In October of 2018, Dennis McClung became the first Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainable Development by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). IICA is a specialized agency of the Inter-American System for agriculture that strives to encourage, promote, and support member states in their efforts to achieve agricultural development. Since the title of a Goodwill Ambassador had never existed before Dennis, it came as a complete shock to him. He was honored and humbled at the appointment, but knew that his shiny new title came with great responsibility. Since then, Dennis and his team of Garden Pool volunteers have continued working with IICA diplomats to implement cutting-edge climate-smart technologies in the agricultural sectors of many Caribbean countries.
Dennis is the founder and CEO of Garden Pool, a non-profit NGO headquartered in Mesa, Arizona. The organization began with an empty pool and a passion for sustainable agricultural methods. By harnessing the power of permaculture and aquaponics, Dennis had created a lush oasis in the desert that was capable of growing nutritious food while using more than 98% less water than traditional agricultural methods. He then acquired the knowledge to 3D model his Garden Pool so that his efficient food system could be replicated by others. He knew he needed to share his smart farm techniques with those who would use the technology most effectively, and that there would be strong support for a non-profit organization that seeks to eradicate food insecurity in a regenerative and self-sustaining way.
Dennis is a vigorous believer in getting things done, and not just talking about getting things done- so he went to work. Like most humble entrepreneurial beginnings, Dennis had to give his talent away for a fraction of what it was worth in order to build a professional portfolio that could legitimately showcase his work. He also began broadening his scope of work by searching intensely for impactful opportunity projects, while looking to other NGOs to see how they operated. He explains that he “…believes in the power of partnerships, and NGOs have the unique capability of augmenting institutes through grassroot work.” Dennis was determined to bridge the gap between progressive developmental funds and governments seeking to improve the state of their food systems in rural communities.
In 2016, during a GIFA international networking conference with the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), Dennis was introduced to IICA for the first time. They told him about their dedication to improving the resiliency of the rural community’s agricultural sector in the Caribbean, and he showed them what he had been doing in the food deserts of Arizona. It was a match made in heaven. IICA had diplomatic power to do the ‘boots on the ground’ work that Dennis craved, and he had the knowledge, drive, and commitment to get it done. He explains that “diplomatic relations help bring projects to fruition.” IICA liked that Dennis was willing to put in the work and do so with a sense of urgency; the Caribbean needed relief, and they needed it now.
Once awarded his position as a Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainable Development in the Western Hemisphere by IICA, Dennis was granted the power of diplomacy, which allowed him to travel freely throughout the Caribbean. It also allowed him to order shipments of Garden Pool supplies from the U.S., in bulk.- something that was nearly impossible without governmental clearance. He was also able to form strong friendships with their government officials, allowing him to strategize with those in charge of the whole agricultural sector, such as the Ministers of Agriculture. The torch was passed to him, and he was going to carry that torch as far as he possibly could. Dennis says that there is still “enough work for a lifetime, but we have a solid foundation for further collaboration.” Over the next three years, Dennis has hope for Garden Pool and IICA to focus their joint efforts within Central and South America, and eventually throughout the eastern hemisphere. Since his appointment, IICA has elected three more Goodwill Ambassadors, and because of Dennis, a ‘go get things done’ attitude penetrates the core of this position and positions to come.
Garden Pool and IICA underwent many collaborations prior to Dennis becoming a Goodwill Ambassador (see timeline to the right). Since receiving his esteemed title, Dennis has continued his work with IICA with more intensity than ever.
In March of 2019, ongoing hurricane recovery efforts were implemented through the development of rehabilitative and preventative agriculture in Barbuda as they are still suffering from the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Additional efforts to share Garden Pool’s climate-smart technologies have also been introduced to Matelot, Trinidad & Tobago. In June of 2019, the Garden Pool team, partnered with IICA, trained students and farmers on how to design and build Climate Smart Farms using virtual reality and 3D technology. These learned skillsets are helping locals to ensure that agriculture in Matelot can be more resilient to adverse weather.
In November of 2019, Dennis and representatives from IICA traveled to Suriname to engage in Agricultural Disaster Risk Management (ADRM) by teaching a workshop on Geospatial 3D-Modeling Tools and Drone Usage. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, the Water Management Department, and educational institutions came to learn first-hand how to use these skills for socioeconomic development and decision-making in an increasingly climate-impacted area.
Garden Pool is also partnered with IICA in developing a fun and innovative Video Game to give even greater access to the technology and impact of Garden Pool and IICA’s missions. Players will be immersed in a simulated 3D world featuring Garden Pool’s most challenging humanitarian missions, where they will level up their skills, volunteer in unique locations, and bring technologies home to implement in their own virtual backyards.
These recent initiatives are only a glimpse at what is to come for Dennis and Garden Pool thanks to his title from IICA as a Goodwill Ambassador.