Conservation is, in many ways, a social undertaking. People have a dynamic and important role to play in conservation. On the one hand, they can exert extreme and often unsustainable pressure on natural resources, because livelihoods and wellbeing so often depend on natural resources. On the other hand, they can be critically important stewards of nature.
People are fundamental
Increasingly, conservation organisations like WWF are recognising the need to put people front and centre to their work – indeed it’s at the heart of WWF’s mission: people and nature living in harmony. If you’ve read any of my earlier blogs, or the blogs of my colleagues Mike and Elias, you will have gathered that, from the Aweer in the North to the Mijikenda in the South, people are fundamental to our work in Coastal Kenya.
Our work in Kenya focuses on promoting the more sustainable use of natural resources and we seek to achieve that by influencing and changing people’s behavior as well as advocating for policy change. But the reality is that lasting success in conservation and natural resource management is only possible when it is sustained by, and benefits, the people concerned and involved. So when we’re designing projects we have to think about this – we have a suite of social policies to help us do that – and when we’re monitoring the implementation of those projects, we need to find ways to assess the impact we’re having on people and the environment.
You may have read my earlier blog, in which I highlighted some work we’ve been doing to pilot a tool to improve our understanding of wellbeing. Since then, we’ve been adapting this tool and tailoring it to meet our monitoring needs. With that work done, over the last few weeks we’ve been using this tool in a wider context, building a representative picture of a range of social indicators from across the whole coastal region in which we’re working. We’ve rolled out the survey in both marine and terrestrial landscapes, making sure that we’re capturing the opinions of men and women and old and young alike.
The tool helps us look at what might be considered traditional measures like access to income, but it also helps us understand more abstract aspects – like having a voice in decisions about natural resource management. This is the first time we’ve tried to measure ‘wellbeing’ so, as you might imagine; it’s been a learning curve for all of us!
This month’s survey will give us a baseline to help us refine our programme design now; we can then measure again in a couple of years’ time. This will help understand the impact our activities have had on people, in addition to all the monitoring we do to assess our impact on wildlife and the environment! This will help us refine our approaches and ultimately build sustainability by ensuring that we’re finding solutions that work for both people and nature.