analyze data to make discoveries that directly benefit their respective communities. It challenges the academic tradition of top-down knowledge, wherein academics dictate the needs of communities. For Dr. Daou and the team at AUB-NCC, citizen science is the future of knowledge sharing. Academics work with communities and businesses to find solutions ranging from waste recycling management to water sustainability. “Empowering local communities and municipalities to be the change agents is how sustainable change is made. Anything imposed from the outside will be difficult to have buy-in.”
​AUB-NCC has shown time and again that this model can be successful. In over 20 years, they have worked with over 50 NGOs, dozens of funders, and over 100 municipalities across Lebanon and the region. One such project is the Wine Innovations for Sustainable Economies project to demonstrate the viability of composting in the winemaking process by implementing a circular economy approach in Lebanese wineries. The team conducted experiments on Chateau Kefraya premises, directed several evaluation studies and workshops, and even traveled to Spain for the project. The project changed the limited life cycle of waste for wineries, creating solutions for sustainability advocates and businesses. “Conservation and development become sustainable when communities can co-create solutions with the support of experts.” This type of creative problem solving is what Dr. Daou is looking to grow.

AUB-NCC began from the seeds of Dr. Talhouk’s idea of creating interdisciplinary knowledge on conservation and has blossomed into a center that works on the ground with businesses and communities across the region to create sustainable change. What more could AUB-NCC hope to accomplish? Dr. Daou says that AUB-NCC is not ready to sit on its laurels. His vision for what AUB-NCC can become is befitting of its past triumphs. “I believe AUB-NCC can become an environmental hub for the entire region. To become the regional resource for environmental data, policy analysis, and evidence-based programming that can be disseminated and accessible would help communities across the region, not just our own.” So much of AUB-NCC’s history came from the sparks of what could be possible. Though Lebanon’s current economic crisis continues to strain the country’s ability to tackle major environmental problems, we can be sure that AUB-NCC will continue to create innovative solutions for years to come. 

Click here ​to help support the work of AUB-NCC

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