Thinking together: a new report explores possible futures for conservation NGOs

The work of nature conservation organisations is becoming increasingly urgent in the face of the interlinked crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. At the same time, digital transformation and shifting societal norms create extraordinary challenges for these organisations, as well as opportunities for change.

Conservation NGOs have come under increasing pressure, with questions about organisational culture and racism, colonial legacy, power distribution and funding models. To ensure their continued relevance, effectiveness and legitimacy, they must seek new roles and organisational forms.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute has published Exploring Possible Futures for Conservation NGOs, a report that is intended to help kickstart a journey of reimagining how nature conservation is organised and approached. The report is based on the first phase of “The Future of Conservation NGOs”, an initiative that seeks to explore possible futures for conservation NGOs as well as innovative pathways to those futures.

Report: Exploring possible futures for conservation NGOs

“The context in which conservation NGOs operate has changed greatly and, as a result, the organisations themselves need to change too,” said Anca Damerell, Head of Programme at the Luc Hoffmann Institute.  “This report sets out some bold and innovative thinking around how conservation NGOs can shift towards possible new roles, filtered through lenses that capture our fast-changing world.”

“We have asked ourselves whether we are the right organisation to lead this conversation,” said Melanie Ryan, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute. “Acknowledging that we, too, are part of the status quo and have to be honest and also turn the mirror on how we can do better as part of this exploration and community. We are committed to including a highly diverse set of voices in this initiative and incorporating critiques with the aim to help spark a necessary radical transformation of the nature conservation sector.”

After describing the external and internal trends that are currently affecting the work of conservation NGOs, the report presents 15 potential future roles for them, each one based on a possible future state of the world. In each case, potential pathways towards the role are described, along with the mindset and culture required and the organisational forms best adapted to that role. Examples of organisations that already embody aspects of each role are also given.

The following 15 propositions are examples of potential roles for future conservation NGOs.
Luc Hoffmann Institute

The report is co-authored by Barney Tallack, who leads and supports strategy and transformation processes across NGOs of all sizes, and Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken, who works on international development and civil society issues in practice, in academia and as an independent consultant. The report also draws on inputs from a diverse group of thought leaders and practitioners drawn from across the world, who were either interviewed or participated in a convening held in September 2021.

About the Project: ‘The Future of Conservation NGOs’ brings together conservation practitioners, community members, thinkers, disruptors, and leaders – from across different geographies, disciplines, and sectors to reimagine the presence, role and structure of conservation NGOs. It explores in-depth the impact of systemic patterns such as organisational culture and racism, colonial legacy, power asymmetries, and funding models on conservation NGO effectiveness. It scrutinises the emerging disruptions to the conservation sector, challenges current assumptions and identifies emerging tensions and desired outcomes. This initiative aspires to uncover root causes, identify areas of change and focus on co-creating innovative solutions and regenerative pathways that are future-relevant. To date a total of 59 people, aged 26 to 60+, were either interviewed by the institute, took part in a two-day convening, or both.  If this initiative resonates with you and you would like to engage with us, please contact Anca Damerell, Head of Programme at the Luc Hoffmann Institute, at adamerell@wwfint.org.