When you work in conservation, you find yourself using terms such as ‘stakeholder engagement’, ‘alliance building’, ‘networking’, and ‘negotiated trade-offs’ without much thought. They become part of your everyday lexicon. However, what all these phrases reveal – in their different ways – is that conservation is about bringing people and organisations together to find the solutions for a future where people and nature thrive.
Different people have different perspectives on nature and its value. Take the simplified example of the Beni River in the Bolivian Amazon- Conservationists would like all Amazonian rivers to run free and wild but fishing communities on the banks of the Beni River want to be able to take fish and use the river as part of their transportation network.
Meanwhile, the Bolivian Government wants to build a hydroelectric dam on it. Finding the best approach to managing the Beni River therefore means bringing together these diverse and sometimes conflicting stakeholders to find solutions that accommodate – as far as possible – all their interests. In reality there are likely to be far more stakeholders than that example suggests- and the Beni River is only one of many rivers in the Amazon. That means that if you want to conserve the Amazon’s river network, you have to bring a lot of stakeholders together. So, if you work in conservation you get used to meetings. Lots of meetings.
The staff of WWF Colombia have made many significant contributions to Amazonian conservation, which they have done by bringing together diverse stakeholders under a number of initiatives – and with financial support from donor offices elsewhere in the WWF network (including WWF-UK). Apparently all of us in that network want the same thing: a well conserved and functioning Amazon. Yet each donor office brings different perspectives, demands, reporting requirements and communications needs all of which WWF Colombia is expected to meet. In effect, different bits of the network are stakeholders with differing interests in Amazonian conservation. So obviously to sort this out we needed… a meeting!
WWF’s Truly Global Initiative is about freeing up offices, like WWF Colombia, to get on with the important stuff. So in that spirit we brought together WWF offices from across the globe: Colombia, UK, Germany, Netherlands and our International office (Switzerland) to see if we could act more like a single stakeholder in our support of Amazonian conservation and so liberate our Colombian colleagues to spend more time with key stakeholders in Colombia.
It’s not often that a couple of days crammed into meeting rooms can be said to be inspiring, but at the end of it all I think we had laid the ground work for something that could be quite special- a fully integrated plan for our conservation work in the Colombian and Ecuadorian Amazon. The programme – which is still being developed – is ambitious. We want to better conserve more than 15 million hectares of forested landscape stretching from the foothills of the Andes to lowland Amazonia.
And to help our Colombian colleagues achieve this we – the donor offices – will be looking at how to guarantee longer term funding; how to reduce reporting demands; increase the flow of communications and coordinate travel plans.
In turn, the plan helps us in our role as fundraisers. The programme will allow us to direct fundraising to supporters who can see how their contributions to some or all of it can be leveraged with contributions from elsewhere and so make a real difference to Amazonian conservation.
It’s exciting- watch this space!