Nina van Toulon: Eco Flores Network for Sustainable Future

Turning big dreams into reality is never easy particularly when you’re talking about the complex subject of sustainability. One lady who’s not letting this deter her from her mission to build a more sustainable future for Flores, Indonesia is Nina van Toulon. Sam Tyers reveals the story behind this inspirational change-maker.

Entrepreneur, mother, long term environmental campaigner, Nina is the inspiration and Founder behind The Eco Flores Network. She is no newcomer to advocacy and humanitarian work, having previously founded an orphanage fund in Ningbo, China 1993-1997, and organized educational and green initiatives in her hometown in Enspijk, Netherlands. So it comes naturally for her to follow her dreams and start The Eco Flores Network to inspire a sustainable approach to the future of Flores.

A Focus on Sustainable Development

When you dream big, realists, with every good intention, try to steer you away from failure, by reminding you of the difficulty, the risk, and the customary ways of doing things that ought to be followed. Since Nina began the groundwork for Eco Flores in 2011 she has listened carefully to these voices of concern and calmly replied, “Yes, but we just do it.”

Nina’s dream began when she first visited Indonesia over 20 years ago as a traveler. In awe of the beauty and nature she found she began dreaming of someday moving to Bali. Over time her vision changed after feeling disappointed with South Bali’s urban sprawl and her focus shifted to the more remote location of Flores.

Located in the Indonesian archipelago, the island Flores is part of the eastern islands, Nusa Tenggara Timur and offers a stunning ecosystem of mountains, jungle, sandy beaches and a vibrant and world renowned underwater world. With a rich cultural history and breathtaking natural wonders Flores is blessed with innumerable options for the development of eco tourism.

Harvesting carrots by a local NGO. Previously, hotels and restaurants imported all their produce from neighbouring islands. Photo courtesy of Tarsis Hurmali.

Harvesting carrots by a local NGO. Previously, hotels and restaurants imported all their produce from neighbouring islands. Photo courtesy of Tarsis Hurmali.

In 2010 Nina bought land along Waecicu Bay on Flores, with the hopes of building a small eco-hotel with twelve rooms that could support her and provide employment to young people from Indonesia who have come to call her “mom.” But as she planned to move to Flores from the Netherlands, she became concerned as she watched Labuan Bajo rapidly develop from a small fishing port to a tourist hub. Many people were moving there with the hope of benefiting from the growing opportunities from tourism, but sadly rapid development was leading to concerns about waste management (particularly plastics), health care, and education. Instead of constructing a small hotel, Nina moved her attention and focus to establishing the Eco Flores Network. She hopes to build two or three family cottages on her land instead so as not to put the heat on the already fast moving tourism development on Flores.

Supporting Local Communities

Papa Joe sorts plastics. Photo by Sam Tyers.

Papa Joe sorts plastics. Photo by Sam Tyers.

Not one to sit back and just watch this happen, Nina began working with local community organiser Papa Joe to publicize his work with Plasticman, a volunteer initiative works to recycle Labuan Bajo’s growing plastic waste, and raise the profile of some of the challenges faced by the development of tourism.

While this partnership was making a difference, it wasn’t enough for Nina, or for Flores. She knew there needed to be coordinated action on a broader scale to change the course of development in Labuan Bajo, and Flores more broadly, hence the founding of the Eco Flores Foundation.

The Eco Flores Foundation

The aim of the Foundation is to promote networking, share expertise, and facilitate a coordinated approach for the long term sustainability of Flores. Nina’s vision was to achieve this through two main goals. The first, to identify and address the immediate issues that have emerged out of modern development on the island. The second, to promote a green movement based around ecotourism, which as the backbone of the island’s economy will underlie the extent to which sustainability is achieved on Flores in the future.

In the last year The Eco Flores Network evolved out of the Foundations work to promote and connect those interested in the long-term sustainability of the economy, environment, and cultures of the island of Flores. The Network now not only links hundreds of local individuals, communities, projects, organizations, businesses, and government offices, but also connects this local community with growing numbers of relevant Indonesian and International academic, research and technical experts.

While this was an incredible achievement over such a short space of time, Nina was very aware that she didn’t just want the Network to just be another talking shop, she wanted it to produce action. And so the Eco Flores Congress was born.

The Eco Flores Congress

The first ever Eco Flores Congress will be held from September 26-29, 2012 in Labuan Bajo to catalyse and officially facilitate the coordination of the work of The Eco Flores Network. The Congress hopes to provide a forum to mobilize green efforts on Flores by facilitating sharing of information, cooperation, and transparency about sustainability efforts.

To deliver this event Nina rallied support from individuals locally and internationally who love Flores and share in her commitment to sustainable development. Through this she has established volunteer support, sponsorship from the New Zealand Aide Program and World Wildlife Foundation, and added support from a range of corporate and international NGO’s, including SwissContact. And Gaia Discovery will be the events partner in media.

Approximately 200 local and international participants are now set to attend this event, let’s hope it’s the first step towards bringing Nina’s dream of a sustainable Flores to life.

Plastics litter Flores' coastline. Photo courtesy of Stefan Rafael.

Plastics litter Flores' coastline. Photo courtesy of Stefan Rafael.

And finally . . .

Nina’s enthusiasm and relentless commitment to building a more sustainable Flores is incredible, especially when circumstances do not allow her to currently be based in Flores. Her ability to reach out, connect and engage with people is inspiring. As is her passion to not only conserve and protect nature, but also to empower the people of Flores to shape the long term sustainability of the island and ecosystem they live in.

I look forward to seeing Nina again at The Congress in September and also to hear more about her plans for the land in Waecicu Bay, which she now tells me will be kept mostly natural. Driving change and choosing a different way of doing things is not always the easiest path, Nina provides an inspiring example of how to follow your dreams and find a better way, let’s hope it pays off for Flores.

Read more about the Eco Flores on Gaia Discovery

Nina van Toulon: Eco Flores Network for Sustainable Future

Eco Flores Congress 26-29 September 2012

Bajo Komodo Eco Lodge on Minimizing Tourism Impacts

More Information

To find out more about the challenges faced in Flores take a look at the Eco Flores website, follow Eco Flores on Facebook and Twitter @ecofloresorg.

Keep up to date with happenings at the Congress at Gaia Discovery