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Fostering approaches to anti-corruption in the Colombian conservation sector: an interview with Isis Alvarez and Natalia Muñoz Cassolis

An interview on anti-corruption in Colombian conservation with Isis Alvarez, former Livestock Campaign Coordinator and Senior Gender Advisor at the Global Forest Coalition, and Natalia Muñoz Cassolis, Consultant on Illegal Wildlife Trade at WWF and to the Transparent Governance of Natural Resources (TGNR) project. Both are collaborating with the Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice initiative, incubated by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in partnership with the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project.

In Colombia, as in most countries, corruption is multi-faceted, agile and dynamic. Lacking a single universal definition, it is viewed and plays out differently depending on its context. Developing effective responses requires a better understanding of the role that corruption plays both socially and economically. The conservation and anti-corruption communities can do this by understanding how corruption enables a chain of consequences that constrains people’s options.

How have you experienced the intersection of corruption and conservation and society in Colombia? 

Isis: It is often a lack of access to services and opportunities, as well as rights denial, that drives people to illegal activities. The most vulnerable communities live in conflict areas that lack government territorial control, education, health systems and other services – their basic needs are not being met. They are not necessarily empowered to commit corruption but are rather an instrument for corrupt agents acting in more powerful circles. 

For example, land grabbing from local communities for agri-business and cattle ranching is a major driver of deforestation in tropical areas, and corrupt agents are often involved. Illicit crop expansion by organised criminal structures is another driver of land grabbing. When enforcement does take place, whether it is for legal or illegal activities, it is the people on the ground, the ranchers, who are prosecuted and not the landowners.

Natalia: Corruption and organised crime are deeply intertwined. Local communities are instrumentalised by powerful criminal and corrupt actors for either obtaining illegal gold, wildlife or timber; or for executing clearing activities (tree felling, tree burning and establishing settlements) for land grabbing purposes. The economic consequences of laundering money from these profits back into the country distort the local economy. 

In the Transparent Governance of Natural Resources (TGNR) project, my colleagues and I analysed these activities and interacted with people to identify how corruption operated in their sectors. Illegal gold mining, for example, which accounts for 43-52% of deforestation in the Pacific region and is closely linked to organised crime, involves other industries such as the supply of heavy industrial machinery, fuel and mercury. While some of the data gathered was related to illegal activities and not necessarily to corruption, it also pointed to weak links in control systems and the gap between legal provisions and reality that corrupt agents could exploit. 

Through the lens of your work, what particular challenges have you encountered?

Natalia: There is a very thin line between corrupt activities, organised crime and illegal activities. How corruption is defined is, therefore, an important issue. The TGNR project worked with the Colombian chapter of Transparency International (Transparencia por Colombia) to jointly build a definition of corruption for the project, to ensure a common understanding among team members. 

Isis: There is a direct correlation between corruption and inequality. Although there have been efforts to address corruption in the environmental sector, there have been very few efforts to address issues related to land grabbing and human rights violations. 

Corruption is a complex issue and is so common in countries like Colombia that most people think that the situation can’t be changed and that it is too dangerous to denounce corrupt actors.

How do you think working across sectors can help to effect systemic change?

Isis: Colonisation and the imposition of the Western concept of conservation brought with them the conditions for local communities to be exploited because they are embedded in complex systems that local communities are not equipped to navigate. For instance, when schemes to address deforestation such as carbon offset projects are negotiated with communities, contracts are commonly written in a language that they don’t understand and corrupt brokers often take financial advantage of them. These processes are fraught with an imbalance of knowledge and power, which opens communities up to exploitation. They lose agency and the power to contribute meaningfully, partly because they don’t have the right interface to negotiate with entities like corporations. 

Addressing the challenge of maintaining agency through interventions like education and legal representation, therefore, holds potential for anti-corruption work in conservation.

Natalia: I think the most important insight is that the conservation sector is not isolated, and any anti-corruption measures should understand the roles played by related sectors. 

Land grabbing, for example, is closely linked to drug trafficking and financing organised armed groups. Regulations aimed at mitigating these phenomena often have loopholes that are exploited by criminal actors or are hindered in their effectiveness by corruption. One of the recommendations of the TGNR project was to amend the SARLAFT (Asset Laundering and Terrorist Financing Risk Management System) to accurately reflect financial flows so that environmental crimes can be identified as a source of laundered money. 

Collaborating across regions, sectors and disciplines – including governance, human rights and anti-terrorism – could help to identify the drivers of corruption and reveal important learnings on how illegal economies are tackled in other parts of the world.

The content of this thought piece represents the authors’ own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, the Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice initiative, nor of any of their collaborating institutions.

Read more:

Corruption and criminality behind biodiversity loss in Colombia’s forests: Land grabbing
A May 2021 partner resource by Transparent Governance of Natural Resources

Corruption definitions and their implications for targeting natural resource corruption
An August 2021 TNRC Topic Brief by Aled Williams, Senior Adviser, U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre

Spurring new cross-sectoral connections towards anti-corruption responses in conservation
A thought piece by Elizabeth Hart, Chief of Party, Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC), World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US) and Aled Williams, Senior Advisor at U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center – Chr. Michelsen Institute, Research Coordinator for TNRC

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Looking back: foundational Biodiversity Revisited Background Reviews published

The diversity of life that sustains humanity is being severely degraded by human activity. This is leading to a deterioration in land, air and water quality, loss of natural ecosystems and widespread declines in populations of wild species.

About the publication

A new publication by the Luc Hoffmann Institute – Biodiversity Revisited Background Reviews – comprises a set of essays that formed the foundation of Biodiversity Revisited, an initiative that examined why the world has failed to stop biodiversity loss and what large-scale changes are needed to sustain diverse and just futures for life on Earth. The six reviews within the newly published report served as a foundational contribution to Biodiversity Revisited. They examine the history, trends, key points and ideas related to each of the initiative’s six themes: concepts, narratives, science, governance, systems and futures. 

What is Biodiversity Revisited?

Biodiversity Revisited carried out the first comprehensive review of the concepts, research, policies and practices underpinning biodiversity conservation since the term emerged in the 1980s. Over the course of 2019–2020, the initiative convened 300 experts of 46 nationalities with a focus on elevating the voices of early-career professionals and bringing together an interdisciplinary mix of expertise from across social and biophysical sciences, the humanities and law. 

Context for the Background Reviews

This new report is a compilation of six background reviews conducted to inform the co-production of the initiative’s five-year research agenda, published in July 2020, which outlines a new way of thinking and acting to address the urgent, complex and interconnected challenges facing humanity. 

The Background Reviews served as discussion inputs for the September 2019 Biodiversity Revisited Symposium. They were designed to surface areas of convergence and divergence of thought, and eventually became the basis for several subsequently published manuscripts by the authors, as well as Seeds of Change, a set of provocative essays that preceded the research agenda.

Why now?

Biodiversity Revisited was conceived as a contribution to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) meeting slated to be held in October 2020 in Kunming, China. It was to be the pinnacle of years of research, synthesis and dialogue that would lead to a strengthened commitment from the global community. As it happened, nature had other plans, and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed COP15 back to October 2021.

With society continuing to undergo seismic shifts in every aspect of life, holistic collaboration across sectors, disciplines and communities is more important than ever. The Luc Hoffmann Institute has retroactively published these Background Reviews to acknowledge where we have come from and to further inspire biodiversity researchers to question, evolve and bring new learning to the ongoing challenges facing all life on Earth today.


Biodiversity Revisited was led by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in collaboration with WWF, Future Earth, ETH Zürich Department of Environmental Systems Science, the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London. This initiative was generously supported by the NOMIS Foundation, MAVA Foundation, Foundation for Environmental Conservation and The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

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Tackling corruption in the Indonesian natural resources sector

A thought piece by Laode M. Syarif, Executive Director of Partnership for Governance Reform (KEMITRAAN) in Indonesia and Senior Lecturer at Hasanuddin University, Faculty of Law. Dr  Syarif is collaborating with the Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice initiative, incubated by the Luc Hoffmann Institute and TNRC.

In countries where corruption is pervasive in governance, working across sectors to report and address corruption holds much potential for anti-corruption actors. This is the case in Indonesia’s natural resources sector. 

In Indonesia, corruption is largely driven by global supply and demand for palm oil, timber, pulp, and minerals. Intricate networks of powerful actors in finance, politics and business make it difficult to identify clear responsibilities and accountabilities for illegal actions.

From 2015 to 2019, I served as Commissioner of the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi). The KPK was established in 2003 as an independent public agency to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving high-ranking public officials and law enforcement officers. 

The impacts of corruption on conservation in Indonesia

The impacts of corrupt activities on our natural ecosystems, resources and local communities are marked. KPK studies conducted during my term as Commissioner revealed that almost 3 million hectares of natural forests had already been illegally cleared to make way for palm oil plantations even though these areas are still registered as natural forests by the government. As a result of both legal and illegal logging, Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. 

The loss of biodiversity and habitat for endemic fauna and flora is unmistakable as large plantations are often situated within national parks. In addition, soil and water sources are polluted, and local communities’ way of life is impacted as people’s food plantations and livelihoods are destroyed.

The challenges of tackling natural resources corruption in Indonesia

At the central, provincial and local tiers of government, the symptoms of corruption related to conservation show themselves mainly as irregular procurement processes; fast-tracking licensing for plantations and mining; and lack of acknowledgement or enforcement when environmental, forestry or mining laws are violated. 

However, upon deeper examination, the primary challenge remains the intermingling between politics and the private sector, and the related power dynamics and conflict of interest. Many political leaders hail from the private sector and own plantations and mining concessions. The KPK’s experience found that corrupt activities are often difficult to prove because key actors abuse their power by granting licenses to corporations with political connections, thus ‘legalising’ illegal activities. 

Corruption is part of complex and dynamic systems, and those involved have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors. This means that most corrupt activities involving financial exchanges are now conducted outside Indonesia, which makes it difficult for the KPK to trace the flow of money. Furthermore, it is not always possible to publish information around some investigations because those who wish to avoid being detected change their methods and use different jurisdictions where authorities are not prepared to cooperate with investigators. 

The challenge is therefore also about finding ways to use this information to support anti-corruption operational work and overcome constraints that may be imposed by political actors with vested interests.

When the KPK was established, an enabling environment was created by separating it from the Indonesian police and public prosecutor; a specialised system of anti-corruption courts was established, and the KPK was given investigation and prosecution powers. The KPK was also granted substantial autonomy in its human resources management system, and the competence and integrity of its staff were essential to its success.

However, in September 2019, a bill revising Law No.30/2002, the legal foundation for the establishment of the KPK, was passed in just 12 days and without consulting the KPK. The new legislation significantly curtailed the organisation’s independence by placing the KPK under the executive branch of the government. This, together with the withdrawal of political support due to vested interests, has impacted the ability of the KPK to function effectively. 

Sharing learning and innovative action

The KPK worked to enhance the transparency and accountability within the Ministry of Environment and Forestry through the establishment of Sistem Monitoring Kehutanan Nasional (National Forest Monitoring System) and Sistem Informasi Penatausahaan Hasil Hutan (Forest Product Administration Information System). It also assisted with establishing Minerba One Map Indonesia (MOMI) under the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and worked with local and provincial governments to improve the registration system for issuing mining licenses. 

The KPK shared its experiences with agencies in Southeast Asia and learned from its counterparts in other countries such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in Singapore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the United Kingdom, with whom it partnered on many international investigations. 

Collaborative pathways to action

Tackling the challenges of environmental crimes and illicit resource use can seem overwhelming. I am inspired to be part of the initiative on ‘Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice’ because its collaborative approach can help by closing knowledge gaps, growing partnerships and identifying promising avenues for change. 

The content of this thought piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, the Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice initiative, nor of any of their collaborating institutions.

Related links:

KPK and the future of combating natural resources corruption in Indonesia
A December 2020 article by Laode M. Syarif, Executive Director of Partnership for Governance Reform (KEMITRAAN) in Indonesia

Tackling forestry corruption in Indonesia: Lessons from KPK prosecutions
A 2020 publication by Sofie Arjon Schütte and Laode M. Syarif for the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2020:15)

Spurring new cross-sectoral connections towards anti-corruption responses in conservation
A thought piece by Elizabeth Hart, Chief of Party, Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC), World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US) and Aled Williams, Senior Advisor at U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center – Chr. Michelsen Institute, Research Coordinator for TNRC

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The Luc Hoffmann Institute brings together diverse thinkers to reflect on the future of conservation NGOs

The world around us is rapidly changing and the conservation sector is increasingly feeling the impact of these changes. Topics surrounding climate change, biodiversity, socio-environmental justice and the need for better sustainable practices and governance are becoming common conversations. 

On 15-16 September 2021, the Luc Hoffmann Institute convened a group of 41 conservation practitioners, academics, researchers, strategists, activists, fund managers, science communicators and supporters over two virtual sessions to discuss the future of conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs). 

The institute used the Three Horizons Approach framework to facilitate different ways of thinking and spark themes to be explored throughout the meeting. Graham Leicester and Catherine Cooney of the International Futures Forum facilitated the sessions. 

The aim of the meeting was to deliberate on the existing challenges, innovations and disruptive trends and to collectively identify areas of inquiry to create sustainable pathways for conservation NGOs.

On the first day, we looked at the bigger picture within which NGOs operate; the current trends and disruptions that the sector is facing and is likely to be affected by in the coming years. Next, we focused on the present concerns and collective aspirations for the future of conservation NGOs.  

The conversations spanned the complex relationships between nature, culture, people, economy and power. 

We heard some thought-provoking questions: “What if we could challenge ourselves to a vision where conservation is no longer needed because everyone should be living conservation?” With that, someone asked, “If I am no longer a conservationist….what am I?”

On the second day, we examined the need to embrace a broader diversity of worldviews. We delved into the complexity that we face, identifying areas of tension that we have encountered while exploring creative resolutions.

“How do we make space for the inner work that is needed for these changes?” asked one participant.

The session ended with the group reflecting on the psychological, cultural and spiritual work needed for deeper and longer-term change. One participant put things in perspective by quoting American environmental lawyer and advocate James Speth. “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”

Where next? 

We look forward to continuing this conversation and finding innovative pathways forward for conservation NGOs. If this initiative resonates with you and you would like to engage with us in the development of The future of conservation NGOs, please contact Anca Damerell, Head of Programme at the Luc Hoffmann Institute, at adamerell@wwfint.org.

Related reading

A September 2021 thought piece by Marcelo Furtado, visiting scholar at Columbia University.

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Could games play a role in inspiring young people to conserve nature?

A #GamifyingConservation thought piece on the role gaming could play in nature conservation, by Maike Gericke, the co-founder of innovation studio Scrypt and the creative head behind Tiramisu. Maike is a specialist in bringing together technology innovation, systems thinking, human-centred design and behaviour science to optimise social and environmental impact. 

Why do people care about wildlife?

This is just one of the interesting questions addressed by the Gamifying nature conservation project. For most people, interest in wildlife starts somewhere specific. For me, it was the elephant seal at the local zoo and the characters I loved in childhood books. Later on, it was the first elephant I saw right in front of me on safari, or a flock of birds taking flight in front of my window. It felt like a privilege to get a glimpse of their daily lives. Now, that feeling of excitement is increasingly mixed with concern for the future of the creatures and species I see in front of me, and for our natural environment in general. 

It turns out, there are many people just like me: people who are not actively engaged in conservation on a daily basis, but who nevertheless have come to care deeply about the future of wildlife. Apart from just having a general interest in and passion for wildlife and nature, and a strong drive to explore the outside world, an interest in wildlife seems to have overlap with concern for the environment and for personal health and wellbeing – or both. 

Could nature conservation be the next viral sensation that people socialise around in games? 

Since 2020, thanks in large part to the pandemic, the world has seen a global uptake of gaming activity, mostly through mobile phones.  

A Scrypt / Internet of Elephants analysis shows that 67% of global internet users over 16 years of age that care about wildlife are, in fact, already regular gamers. That makes for an audience of more than 777 million people (based on data from GWI). And considering that gamers under 18 make up 20% of the gaming population in countries like the US, the total number is likely much higher. 

Why people play games differs largely by generation. Gen Z (9-25 years old in 2021) play to socialise and learn, Millennials (25-40 years old in 2021) play to socialise and escape, and Gen X (41-56 years old in 2021)  play mostly for the challenge. For Millennials and generations above them, socialising through games is mostly reserved for gaming pros and dedicated fans that bond over game experiences. But Gen Z players take a much more casual approach. Although girls tend to stay in touch via social media, 74% of teenage boys talk with friends through video games and 22% do so daily

It is not just the most frequent gamers that socialise via games: 50% of Gen Z already socialises via game worlds without playing the main game, and 70% expect to do so in the future – a future that will increasingly blend social media, gaming and entertainment into a seamlessly connected overlay of our physical lives. The metaverse. 

In that metaverse, might the current or next hot topic be nature conservation? 

Sparking wildlife interest in games for action in the real world

Parents and some nature enthusiasts are rightfully concerned that gaming experiences might drive children further away from the natural world, which plays a crucial role in developing empathy and kindness. 

But while Gen Z’s interest in wildlife is lower than that of older generations (especially among boys), environmental concern is still a major topic. Gen Z is keen to take action and expects nothing less from global brands. Yet that willingness to act is often impeded by being overwhelmed, the pressure of convenient choices, and general uncertainty about what to do. 

Everyone needs a spark. Everyone needs the same driver of interest in wildlife that the elephant seal offered me. Games are a preferred way for Gen Z boys, whose interest in wildlife could grow, to socialise and learn. What if they could increase wildlife awareness, empathy and understanding in a fun and entertaining way? 

Of course, there is nothing better than going out into nature and exploring it for yourself. But it’s important to recognise that this is not always possible. Not everyone has the luxury to leave the city behind. Nature-infused game characters, narratives and storylines can spark inspiration and interest across generations. They can provide meaningful learning and bonding experiences for Gen Z, bring much-needed escape to Millennials and integrate Gen X in conversations with younger people.

Games can therefore be a key way to get people to understand and care about wildlife. Gamification can also be a wonderful way to encourage and reward real-world, pro-conservation behaviour.

Maike Gericke, the co-founder of innovation studio Scrypt and the creative head behind Tiramisu.

The content of this thought piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Gamifying Nature Conservation initiative nor of any of its collaborating institutions.

Related reading: How gamification could revolutionise conservation

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Gamifying conservation: What could go wrong?

A #GamifyingConservation thought piece on unintended adverse consequences by Sasha Sebright, Research and Events Consultant for the Luc Hoffmann Institute, and MPhil in Conservation Leadership candidate at the University of Cambridge.

Every action results in an inevitable and indefinite network of knock-on effects. Future tech in particular often comes with unintended consequences. Not all of these will be undesirable, but the drive to identify and mitigate against risks has always been of great personal importance, in part due to seeing the wellbeing of those without a voice or a seat at the table so often neglected during the decision-making process. When I first became involved in the Gamifying nature conservation project, a significant portion of my intrigue stemmed from such concerns. Might the commodification of nature be exacerbated by a future fundraising model that heavily relies on digitising wildlife? As technology advances and global connectivity enables the rapid spread of ideas and data, it seems more important than ever to identify potential negative outcomes before attempting to cause major disruption. 

Anticipating the unexpected

The conservation sector urgently needs to discover novel ways of attracting revenue if we are to close the global biodiversity funding gap. This is where games and gamification come into play, with gamification being endorsed as an innovative tool to generate engagement, motivation and behaviour change. Without a doubt, well-designed gamification can produce powerful individual and collective results. However, little research has been directed towards the potential risks of gamification, and even less knowledge is present regarding the application of gamification to conservation efforts. 

Combine gamification with nature conservation and you have an intervention that blurs the boundaries between the environmental and behavioural sciences, human and non-human, nature and culture, real and virtual. As such, a complex network of outcomes is triggered, the scope of which I attempted to uncover. The research for my thesis, “Disrupting the Conservation Marketplace”, at the University of Cambridge revealed four main categories of risk for the Gamifying nature conservation initiative: gamification and its impact on 1) giving value to wildlife data, 2) ethics, 3) behaviour change and 4) beliefs and social norms.

Within these themes are numerous unintended adverse consequences, several of which are highlighted below. The severity or relevance of risk is entirely dependent on personal perspective. Exemplifying this bias is the possible widening of inequality caused by the globally asymmetric nature of digital literacy and access. Assuming the gamified experience utilises the internet or other advanced technology, the ease at which a community can access and use the platform will vastly impact the level at which they can benefit from it. 

Potential unintended adverse consequences

An emerging threat revealed in the literature is that of ‘cyber poaching’, whereby the sharing of real-time geospatial wildlife data or the hacking of GPS animal collars and online data sets could act as a roadmap, leading poachers directly to tagged animals. It might not just be the welfare of wildlife that is in jeopardy if the demand for data accelerates due to newfound value. Intensified use of surveillance technology has already elicited concern for the psychological wellbeing and privacy of local communities. These social impacts have been observed with ‘human bycatch’ (the inadvertent capture of human images on camera traps), and the creation of fear in communities at the sight of drones due to a lack of understanding or an association with police control or warfare. 

A lesser-discussed yet potentially pervasive underlying issue for wildlife conservation could occur with the perceived exploitation of nature. Could the creation of a virtual world featuring inexhaustible resources oversimplify and misrepresent conservation struggles? Might adding collectable animals that can be bought and sold in this virtual world contribute to normalising or exacerbating the illegal wildlife trade? The narratives that are presented will alter how society perceives nature’s worth, how people empathise with non-humans and, ultimately, these narratives will impact the development of social norms and future environmental actions.

Think critically, act mindfully

With so much apparent risk attached to gamifying conservation, is it worth pursuing innovations in this arena? In my opinion, yes. Prioritising preventative risk identification at this stage means the generation of better informed, equitable and sustainable conservation solutions. 

Careful design and use of gamification elements can ensure the experience is enhanced for both short- and long-term engagement, aiming to stimulate intrinsic motivation and users’ empathy toward other species. Acknowledging the threat of cyber poaching means that measures can be implemented to protect wildlife-data privacy, including safeguarding the storage and sharing of geospatial data using time lags and reduced location accuracy. Solutions should strive to be inclusive and accessible in both design and benefit-sharing, avoiding the use of manipulative or exploitative gamification design. Finally, but crucially, interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to further research existing gaps in knowledge, including how data collection technologies impact human and animal welfare.

In the past I may have leant towards risk aversion, but it has become abundantly clear that inaction is not an option. Disruption is necessary; future interventions should strive to identify and minimise harmful consequences to all stakeholders, both human and non-human, while remembering that the ultimate risk could be failing to act at all.

Sasha Sebright, Research and Events Consultant for the Luc Hoffmann Institute and MPhil in Conservation Leadership candidate at the University of Cambridge.

The content of this thought piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Gamifying nature conservation initiative nor of any of its collaborating institutions.

Related reading: Exploring the potential of gamification to finance nature conservation: a new report

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Innovation for more just & diverse futures: Luc Hoffmann Institute 2020/21 annual report

The Luc Hoffmann Institute is proud to present its 2020/21 annual report, covering a year of important change for the institute, including the appointment of Melanie Ryan as our first woman director

At the institute, we strive to include as many voices from as many backgrounds and sectors as possible, not only for equity and justice but also because we know that diversity is essential for innovation. Our annual report this year focuses on why justice and diversity are critical for creating a future for life on Earth. 

Find out about the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s unique approach to innovation for people and nature, and how we cultivate new ideas by bringing innovators together with other experts and investors. Delve into our successful thought leadership initiatives, such as Beyond Tourism in Africa, the Multidimensional Biodiversity Index and Biodiversity Revisited. We saw these initiatives into successful implementation this year, demonstrating that it is possible to deliver concrete outcomes even in the face of global upheaval.

The report also spotlights several of our emerging ideas and aspirations for the coming years, including:

Finally, you’ll also meet the members of our refreshed Advisory Council and hear from the council’s new Chair, Jon Hutton, who took over as WWF’s Global Conservation Director in December 2020, after five years as Director of the institute. 

At the Luc Hoffmann Institute, we believe that the path to an equitable future for people and nature is challenging and requires fresh thinking. We invite you to learn more about our work and aspirations for more just and diverse futures for all life on Earth.

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Conservation NGOs need a new mindset and strategy: interview with Marcelo Furtado

Marcelo Furtado, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, has over 30 years of experience working in the sustainability field, and is committed to advancing environmental and social justice through advocacy and philanthropy. In an interview with the Luc Hoffmann Institute, as part of The future of conservation NGOs initiative, he discusses how conservation action is becoming wider and more inclusive, and therefore more complex.

You’ve had a long career spanning chemical engineering, technology, renewable energy, and human rights activism. How did your career path develop? What inspired your interest in conservation?

Marcelo: I think I’m driven by two main issues: one is looking into the future and another is inequality. I was born near a botanical garden, because my father was doing his PhD there, so conservation became part of my entire life. I’d go with my father and play with the Petri dishes and look at things in the microscope. Over time I developed a passion for nature, hiking and travelling. Now that I think about it, it feels like conservation has been more a natural consequence of my different life experiences than an original driver.

What are the changes you’ve seen over the course of your experience in the conservation sector? 

Marcelo:  At the beginning, the primary focus was on civil society trying to make governments more accountable and responsive. Then we had a second phase, with civil society trying to make corporations more accountable. It became clear that unless you change how markets actually work,  public policies alone, although very important, won’t necessarily provide you with the solutions you are looking for. You need both. Now, with the third phase, the focus is on the investment community behind the corporations with the intent to make them more responsible and liable for their actions and impacts on the environment and society. These different phases are not isolated, they are interconnected, and they represent the key themes of a public conversation that over time has evolved to become wider and more inclusive.  

Another major change, in the past two decades, came from scientific and technological progress: with the amount of information currently at our disposal. This information has enabled us to have a level of monitoring and understanding that is just incredible. We now better understand what’s working and what’s not, we can identify the best indicators and metrics and are becoming more strategic and effective. Lately we are seeing new developments in the public conversation, like the inclusion of new themes such as employment, access to income and opportunities for all. The idea of conservation we had in the past, as just fencing off an area and protecting it, no longer works. 

Lately, the conservation sector has started discussing issues such as inequity, colonial legacy, power dynamics between global north and global south, etc. Have you seen any impact of this new global awareness in the areas where you work?

Marcelo: Yes, let me give you an example. In the past  we did not have an easy and proper relationship with indigenous communities, so a few NGOs became specialised in working as a bridge between the indigenous communities and the socio-environmental movement. But now that’s not necessary anymore. The indigenous communities are sophisticated. Some have their own representation, such as the Brazilian Indigenous People’s Articulation (APIB), and some have their own lawyers that can defend their interests all the way up to the highest levels of jurisdiction. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s okay to have the big international NGOs, but we must pay attention to the fact that, in this changing world, there are players in the field that will be much more capable and effective because they have a capillary action, they can reach deeply into the local communities. I think that a couple of critical questions for the conservation community are: how much of your strategy is really co-developed with local players? Or, how much of that strategy is you just ‘hiring’ local NGOs and local players to deliver what you defined as important?

Do you think conservation NGOs will have a role to play in the future? 

Marcelo: Absolutely. But conservation NGOs are also very conservative organisations and that is a challenge. We need to be more bold and more open. Maybe instead of a few large global conservation NGOs, we should have a constellation of organisations working in different sectors and a strategy that brings them all together. I’m not totally sure of the validity of the current consolidation approach, where the conservation movement is run by very few organisations with a single mindset and strategy. I think that this model will be challenged. Are we future ready? Using technology to the best positive impact? Shifting the system? Monitoring impact. I have the feeling that the finance/business world has already understood that message and the conservation NGOs are a step behind. Nevertheless, society at large still trusts conservation NGOs and therefore they have both a fantastic mandate and a huge responsibility to fulfil it.  

Learn more about this initiative: The future of conservation NGOs

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Exploring the potential of gamification to finance nature conservation: a new report

Biodiversity loss is one of the world’s most immediate and critical challenges and at the same time it is becoming increasingly difficult to build interest in and fundraise for nature conservation. The latest estimate of the gap between what is needed to be spent to conserve nature and what is actually spent (the ‘conservation gap’) is over USD 800 billion per year. 

A new report by the Luc Hoffmann Institute – Using Gamification in Nature Conservation – explores how storytelling and gamification can derive value from, and for, wildlife. It highlights some current and past initiatives, theories and lessons learned from these efforts. The report not only lays out the current landscape, but also aims to spark people’s imagination to act on an increasingly urgent need.

‘’Finding the value that people will pay for is the holy grail of 21st-century conservation. The conservation community is sitting on a massive asset – charismatic species, wildplaces and nature stories – that could provide massive value with the right model’’, says Adrian Dellecker, Head of Strategy and Development at the Luc Hoffmann Institute. ‘’This report seeks to stimulate innovation, encourage entrepreneurs, and convince states and corporations that by using available technology, we can meaningfully address the painful financial gap in global conservation efforts and reconnect humans with nature. This report is not an end in itself: it must result in a flurry of innovation from a new generation of entrepreneurs.’’

This report begins with an overview of gamification, followed by an exploration of gamified marketplaces as alternatives for donations. Experts in a range of fields were interviewed and eleven case studies were examined, ranging from blockchain games to gamified marketplaces. In conclusion, the report recommends that gamification should be considered as one solution in a wide suite of methods to revolutionise nature conservation funding.

The authors of Using gamification in nature conservation are PentaQuest, independent gamification experts and Sasha Sebright, an MPhil candidate at the University of Cambridge who has been working closely with the institute’s Gamifying Nature Conservation project team.

To learn more about the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s work on gamification techniques and conservation please visit Gamifying Nature Conservation

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Spurring new cross-sectoral connections towards anti-corruption responses in conservation

A thought piece by Elizabeth Hart, Chief of Party, Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Aled Williams, Senior Advisor at U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center – Chr. Michelsen Institute, Research Coordinator for TNRC. Both are part of the Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice initiative, incubated by the Luc Hoffmann Institute and TNRC.

Corruption undermines every type of conservation effort. Knowledge sharing and new alliances between the conservation and anti-corruption communities have the potential to drive more effective responses.

Corruption plays a significant role in degrading nature, disrupting governance, undermining conservation efforts, and discouraging thriving, sustainable communities around the world. Corruption is complex and resilient, with its local dimension often connected to global dynamics through both direct and indirect pathways. It lacks a universally accepted definition while at the same time calling for coordinated responses from different actors. 

The challenge

Sharing cross-sectoral learning on corruption and its impact on natural resources and conservation is a key part of exploring new anti-corruption responses in the conservation sector.

Corruption is often the root cause of environmental degradation for the exclusive benefit of restricted power circles, as in the case of bribes to falsify export permits for protected species, complicit enabling of illegal and unreported fishing and illegal logging, or wholesale land grabbing from indigenous communities. In addition, the climate crisis has highlighted the urgency of rethinking how we do things across every sector. This includes addressing the misuse of power to serve interests that threaten a functional, just and sustainable society and environment.

Exploring anti-corruption responses

Conservation practitioners and analysts know these challenges, and the anti-corruption community has learned much over decades of work. However, until recently, only a few initiatives have directly addressed the impact of corruption on conservation outcomes. Fortunately, this is changing. Organisations on both sides recognise the confluence of their concerns, and the agenda in this area is growing as stakeholders examine the overlap and potential collaboration between these fields. 

The Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project, led by the WWF US in consortium with U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre – Chr. Michelsen Institute, TRAFFIC and the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University, has been one of the leaders in this effort. We are working with the Luc Hoffmann Institute to expand this dialogue and incubate new anti-corruption responses through the ‘Exploring responses to corruption in natural resource management and conservation practice’ project.

Through this cooperation, we hope to build common understandings of the scope of the problem, identify the range of risks that corruption poses to conservation objectives, and support conservation stakeholders in addressing the multi-faceted and dynamic character of corruption.

Arenas for fostering change

Focussing on lived experiences and insights is essential for a clear understanding of the problem. In order to respond in as informed a way as possible, six arenas have been identified where anti-corruption interventions would significantly benefit nature conservation. 

  • Law enforcement and the judicial sector
  • International finance and illicit financial flows
  • Supply chains
  • National policies and politics
  • Local and community-based conservation
  • Conservation organisations and funders

Thus far in the field of conservation, corruption has been primarily viewed through a law enforcement lens. This isn’t surprising given that many harms to conservation outcomes come from illegal activities like poaching, illegal fishing and logging, and the corruption that facilitates them. 

However, enforcement does not happen in a vacuum but is embedded in its political and social context. It is influenced by national policies and politics, and illegality is encouraged by avenues for laundering proceeds and the high returns generated by global supply-chain demand for illegally-harvested products. And, because supporting law enforcement actors may be compromising and risky in environments of corruption and low accountability, the enforcement arena needs to be further explored and supported by an understanding of how socio-political factors shape the effective implementation of the law. 

At the same time, corrupt actions can undermine even conservation activities that seem far from the networks of criminality that drive illegal trade, like community-based management. In such settings (as well as others), community empowerment, human rights-based approaches, and interventions aimed at addressing informal social norms may be better tools than law enforcement to address the impact of corruption. 

Understanding the enabling environment for corruption and its broader context are therefore essential to assessing the potential of a programme for success or failure, and to avoid unintended consequences. Given these considerations, conservation organisations and their funders need to assess and strengthen the range of approaches they have available to identify the risks that corruption poses and respond accordingly.

Co-creating shared agendas

By integrating the corruption lens in the way that we work, our goal is to reduce the risk that corruption poses to conservation and natural resource management (NRM) objectives. Through our work with the ‘Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice’ initiative, we aim to offer an opportunity for anti-corruption and conservation thought and action leaders to learn from each other and develop an actionable strategy for responding to the threats that corruption poses – it is a real possibility for growing partnerships in pursuit of a more just and sustainable global society.

Read more

Building State Capacity? Anti-Corruption and Illegal Logging in the Peruvian Amazon
An April 2021 TNRC Podcast with Aled Williams (U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre – CMI) joined by Julia Urrunaga, Peru Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), and Camila Gianella, Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI).

Mind the gap: Bridging the anti-money laundering (AML) and conservation communities to better address conservation crime and corruption
An April 2021 blog post by Judy Deane, Deputy Director, The Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center, GMU.

Natural resources, human rights, and corruption: What are the connections?
A June 2021 TNRC Topic Brief by Kate Sheill, Independent Consultant, and Rob Parry-Jones, World Wildlife Fund.

The content of this thought piece represents the authors’ own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, the Exploring Responses to Corruption in Natural Resource Management and Conservation Practice initiative, nor of any of their collaborating institutions.

Visit the project page: Exploring responses to corruption in natural resource management and conservation practice