Team reflections from the World Bank Land Conference 2024 | Land Portal

After a four-year hiatus, the World Bank Land Conference took place again in Washington, D.C. this May, convening one thousand government, civil society, and land stakeholders in person and thousands more online. The theme of the 2024 conference was "Securing Land Tenure and Access for Climate Action," an exciting and meaningful frame for discussing an issue near to our hearts – open access to land information. 

The Land Portal team, represented by Laura Meggiolaro, Neil Sorensen, Lilian Lee, Romy Sato, and Charl-Thom Bayer, attended dozens of other sessions and held dialogues with many new and existing partners and supporters. Read our takeaways below. 

Click here to read about the panels we participated in at the World Bank Land Conference 2024.

 

 

A memorable moment... 

Laura Meggiolaro: While I firmly believe that the digital convening power that the Land Portal has demonstrated in recent years is a driver for diversity and inclusion, returning to the World Bank conference in person after five years was memorable and reaffirmed the beauty of face to face events, where you can sit with people, have lunch or coffee together, or simply walk to the metro station while talking about our families and also about the great crisis of our time. One key moment came when I was talking with Solange Bandiaky-Badji, the director of RRI, and thanked her for welcoming us to the House of Sweden and merging our 15th anniversary event with the event that RRI, Cadasta, and Landesa had organised together. She said: "Of course Laura! We are all working towards the same goals!" This spirit of camaraderie and cooperation meant the world to me.

 

Neil Sorensen: We all took an Uber XL from the World Bank to the Embassy of Sweden for our 15th Anniversary Celebration. Everyone was surprised by how gigantic the car was - only in America as people say. We went early to get set up for the event. We had a few minutes to walk along the boardwalk. The embassy is flanked by the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Watergate hotel on a bend in the Potomac river. We went through security in the embassy to discover the beautiful House of Sweden, and their magnificent event space. Everything was set up for the event and our celebration. As people filtered into the room and we were greeting so many partners and stakeholders who we have collaborated with over the past decade or more, I felt very privileged to be part of the Land Portal. It was a moment that demonstrated we have made an indelible mark in the land sector. 

On our way to the Land Portal 15th Anniversary Celebration at the House of Sweden

Charl-Thom Bayer: A pivotal moment for me came during the opening session, where the nexus between land rights and climate action were reaffirmed. It emphasized that interventions on behalf of a sustainable planet are bound to be incomplete, without addressing land issues. 

Romy Sato: On the corridors of the World Bank or during the coffee breaks and receptions, I was struck by so many people immediately recognizing the Land Portal and appreciating the work we do, even the apparently less visible ones. They were researchers, policy advisors in think tanks, government representatives - many faces and names I had never seen before, but which represent the thousands of visitors to our website every month. A researcher from Landesa told me in the corridor “I know this is probably the least prestigious job you do, but I appreciate so much your effort to maintain this huge Land Library. There is one publication that I even bookmarked in my browser because I cannot find it anywhere else!”

Lilian Lee: In the opening session, it was powerful to see so many diverse stakeholders gathered at a conference about land. It brought home the point that land is integrated into every part of how we live and work. Another great moment was seeing the Land Portal session come to life on Thursday morning. We almost canceled it because several of our speakers couldn’t travel to D.C., but at the last minute we were able to assemble a dream panel with dynamic and energetic speakers that spoke to an incredibly engaged audience.  

A joint event with the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and the Land Portal Foundation at the House of Sweden in Washington, D.C.

 

 

Most thought-provoking idea from a non-Land Portal session or side meeting...

From left to right: Samunda Jabini, Associations of Saamaka Communities, Suriname; Neil Sorensen, Charl-Thom Bayer, Laura Meggiolaro, and Romy Sato with Land Portal; Innocent Antoine Houedji, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Land in Africa (Yilaa); Richard Baldwin, Land Portal Board Member.  

Romy Sato: Samunda Jabini, young leader in the Association of Saamaka Communities in Suriname was truly inspiring. At a side event she proposed to donors "Think about how you can allow local and Indigenous groups to access your grants directly and defend their land rights. They don't have the capacity to submit those complex, long English-written proposals. So why not consider a tik-tok video proposal?" The full room reacted with nodding heads and a smile.

 

Neil Sorensen: I was really impressed by the speech of Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, during the opening plenary. To have him advocating for the global commons and indigenous and community land rights, and quoting Elinor Ostrom on this major platform demonstrated an important sea change that we would never have seen in the previous World Bank Land Conferences. His deep background and understanding of land data and information systems like Global Forest Watch, which makes the link between deforestation and how indigenous peoples better protect their lands very evident, means we have someone in a powerful position that can support the philanthropic community to make the right investments. 

Laura Meggiolaro: Andrew Steer reminded us that if we are going to be able to address the SDGs, land needs to be more important. We need to be able to see the bigger picture. Everyone is directly or indirectly affected by land rights. So the solution has to be a collective solution. Land is not just about the cadastre, it's much broader than that, land is food, it's resilience, it's cultural identity, access to land is not just about what governments do, it's about the people, the communities that live off the land. We have much better data and a much broader understanding of tenure systems than we did in the past. We need environmentalists, economists and social scientists to work together across boundaries to solve the huge climate and environmental challenges. 

Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, delivering the keynote speech of the World Bank Land Conference 2024 

Charl-Thom Bayer: I was struck by a presentation from Brazil highlighting the often overlooked role of land and environmental defenders. These individuals fight not only for their own rights but also for the future of our planet. Tragically, their courageous efforts frequently result in death. It is humbling to reflect on our relatively comfortable and safe working environments, far from the frontlines, and to recognize that these issues are not merely academic or theoretical, but have profound real-world implications.
 

 

I came back from the World Bank Land Conference energized to…

Charl-Thom Bayer: I feel energized to continue the work on better understanding and supporting the role of land data in transforming our planet into a more equitable and sustainable one!

Neil Sorensen: get the Land Portal’s role in the FCDO’s Land Facility going. I’m excited that the Land Portal will be playing a central role in this major land program over the next seven or more years.

Meeting with (from left to right) Becca Smith and Jolyne Sanjak of Tetra Tech and John Meadows, Land Equity

Lilian Lee: Carbon markets came up repeatedly as a major challenge and opportunity, and I think we need to explore this area more with our research and content programming at the Land Portal. 

Laura Meggiolaro: I am encouraged by the positive feedback we have received about our new research programme, the SOLIindex, and how it can shed light on the transparency of land data systems. I am also energised by the many positive comments about the value of our work and the important role the Land Portal plays in the land community. 

Romy Sato: Follow up with donors, as well as professionals in the private sector and academia who were curious about our newly updated Land Projects Database. They want to contribute their data to it, demonstrating that the land community is increasingly recognizing the importance and benefits of data transparency.

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