IESD Alumnus shares his experiences in Eco-tourism, Conservation and Sustainable Development in Yunnan Province.
  Time:2019-09-02  Hits:610

Mr. Lukasz Madrzynski (孟巨石)

                                                                      Mr. Lukasz Madrzynski (孟巨石)

UNEP – Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development (IESD) master’s program offers its students a rigorously, holistic and interdisciplinary approach to training. Students are taught to mitigate, manage and develop solutions to global environmental issues. They are also given opportunities to see and experience first-hand what the Chinese people are doing to alleviate poverty, arguably one of the main effects of environmental degradation. Students have the opportunity to visit various provinces in China and see what the government is doing to combat poverty and environmental degradation.


During one such visit to China’s Yunnan province, the students were privileged to meet and interact with Mr. Lukasz Madrzynski (孟巨石) a polish national and an alumnus of IESD who has since made China his home away from home. Together with his partners Ms. Angela Yanfang Cun and Mr. George Wei, Mr. Madrzynski runs Wild Mountain Education Consulting Ltd which has devoted its resources to the conservation and sustainable development of natural and cultural heritage across Yunnan province. The company promotes sustainable nature-based tourism, environmental education and sustainability consulting in China’s UNESCO heritage sites and protected areas of north-west Yunnan. It works closely with local environmental organizations such as Lijiang Conservation & Development  Association and Yulong Wildlife Conservation Association to assure sustainablilty of its business operations. The IESD news team was fortunate to get to interview Mr. Madrzynski. He explained his love for China, as well as his passion for Eco-tourism, conservation and sustainable development



What was your first experience with China?

My first experience with China happened when I was 17 years old. I came for the radio orienteering world championships. We spent a week in Nanjing and I was amazed by the country, it was completely different from everything I had ever read or heard about. I returned for a second visit, took the Trans – Siberian railway and spent a month visiting various spots. That’s when I decided I wanted to learn Chinese, understand the country and its culture. I enrolled at Warsaw University for the Chinese Studies undergraduate program. This gave me the opportunity to come to China on an exchange program for one year at the Shanghai Finance and Economics University. At the end of the program, I stayed on for 2 years working for business before I started my own. I opened up a coffee shop and a pub which unfortunately was not a very sustainable lifestyle for me.

Mr. Lukasz with the UNEP-Tongji IESD delegation at the First Bend of Yangtze River

                                          Mr. Lukasz with the UNEP-Tongji IESD delegation at the First Bend of Yangtze River

So how did you come to study at IESD?

While working as an entrepreneur I felt drawn to doing something environment related. However, I lacked the expertise required to do it and needed to get some education if I was going to make anything of my dreams. I decided to go back to school and pursue a Masters in Environment. Luckily, while running my coffee shop, I met some friends who told me about the UNEP - Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable development at Tongji University and its scholarship opportunities. This aroused my curiosity and I applied for a scholarship which I was fortunate to get. In 2011, I started my master’s degree in Environmental Science and Sustainable development, with my research focusing on sustainable tourism development in Shanghai’s DongTan wetland park, Chongming Island which was the basis of my Master’s thesis. When I graduated, I decided to pursue a doctorate.

Why did you pursue your doctorate at IESD and not any other University in Shanghai or China?

I had a wonderful experience while doing my masters that it only seemed logical that I would continue with my doctorate there too. I had also got to know many people from all over the world who were passionate about environmental conservation and sustainable development which motivated me to stay on.

There are twenty-six different provinces in China, why Yunnan?

It was a lucky break really, thanks to one of the coordinators at IESD I got an opportunity to come to Yunnan for an internship with the Nature Conservancy which has an office in Lijiang. I spent half a year here, designing and undertaking my research on the characteristics of Chinese eco-tourism. It took me a few years to complete my research. This gave me the chance to visit several times, I got to know various stakeholders in government and non-government organizations, the local people in remote and poverty-stricken areas, community leaders working at grass root level and other experts working under the sustainable development umbrella. I am quite grateful to IESD because it was very instrumental in forging and enabling this passion of mine. With all the knowledge, I had amassed about Yunnan it seemed like the logical choice. To this day, the IESD professors and coordinators are still very helpful in linking me to organizations or people they know can provide help in achieving sustainable eco-tourism in this province.

What role does poverty alleviation play in the nature conservation efforts?

The government initiative to eradicate poverty by 2020 fits in perfectly with the work we are trying to do. The world of academia has for some time known that efforts to conserve nature must be linked to poverty eradication. Therefore, trying to achieve sustainable development in these natural heritage sites across Yunnan is heavily dependent on the economic situation of the communities that inhabit them. There used to be a lot of logging, hunting, and charcoal burning but because of the efforts towards poverty alleviation and sensitization, the communities now have other sources of income and minimal damage is being done to the natural environment.

How is your organization working with various stakeholders to alleviate poverty in these areas?

We are trying to find alternative sources of income for the communities that live in these areas. We are doing this through sustainable tourism development, promoting organic agriculture, environmental education, as well as direct funding for individuals and families in dire need of support. Overall, I would say the eight years I spent in IESD equipped me with the skills and knowledge that I now test and refine in the field of sustainable community development in some of the most pristine natural areas of China.

Mr. Lukasz introducing Sustainable Development Goals

                                                 Mr. Lukasz introducing Sustainable Development Goals

Having been in China for twelve years what changes can you highlight?

Ten to fifteen years ago, there wasn’t a lot of focus on nature conservation or sustainable development, however, this has dramatically changed over the years. China’s goal to eradicate poverty by 2020 has played a key role in driving the conservation agenda. The poverty eradication initiative helps tackle both issues simultaneously. Without it, all conservation efforts would be for nothing.

What profound effect has China had on you as an individual?

China has taught me patience. I have faced a number of challenges, for example, it took a lot of patience and consistency to master the language, communicate and integrate with the people and the environment around me.

You have assimilated well with the locals, they seem quite comfortable in your presence, how have you mastered this?

Patience to try to understand their world view, their attitude and behavior, how to express yourself, what they are willing to accept or not. There is so much culture involved that is very different from my home country and it takes years to learn and understand, once you do it changes you. It is not about faking it (he laughs), you can’t fake it …. you really need to be in those situations quite a bit and learn from them. It requires a lot of patience to overcome those preconceptions one usually has about the culture here; it takes time, passion and eventually it shapes you.

Are local communities embracing conservation and eco-tourism?

 Yes, they are. It comes back to the poverty eradication initiatives. Before they were implemented, people had no choice but to revert to logging, and harvesting some of the natural resources in their immediate environment in order to survive. When I arrived here there were some projects dedicated to conservation and sustainability and some still exist, however, many more have sprouted up since. And in China government policy affects the grass roots as well. So, when you have a narrative that conservation and the environment are as important as supporting local community development, then the public including the business community will buy into it. It is still a long way, but if you talk about values, attitudes, knowledge and behavior you can see a shift in the behavior of local tourists towards more sustainable practices that are rooted in the value system that policy makers have put forward.

Mr. Lukasz with Anna-Paola Pola (UNESCO-WHITRAP) at a local household in Laojun Mountains

                             Mr. Lukasz with Anna-Paola Pola (UNESCO-WHITRAP) at a local household in Laojun Mountains

Yunnan is such a beautiful province, the clear naturally colored lakes, mountain ranges and very welcoming local population. A place that would have international tourists flocking here in doves.  However, that is not the case…why?

I think this is to be expected. Going back twenty years who was coming to China as a tourist? However, things are changing exponentially. But as with all places that weren’t previously considered tourist havens people tend to go to the big cities first. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and so on. They are more convenient; they have all those western amenities that tourists feel more comfortable and secure with. As more foreigners visit China, for business reasons or to learn about the culture, they begin to tour more parts of the country. For example, the western part of China like Lijiang here is quite under-developed and would probably not be convenient for Western style tourists. However, Yunnan now has some four-star boutique hotels, and sites catering for all manner of tourists. From the backpacker to the fancy tourist. Things are improving, Chinese business are now investing in the provinces too.

How has Yunnan province evolved as a tourist spot over the years?

There has been a shift in the composition of foreign tourists that come to some of the more remote areas in Yunnan. Take Lijiang for example, years before only backpackers came. Now you see more expatriate families living in first and second tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, as well as internationally organized groups or individuals without prior knowledge of China or its language. Today, you have more western oriented tourism operators, and this has only changed in the last decade or so. You also have more tour operators, guest houses, hotels, cafes, and other services meant to make any caliber of tourist comfortable. There are internationally renowned hospitality review sites like trip advisor and a local expat platform GoKunming, showing rave reviews. A new page, “Go Travel Lijiang” will also be going online soon. Some expatriates that decided to settle in Yunnan, are also promoting this place to others.

What advice would you give current IESD students? Especially, the government officials from developing countries, what should be their take home after two years in China?

I would say that it is important to realize that China is experimenting with multiple different approaches to development, government policy, and so on. So, if you hear of a project that is related to your profession at home but is not applicable to your country don’t give up. Keep digging, chances are you will find that it is basically just one of the tens of approaches they are using to implement sustainable development in different areas and scenarios. You will eventually find an approach that will be suitable for you, your community, and country. That’s the power of China. They are not shy to try what might sometimes be considered controversial approaches to determine what will work for them instead of maintaining the status quo or following the masses. And sadly, the perception of many foreigners is that whatever is said at the top everybody follows regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Many local governments actually do what is situated for their context. Whatever is successful is noted and then other communities try to replicate it. If it doesn’t work, they try something else. There is no one size fits all.

Mr. Lukasz Madrzynski (Centre) with some of the IESD students in Lijiang

                                 Mr. Lukasz Madrzynski (Centre) with some of the IESD students in Lijiang

Last but not least, what key qualities do you admire most about the Chinese people?

(Ponders the question), well they as a people are so different from each other. For example, Shanghai is a completely different world from here. However, I admire the hardworking nature of the people in Shanghai and respect the culture of acceptance, resilience and openness in Yunnan. However, the Chinese society is not as homogeneous as foreigners would like to think. Chinese people from the North think the ones in the South are quite different and vice versa, even they realize their unique differences.  What unifies them as a people is their willingness to change. They are trying to be rational and critical too, I am sure you have witnessed this quality, they will not always take presented claim as truth. They are really digging and trying to find ways that work for them. They are willing to abandon practices that are not sustainable, and the culture is in some ways open to critical analysis of the situation and finding solutions that are not necessarily bound to what you might describe as their cultural identity.


If you want to contact Mr. Lukasz Madrzynski, you can find his contact information below: