Biodiversity Revisited early career essay competition winners

Biodiversity Revisited is the first comprehensive review of the concepts, narratives, governance, science, systems and futures underpinning biodiversity science since the emergence of the term in the 1980s. As part of this review, we ran a competition in 2019 for early-career researchers and practitioners to share their thoughts on one of the six themes (or as a cross-cutting piece).

The eight winners of this competition were:

Each winner, selected by the Biodiversity Revisited Steering Committee, was invited to our inaugural Biodiversity Revisited Symposium that took place 11-13 September 2019 in Vienna, Austria. The winners had the opportunity to share with other attendees the ideas and reflections expressed in their essays and contribute to Symposium discussions.

The judges were:

  • Prof Georgina Mace, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems. Genetics, Evolution & Environment. Div. of Biosciences, UCL
  • Dr John Garcia-Ulloa, Senior Scientist. Ecosystem Management Group, ETH Zürich
  • Dr Jasper Montana, Research Fellow in Human Geography. School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
  • Dr Chris Sandbrook, Senior Lecturer and Fellow. Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Prof Laurie Yung, Professor of Natural Resource Social Science. Department of Society & Conservation, University of Montana
  • Dr Jensen Montamboult, Director, Science for Nature and People Partnership. The Nature Conservancy

Of the 149 essays we received, 136 met our ‘early career’ qualification criteria. Participants came from 46 countries and we received an even split of applications from males and females. Approximately half of the authors were young professionals (e.g. practitioners or academics), with the other half being postgraduate students. Just over half of the submissions were cross-cutting pieces, the remainder focussed on one of the initiative’s six themes.


FAQ – Beyond Tourism in Africa


What is the innovation challenge all about?

Beyond Tourism in Africa is a space for innovative ideas that are urgently needed to allow people to live in harmony with nature. There is a clear need to diversify revenue beyond  tourism as the only income stream. This is true for local communities as well as for many conservation initiatives. In many countries in Africa, communities are sustainably managing their natural resources and contributing significantly to global conservation efforts. However, these efforts are primarily dependent on tourism, including trophy hunting, to generate the necessary income to do so. New approaches are needed to enable communities to earn critical income and other benefits while also maintaining wildlife sustainably. 

What do you mean when you refer to ‘wildlife’? Is this only about animals?

We use the term ‘wildlife’ in a broad sense that includes wild animals and plants. We encourage creative thinking, so ideas that apply to this challenge may focus on animals or any other aspect of the natural world. 

What is the objective of this call? Is it improving community livelihoods? Or is it protecting wildlife? Or improving conditions for wildlife and natural resources?

This call has two interlinked objectives: to improve both community livelihoods and the conditions for wildlife and natural resources to thrive. An essential condition to improve livelihoods is to generate the financial means to enable communities to manage their wildlife, to obtain benefits that exceed the costs of living alongside wildlife (ex: trampled crops, killed livestock and even death), and so to continue choosing to live alongside wildlife and/or natural resources rather than converting natural habitats to other uses. There are many different ways to improve the conditions for wildlife and natural resources: restoring or protecting wildlife (fauna and flora), using natural resources in sustainable ways (land, forests, water, energy, minerals, etc) or reducing waste and emissions are a few examples. This objective could also include conserving a pristine environment, such as maintaining the forest cover in an area.

How can I be sure that my project improves conditions for wildlife and natural resources? What are the criteria for judging this element of the challenge?

As this challenge is co-organised by WWF, this element is very important for us and we want to set a high standard. It would not be enough to come up with a business idea that generates income and other benefits for communities and does not harm the environment. The idea must have an ambition to improve the current conditions for wildlife and natural resources. Your idea will be judged on the ambition you set out and whether it is feasible.

Why is this only about Africa?

This innovation challenge has a focus on Africa, as it is the focus of work of two of the partnering organisations (African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation and WWF Regional Office for Africa). However, we aim to find ideas that have the potential to be replicated in other parts of the world. 

Why are you holding the challenge now?

Each of the partnering organisations had been future-planning for the wildlife conservation of tomorrow before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We had begun exploring opportunities to diversify revenue streams for community-led conservation to reduce reliance on all forms of tourism. The breakdown of the tourism industry as a result of COVID-19 has highlighted the over-dependence on tourism and accelerated our efforts. The wider public has seen firsthand how a singular dependence on tourism revenue can have disastrous consequences for livelihoods and conservation actions in many countries around the world. The risk of over-dependence also applies to conservation initiatives that are largely funded by revenues from ecotourism.

Can I apply alone, as a team or both? 

You may apply as an individual, or as team of up to three people. 

My team includes more than 3 people. Why can’t we apply?

The ALU incubation programme can accommodate teams of up to 3 people. If more people around you want to engage, you can form more than one team, with different ideas.

Can my organisation apply?

No. Only physical persons are eligible for the challenge, as the winners will receive places on the African Leadership University’s incubation programme and this programme is only open to persons rather than organisations. 

If you or someone from your organisation is interested in winning a place on the incubation programme, and have an idea that fits the criteria of the challenge, you are welcome to apply as an individual, or a team of up to three people. 

Why does my idea need to be ‘high-growth’? Shouldn’t it focus on a specific community?

We are looking for ideas that ultimately can generate returns at the scale of tourism (which includes trophy hunting). The reason is that if communities do not benefit from wildlife, they are likely to shift to unsustainable alternatives, such as large scale cropping, livestock management and other non-wildlife-friendly land uses, with irreparable consequences for natural areas. A key problem with many ideas is that they are not scalable. By ‘scalable’ we mean replicable in other locations or having the potential to become a high-growth business. So the idea either needs to have growth potential at the same place, or be a model for somewhere else. We encourage people to think big and more long-term. 

How can a project be simultaneously connected to a local community but also scalable to communities around the world? 

It may well be that the same idea could be replicated elsewhere with adjustments for different local contexts and requirements. For example, the concept of payment for ecosystem services is used in different geographies, with different services and contexts. 

Is this challenge mainly focused on southern and eastern Africa, or the whole of Africa?

The challenge is aimed at improving livelihoods for rural communities that live adjacent to wildlife across the whole continent of Africa.

Who are the judges?

All eligible applications will be evaluated by a panel of experts from the partnering organisations and key external experts with a track record in business development.

What are the judging criteria?

Ideas will be judged based on the five selection criteria outlined in the Application Details section of the challenge homepage. These criteria are reflected by eight detailed questions on the application form. Each of the five criteria is of equal importance. Diversity, gender inclusivity and social equity should be guiding principles for all successful ideas.

What happens to my idea if it is not chosen? Do you keep the rights to my idea?

The intellectual property rights to your idea remain with you. Only the reviewers will read your submission. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further details. 

Why are communities mentioned so often in this call? 

Communities play an essential role in the conservation of nature. An estimated 65% of the world is under some form of community governance and/or management (Rights and Resources Initiative, 2015); some estimate this coincides with areas holding 80% of the planet’s biodiversity (WWF, 2019). There are many successful examples of community-based conservation in Africa, where human wellbeing and the state of nature have both been improved through sustainable community management. However, the existing examples are primarily reliant on tourism.

I don’t have much/any experience in the environment sector. Can I still apply?

Yes, please do! We encourage people from all sectors to apply. Ideally, you have a team of people with backgrounds in different sectors. If you apply as an individual, before submitting your idea, you should aim to consult with people who can give you advice on aspects of the application that may be outside of your own expertise.

I have an idea relating to virtual/digital tourism. Can I apply?

Yes. Beyond Tourism in Africa excludes every form of tourism that requires the physical presence of the tourist in the destination. However, if you have an idea relating to virtual or digital tourism that does not require people to travel to a destination, please apply. 

Will you accept tech-based ideas for scalable tech companies?

Technology-based solutions will be considered. In your application, ensure that you explain how compatible the technology is with the target community. As with all ideas, we are keen to know whether the local community has played a role in the design of the solution. 

How many ideas will be chosen/awarded?

Between five and 15. 

How much seed money will be awarded to winning ideas?

During the incubation programme, participants might receive a grant of up to US$10,000 from the organisers as early seed money. 

How can I access funding through this challenge? 

The purpose of this challenge is not direct funding. Rather, the challenge seeks to find and incubate new ideas. The selected applicants will receive places on the African Leadership University’s incubation programme and access to seed money during this programme. If you have an idea that fits the criteria of the challenge, and are interested in incubating this idea into a viable business with the help of professionals during an eight-month, online study programme, please apply.

Will there be any second/third/runner-up awards?

Between five and 15 successful ideas will be chosen, and all of these will receive the same awards: a place in the African Leadership University’s incubation programme and access to seed money. There are no further awards beyond this.


What does the African Leadership University’s incubation programme entail?

The ALU School of Wildlife Conservation Incubator Programme is an 8-month part-time and virtual experience that supports teams with innovative and impactful ideas for wildlife conservation. Using our unique model, this programme transforms your ideas into a viable business. 

Through our incubator, we support high-potential entrepreneurs with a drive to transform Africa through impactful and ethical ventures. For this particular cohort, our focus is on community-led, innovative and impactful ideas that derive income from wildlife and manage natural resources sustainably.

Our programme provides access to life-long learning and a community of peers, mentors and potential investors. At the end of the programme, all participants would be expected to successfully launch a venture with the opportunity for potential investment.

When does the programme commence?

The programme begins on Monday, 1 February 2021.

What are the main courses of the programme?

Our programme has three main modules: (1) Evaluating your Idea, (2) Building a Solution, and (3) Preparing for Launch. Below is a sneak peek into our programme structure:

What is the time commitment of the programme?

Each participant is expected to commit 3-5 hours weekly for the duration of the programme.

Do I need to attend the programme in person?

No. The programme is fully online and includes resources shared via a learning management system (a combination of articles and videos for participants to go through); live sessions with peers, mentors, and experts; and engagement activities (e.g. forum discussions, demo pitches, and peer feedback sessions).

In any given week, all these activities should take an average of 4 hours. This programme is designed such that participants spend more time actually building their ideas than going through content.

If a team is chosen, do all members of the team attend the programme together or just the team leader?

The whole team attends the programme, whether individually for a team of one, or together for teams of two or three. For this reason, teams can have a maximum of three people.

What happens after the programme finishes?

There will be a demo day to close out the programme. Successful teams will have the opportunity to compete for $10,000 in seed funding and pitch their idea to a group of investors. 

More questions?

For specific questions regarding the ALU incubator, please contact:

Go back to the Beyond Tourism in Africa homepage.

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The search for a multidimensional biodiversity index

What could revolutionize the way biodiversity data is collected, synthesized, understood and acted on, the way that ‘2 degrees Celsius’ galvanised action on Climate Change?


In partnership with the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), the Luc Hoffmann Institute is incubating the idea of transforming how biodiversity is integrated into decision-making globally through a multidimensional biodiversity index (MBI). Learning from the successes and failures of economic and poverty indices, the institute is bringing diverse voices together to lay the foundations for the concept and raise awareness of its potential.

Who we are working with

Explore the impacts


The world faces global disasters.


For the first time, the notion of a multidimensional biodiversity index (MBI) emerges as an opportunity to better inform decision-making in the environmental sector.


Play video →

Luc Hoffmann Institute, UNEP-WCMC, and WWF convene diverse actors around the search for an MBI. Feedback following the convening indicates that the “single index” approach is feasible.

June 2019

“Some things are very difficult to count, but if we create an infrastructure for measuring biodiversity, then it begins to count for society and people start to see the impact.”

Pali Lehohla, former Statistician General of South Africa and Founder of the Pan-African Institute for Evidence at the convening on ‘Exploring a multidimensional biodiversity index’.

“This is going to be important in designing policy interventions that can affect the trend [in species depletion] and hopefully turn it back.”

Adriana Conconi, Executive Director, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at the convening on ‘Exploring a multidimensional biodiversity index’.


The United Nations Environment Programme Statistical Division helps integrating the index in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) reporting and considers becoming the index’s official custodian agency.



Several governments volunteer to conduct pilot projects in their countries (Switzerland, South Africa, Vietnam, Mexico, Costa Rica); Several countries and foundations also indicate an interest in funding the development of an index.

February 2020

The Swiss Federal Department of Environment supports the development of the index for a three year project, and volunteers to have the concept tried in Switzerland.

Discussions begin with local actors, in Switzerland, Costa Rica, Viet Nam and Mexico on how to deliver pilot projects in countries to test the MBI.


Aspiration – biodiversity health – and business and societal responses to it – can be measured and easily communicated, resources are better allocated to regenerate biodiversity while ensuring human well-being.

Timeline ends here

Related resources

Towards a multidimensional biodiversity index
A July 2019 video on the Multidimensional Biodiversity Index initiative. 

A measure to make biodiversity relevant 
A June 2019 thought piece by Adrian Dellecker, Head of Strategy and Development (ad-interim), Luc Hoffmann Institute.

Disseminating the power of an index that would transform conservation efforts 
A March 2019 thought piece by Carolina Campos, Luc Hoffmann Institute and UNEP-WCMC research associate; pursuing an MSc in Environmental Economics at the London School of Economics.

One for all or all for one? 
A November 2018 thought piece by Carolina Soto-Navarro, Postdoctoral scientist, Luc Hoffmann Institute and UNEP-WCMC Science Programme.


Thought piece: bridging aspirations and biodiversity conservation

A #BiodiversityRevisited thought piece by Dr Santiago Izquierdo-Tort, a Consultant at Natura y Ecosistemas Mexicanos and a Senior Researcher at ITAM Centre for Energy and Natural Resources.

“I started working since I was young. My father gave me a small parcel. We like a lot when we knock down a forest. We knock down a forest area, bring in chainsaws and burn, and we get really nice maize…The goal of a farmer is to desolate everything and see what one can put there. This is the goal of many ejidatarios…The people who came here, like my father, used to work for rich people. They had no land”

 Manuel Martinez

Meet Manuel Martinez, an ejidatario (landholder) from Flor del Marqués, a community in Selva Lacandona, one of the last remaining tropical forest areas in Mexico. Manuel is one of almost twelve thousand people who live in the municipality Marqués de Comillas (MdC), a region that was only permanently settled in the 1970s as the result of government-led agricultural frontier policies aimed to bring ‘idle’ forestlands into production and to solve peasant land demands. Like many other ejidatarios in MdC, Manuel is both a crop farmer and a rancher. In less than 50 years, more than half of the forests in MdC have been converted to crop fields and pastures.

This is a common scenario in the tropics: forest-dwellers at the resource base who aspire to become peasants and ranchers; and people who ‘see’ forests as potential crop fields and pastures, where forests represent a source of livelihood to extract timber, hunt, fish, and engage in other legal and illegal activities. Evidently, these aspirations sharply contrast with those of conservation communities concerned with safekeeping wildlife: communities who see forests as the refugee of thousands of animal and plant species, and for whom forests provide valuable ecosystem services that benefit many people locally and abroad.

Decades’ worth of efforts with different ‘carrots and sticks’ for biodiversity conservation have made their way into the world’s tropics, with crucial effects in some contexts. Such interventions have ranged from ‘command and control’ instruments that restrict human activity on nature to projects that promote sustainable resource use or seek to displace productive activities away from ecosystems, as well as market-based instruments that provide direct incentives for biodiversity protection, such as payments for ecosystem services (PES) programmes. Indeed, the last well-conserved forest patches in southeast Selva Lacandona have been maintained by a combination of instruments – protected areas, PES programmes, community-based ecotourism projects – and the uninterrupted presence of committed NGOs such as Natura y Ecosistemas Mexicanos, and have helped secure viable populations of endangered species such as jaguar, white-lipped peccary, and scarlet macaw.

Despite some progress, we seem to barely scratch the surface when it comes to understanding and addressing the long-term, fundamental processes at the core of biodiversity loss. There remains a strong need to go beyond how people respond to short-term nudges, both positive (incentives) and negative (coercion), and rather move towards the broader set of motivations – philosophical, cultural, ethical – that together drive actions that affect biodiversity. If narrow, short-term decisions influence biodiversity but result from more fundamental issues that people hope and dream of achieving, what if we directly examine how such behavioural foundations are formed and evolve?

What if we recast biodiversity research and practice in terms of aspirations?

A lens on aspirations would involve asking different types of questions. What if instead of focusing on the questions of how –how people respond to incentives or how behaviour is influenced by ‘opportunity costs’ and ‘intrinsic’ motivations for conservation –we focus on the key questions to do with why? For instance, why does Manuel like to knock down forests? Why do people in the tropics aspire to be cowboys? Why do people overharvest timber, overhunt, overfish, and engage in illegal trafficking?

A lens on aspirations would require searching for answers in yet unchartered domains of human life. If biodiversity-damaging decisions are fundamentally influenced by people’s hopes and dreams, then the first place to search for clues is in people’s culture and history. Does religion play a role in the activities that cause biodiversity loss, or the things people watch on television and the internet, or music themes and lyrics, or achieving status among peers, or childhood memories like Manuel’s?

Clearly, the notion of linking aspirations with biodiversity raises more questions than answers. As the field of biodiversity conservation seems to be running out of ideas to protect its very being, and the world’s biological diversity is certainly running out of time, hopefully thinking about people’s aspirations – from local to global – may trigger much-needed discussions on the conflicts that result from different worldviews regarding biodiversity, and offer new places from where to find inspiration in our quest to design and implement more effective and resilient interventions.

Dr Santiago Izquierdo-Tort is a Consultant at Natura y Ecosistemas Mexicanos and a Senior Researcher at ITAM Centre for Energy and Natural Resources.

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

Related Reading: Biodiversity Revisited


Thought piece: biotic diversity revisited

A #BiodiversityRevisited thought piece by Daniel P. Faith of the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney, Australia.
The content of this thought piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative nor of any of its collaborating institutions.

The heart of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative is a “reframing of ‘biodiversity’”. Here, I will describe how my own recent work may add some useful perspectives. I have been ‘revisiting’ biodiversity by considering foundational ideas forged during the period before the emergence of the term. This looking back at the pre-history of ‘biodiversity’ (the history of the term before it was invented) reveals early support for the idea that ‘biotic diversity’ (one of several ‘biodiversity’ synonyms from the 1970s) is about variety, and is about the value of such variety in maintaining options for humanity (including ‘insurance’ and ‘option value’).‘Biodiversity option value’ refers to the idea that living variation is valuable because we cannot predict which elements (e.g. species) will provide uses/benefits in the future; ‘biodiversity insurance value’ refers to the idea that living variation is valuable because we cannot predict which elements will help maintain stability/integrity in the face of future changes.

My revisiting of the term ‘biodiversity’ supports a back-to-basics framing that counters the now-common idea that ‘biodiversity’ should holistically capture everything we want to conserve or even everything we like about the environment. This unfortunate trend has created an increasing muddling of biodiversity’s narratives. For example, presuming that ‘biodiversity’ includes any ecological ‘diversity’ index not only has created a less coherent biodiversity narrative, but also has coincided with a neglect of core values of variety, including option value.

Biodiversity Revisited might appear to echo my concerns in lamenting what it calls a “muddled” biodiversity narrative. However, I’m now troubled by the rationale for this initiative. While I have argued that too much has been packed into the ‘biodiversity’ story, Biodiversity Revisited argues that biodiversity science and its narratives have failed in not being broad or inclusive enough. The initiative argues that ‘biodiversity’ has not been “a compelling object for sufficient action to halt the degradation of the diversity of life on Earth,” and argues that “a more holistic conceptual framing may create a more compelling object”.

I’m concerned about some presumptions in Biodiversity Revisited. For example, reference is repeatedly made to the broad ecological notion of ‘diversity’ as a focus of holistic approaches. This may contribute to our current muddled biodiversity narratives. Similarly, an ecological emphasis is also found in the stated presumption that it is vital to determine the level of “dangerous” biodiversity loss. Global biodiversity option values may not have such thresholds.

These strong ecological perspectives in Biodiversity Revisited reignite my concerns about possible neglect of the core values of ‘biodiversity-as-variety’. Indeed, Biodiversity Revisited argues:

“Integrating future concerns into current day decision-making is of existential importance to humanity, yet the dominant approaches to managing biodiversity are largely reactive and backwards looking – seeking to conserve species or landscape as it was in the past.”

You might say, “‘backwards looking’ – that can’t be good!”. Yet, the basis for biodiversity’s maintenance of options is exactly that – we look back at the past in appreciating the living variation that evolutionary processes have produced. This is highlighted in IPBES’ use of evolutionary heritage (phylogenetic diversity) as one indicator of maintenance of options for humanity. Conserving the past is one of the most forward-looking things we can do.

This claim about “backwards looking” is a supposed limitation of biodiversity science and narratives. However, such critiques may reflect more that Biodiversity Revisited is interested in holism than in the biodiversity crisis. For example, the criticism that biodiversity “efforts have been too narrowly focused on species” seems over-stated in the face of the IPBES recent assessment suggesting one million species are at risk of extinction. ‘Biodiversity’ is not failing us; we are failing biodiversity.

The solution, I think, is back to basics – call it “Biotic Diversity Revisited”. This better recognises the pre-history origins of the biodiversity concept, promoting ‘variety’ and its various values to humanity, while seeking integration with other needs of society. The pre-history suggests that biodiversity as variety offers clear benefits for us, providing a compelling reason to take action about biodiversity loss. In contrast, holistically packing everything into new narratives may turn out to be the very thing that invites future criticisms of failing to resonate, of vagueness, and of lack of a coherent message.

The CBD, in its 2050 vision, noted that transformational change involves trade-offs among the different needs of society. This seems best served by articulating a clear core meaning of biodiversity-as-variety. I believe that this is the resonating, less-vague, coherent message that not only enables traction regarding the biodiversity crisis, but also enables exploration of trade-offs and synergies, and so ultimately better serves broader biosphere issues.

© Tree of Life Web Project

The content of this thought piece represents the authors’ own views and does not necessarily represent the views of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative nor of any of its collaborating institutions. 

Daniel P Faith is based at the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney

Related Reading: Biodiversity Revisited

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Why we need a new process to navigate conflicts over iconic wildlife

As human populations expand and the tentacles of anthropogenic development spread ever further, there is increasing contact between humans and wildlife. This often leads to competition and conflicts between people and animals of conservation concern, such as elephants and lions.

Although the contact and conflict between animals and other wildlife is where conflicts originate, the deeper conflicts are usually disagreements between people as to the appropriate ways to manage and resolve these issues. Proposed solutions such as elephant-proof water points, or better enclosures and fences, often do not sufficiently address the deeper roots of these conflicts – especially the different values that people hold over which sort of management is acceptable and appropriate.

As a result, the underlying tensions and issues at the root of human-wildlife conflict are frequently left unaddressed – which leads to negative outcomes for both people and nature. A negative sentiment towards wildlife and conservation often develops, and the potential for a healthy co-existence between humans and wildlife is further undermined. In extreme cases retaliatory killings of wildlife take place. The presence of ongoing human-wildlife conflict that is not adequately managed also leads to situations where local communities turn a blind eye to, or even actively support, the illicit activities of wildlife poachers.

Elephants and lions, for example, are among the most charismatic and impressive beasts in nature. Yet when people live alongside them, the devastation these animals cause can be overwhelming – think of subsistence farmers with only limited crops and livestock. In addition, especially if there are no clear substantive benefits from these animals living near people’s homes, the fear they invoke can become overbearing. On top of this, there are some community members who feel they have not been a part of the decision for these animals to return to their farmlands, and who see themselves as farmers more than conservationists. It is not surprising that if the concerns of such rural farmers and others are not adequately heard and addressed, they may well end up opposing the conservation of the species the global conservation community cares most about.

To anticipate and mitigate the potential for such conflicts, that can be deeply damaging to both people and wildlife, we need a radical new approach. Successful conservation practice requires an understanding of complex social and ecological processes and the different meanings and values that people attach to them. I call this mental modelling.

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I have been working with the Luc Hoffmann Institute to develop an initiative to address this pressing conservation need. Our project is called Navigating Conflict over Iconic Wildlife, and it aims to develop and trial a process to better navigate and manage the types of ongoing and often polarised human-human conflict that stems from conflict between humans and wildlife, by mapping stakeholders’ mental models in considering conflicts. In the development of this initiative we are consulting widely, including with Rosie Cooney and Dilys Roe from the IUCN Specialist Group on Sustainable Use and Livelihoods and with Alex Zimmerman and her colleagues from the IUCN Task Force on Human-Wildlife Conflict.

My PhD student Abigail Brown and myself recently returned to Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, from our first workshops to develop and pilot this process with partners in Namibia. The communal conservancies of Namibia are an excellent setting for the development and trialling of a process to better navigate the conflicts over iconic wildlife. As a result of a successful community conservancy initiative that started in the 1990s, wildlife numbers in the communal conservancies have been increasing. Whilst this is a laudable conservation success, it has led to increased conflict between wildlife and people. Elephant and lion are among the top species that people are concerned about in many Namibian communal conservancies.

To start our pilot initiative in Namibia we worked closely with our local implementing partner in the country, the Namibian Nature Foundation. We held three workshops, one in the capital city of Windhoek with national level stakeholders – including WWF-Namibia and a range of community, tourism, conservation and agricultural representatives – as well as those from relevant Namibian government departments. There was also strong regional and international participation, including representation by UN Environment and IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi). Luc Hoffmann Institute Director, Jon Hutton, also participated, with the institute’s Anca Damarell, my project co-leader, joining virtually.

A key outcome of the Windhoek workshop was an acknowledgment that the challenge of human-wildlife conflict is not being met and addressed with sufficient depth, and that critically there needs to be a much deeper dialogue between communities and the conservation and agricultural sectors. Our initiative was therefore welcomed as filling an important niche on human-wildlife conflict – one of Namibia’s foremost conservation challenges at present.

Following our Windhoek meeting, a smaller team travelled to the sweltering desert town of Uis, four hours north-west of the capital, for workshops with several community conservancies. These community meetings were designed to hear the voices of community members who live day to day with wildlife and explore how our process may be useful to them. Despite 40-degree desert heat, community members were very enthusiastic about the chance to engage in deeper dialogue and collaborate to find more transformative and longer-lasting solutions to the challenge of human-wildlife conflict in their conservancies.

I was excited and encouraged by the levels of enthusiasm and willingness of the Namibians to work with us and engage in the process we will develop. We look forward to returning in a few months to start with the process development and trialling in earnest – and in due course, to translating these experiences and learnings to developing global guidelines for addressing complex conflict over iconic wildlife.

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Climate change, biodiversity and the peace process in Colombia

By Claudia Munera Roldan and Carolina Figueroa of the Luc Hoffmann Institute Conservation Futures project.

In 2012 the latest efforts towards a peace process in Colombia began to put an end to a 52 year- conflict with the FARC. After lengthy negotiations, the Colombian Congress finally approved the peace agreement in December 2016.

The uncertainty the process presents both for Colombian society and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity became apparent in 2014 when the Luc Hoffmann Institute first started engaging with WWF Colombia on the Conservation Futures project.

Conservation Futures aims to help protected area planners and managers navigate pressures such as climate change, the spread of invasive species and habitat loss, which all come with a level of unpredictability. The peace process adds another layer of complexity and uncertainty to the management of biodiversity and this makes Colombia a challenging but fascinating place to work.

With the origins of the conflict emerging from disagreements over land tenure, a big challenge is to find land for the 6 million people displaced by the conflict, creating concerns about the pressure to change the land tenure map. Although protected areas in Colombia are legally protected, there is uncertainty about whether the post-treaty period will follow a sustainable development path or reflect ‘business as usual’ with continuing pressure from deforestation, mining, and so on.

Over the past 50 years Colombians have had to live with uncertainty surrounding the conflict and attempts for peace. While we can’t be sure about the consequences of the treaty, it is fair to say that a major social transformation is underway. It is against this backdrop that climate change, and responses to it will unfold in Colombia. The current social and political transformation foreshadows an ecological transformation that will be driven by climate change in the longer term.

Which brings us to the major challenge facing the Conservation Futures project: How do you make decisions now, for impacts 20-50 years into a future that you can’t possibly predict?

This question was the subject of a ‘Futures Dialogue’ held in Bogota last October. In collaboration with our WWF Colombia colleagues, we hosted a workshop with Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, to understand the implications of ecological transformation that climate change may bring, and possible impacts on the social and ecological values of Colombia’s protected area network.

As we gather more information and improve climate projections, models become more complex and uncertain, particularly in understanding how climate drivers interact with each other and impact biodiversity conservation. Adapting to climate change involves learning how to live with, and make decisions in a context of uncertainty.

Climate uncertainty may be a whole new ball game, but we are not starting from scratch. There is a lot to be learned from past experience. In the short term, the stressors will remain much the same: floods, droughts, invasive species, illicit crops, agriculture, mining and development. Protected area managers deal with these on a daily basis. We know more or less what types of adaptation and management strategies can be used to cope with these stressors. It is often a case of finding agreement on social values, and getting the right rules in place to enable action. But there is a group of adaptation challenges that we don’t yet know how to deal with – social, political or institutional barriers – that may prevent the implementation of adaptation measures, such as weak environmental policy frameworks or inconsistent cross-sectoral policies. Learning how to deal with these challenges is a critical part of the adaptation challenge.

Although good progress has been made regarding climate adaptation by the Colombian government through policy statements (the National Development Plan and the National Adaptation Plan), it is still difficult to identify good examples of planning, policy and management working together at different levels and between sectors. Strategies for addressing climate risks need to be paired with efforts to tackle the barriers to adaptation. Climate adaptation in an uncertain future requires creating and strengthening governance processes, including decision making, planning and management.

With the implementation of the peace process we may expect changes. There is much work to do, much thinking needed and many questions arise: What will happen to the millions of displaced Colombians? What can we expect for the establishment of new protected areas and the ecosystem services they provide under a climate change/peace process scenario? How do we maintain the current social and ecological values of protected areas as the climate changes?

Colombian society will need to acquire the information and skills to address emerging challenges. But perhaps the incidental upside of years of uncertainty the country has faced, is that it is well equipped to adapt to change. The peace process is a big deal for Colombia and we hope it will help rather than hinder the ability of the country’s protected areas to continue providing critical ecosystem services and conserving our rich biodiversity in the long term.

Ultimately, the capacity to make decisions for a long term, uncertain future requires a learning approach, taking risks, following up progress and being adaptive as more is learned about the implications of climate change and the efficacy of adaptation measures. So, in addition to asking what will happen to protected areas in the post-treaty period, we should also be asking what can we learn from the past 50 years about strategies that help us to live with change and uncertainty.

Main image: © Pablo Corral / WWF

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Enabling co-creation: aligning values, rules and knowledge

By Lorrae van Kerkhoff, member of the leadership team for the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s Conservation Futures project which helps protected area managers and agencies plan for future ecosystem changes.

How do we improve? In the context of sustainable development, we continually confront the question of how we can develop meaningful and positive actions towards a ‘better’ world (social, ecological, economic outcomes) despite inherent uncertainties about what the future holds.

Co-creation is one concept among several that seek to reorientate us from simplistic, largely linear ideas of progress towards more nuanced, subtle ideas that highlight that there are many different aspects of ‘progress’, and these can be deeply contested and challenging to reconcile. Enabling co-creation, then – or operationalizing it – means finding practical ways to work together, to deal with our different experiences, aspirations and expectations as well as the uncertainties of the future.

Co-creation sits within a learning paradigm that suggests engagement, social and mutual learning, adaptation and flexibility are key to enabling action in the face of uncertainty. But how do we think about learning?

Read the full article on Integration and Implementation – a blog about research resources for action-oriented team science.


Main image: ©  Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom, Luc Hoffmann Institute – WWF

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Beyond talk – time for action: Integrating people into conservation

Greater effort is needed to make people part of the equation in conservation projects. This will increase local support and the effectiveness of conservation

That’s the main conclusion of a study ‘Understanding and integrating human dimensions to improve conservation,’ recently published in the journal Biological Conservation. In the study, an international group of scientists outlines the need to consider people’s livelihoods, cultural traditions and dependence on natural resources when planning and carrying out conservation projects around the world. Among the authors is Carina Wyborn, Research Adviser at the Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI).

“People often say that understanding people is as important to conservation as understanding biodiversity,” she says. “We’ve been talking about integrating social science into conservation for a very long time, but it still seems to be a major challenge.”

As species decline continues unchecked, conservation organisations traditionally emphasise natural science to solve ecological problems, neglecting people’s relationships to natural resources.

“Despite many calls to provide more people-centered approaches, conservation is still often viewed as being about the environment with biophysical science being prioritised over social science,” Wyborn adds.

Increasingly, natural scientists and social scientists are working together to try to consider the needs of both nature and people. These integrated approaches offer hope for the future of conservation.

“When we don’t understand the social aspects, conservation strategies can have negative impacts on people living in a region, or are not feasible within the local policy context. Conservation social science can help us to understand when, where and how our conservation strategies are likely to be more effective”

says Wyborn.

This paper follows dozens of studies that point out the need to consider people in environmental management and conservation, but few have articulated the benefits of doing so and exactly how to do it. This paper is the first to bring together the entire storyline by listing the practical contributions the variety of social science disciplines can offer to improve conservation. It calls for action to ensure that we learn from past failures and successes when ignoring or considering human dimensions and the governance context of conservation.

Successful conservation projects happen when both natural and social scientists work with government, nonprofits, resource managers and local communities to come up with solutions that benefit everyone. This can take more time and resources at the outset, but the paper argues that social scientists can help make this a more efficient process.

“Conservation research has operated in silos for far too long – social scientists in one community – ecologists in another, but to develop robust, long-term conservation strategies, we need to understand the social, political and ecological landscape as an integrated whole,” says Wyborn.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute is using social science methods to build the capacity of protected area planners and managers to address climate change. Despite many studies of climate impacts on biodiversity, there is still a gap when it comes to implementing adaptation strategies. LHI’s Conservation Futures project is developing an approach to understand and overcome the barriers to adaptation. Integrating social, climate and ecological science gives a more complete understanding of the challenges of preparing for change in the long term.

Read the full paper here.

Main image: © Jürgen Freund / WWF

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Ecosystem Services and Sustainability MOOC


We are pleased to announce a new MOOC on Ecosystem Services available immediately on the Coursera platform, produced by the University of Geneva, the Geneva Water Hub, the Luc Hoffmann Institute and the Natural Capital Project.

Is this course for me? This MOOC is for anybody interested in mastering the strengths and weaknesses of the Ecosystem Services concept as a tool for promoting sustainable development. Subjects covered will be both technical (methods for valuation, data acquisition, etc.) and socio-political (how to mainstream the process, criticism of method, etc.). Watch an introductory video (3min) to get a feel for the course content and philosophy.

Who are the instructors? Learners will hear from many of the field’s leading minds. The course is taught by three primary instructors and by 29 guest instructors and interviewees coming from many of the key institutions (the Natural Capital Project, WWF, IUCN, IPBES, TEEB, Luc Hoffmann Institute) and Universities.  Learners can expect to hear multiple contrasting opinions. See the full syllabus and list of instructors on the course page.

When is the course offered? This course is offered “on-demand”. In practice, the class has cohorts that are formed on a regular basis and you can take as much time as necessary to complete the course (2-5 hours for 5 weeks is a rough estimate). The first cohort begins February 2nd 2017.

What will it cost? Access to all course materials is free. To take the exams and obtain a certificate of completion costs 49 USD. Financial aid is available (see FAQs on bottom of the course page).

Where can I sign up? Here, or type “ecosystem services” on the Coursera website.

Main image:  Juergen-Freund / WWF