Innovation Challenge

Seeking innovative ideas for transformative change

Thank you for your interest in The future of conservation NGOs Innovation Challenge. Applications are no longer being accepted, and the challenge is now closed. The application period ran from 21st April – 22nd May 2022.

We are pleased to announce the winners of the global innovation challenge. Nine innovative ideas have been selected that are challenging dominant conservation narratives, redesigning conservation approaches and reimagining the conservation space to create a more just, equitable and regenerative future. The winning ideas represent a wide array of conservation efforts – international, local, rural, and urban – from the coastal communities in Maldives to the urban population in Greece.

Click here to see the list of winning ideas.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute, the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) and Impact Hub are launching a global challenge to drive innovation and support solutions that proactively address the deep-rooted issues facing conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and help build a just, inclusive and regenerative future.  

Participants have the chance to win:

  • €5,000 per winning entry
  • A place in a tailored incubation and co-learning programme
  • Access to a community of conservation practitioners, fellow change-makers and potential investors.

What is the challenge?

As the climate crisis intensifies and biodiversity loss accelerates, the work of nature conservation organisations is becoming increasingly urgent.

The scope of conservation too is widening. The conservation agenda, traditionally determined by environmental drivers, is now confronted by the human and social rights agenda and drivers such as inclusion, race, and equity.

Structural and systemic issues are at play within the sector, which are impacting conservation effectiveness. There is an urgent need for root-reform – dismantling existing power structures, addressing legacies of discrimination, equalising voices and resources, reframing narratives and challenging the approaches and structures that perpetuate existing social and economic inequalities.

Where is change needed?

Four broad themes, identified collectively through the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s initiative “The future of conservation NGOs“, provide a guide to where change is most needed. 

Redesign the operational, financial, and governance models.
Challenge dominant Global North narratives, embrace different and plural voices & knowledge.
Dismantle racist and discriminatory structures, decolonise conservation practices.
Embrace a more inclusive approach, collaborate & engage with a diverse range of actors.

In this challenge, we are looking for ideas that will help address these themes, but also welcome ideas that may not fit directly under them. 

The Luc Hoffmann Institute’s recently published report, “Exploring possible futures for conservation NGOs”,  proposes ideas on how conservation NGOs can shift towards possible new roles, each idea filtered through a lens that captures our fast-changing world. 

Get inspired by the 15 innovative propositions of possible conservation futures in the report.

What are we looking for?

We are seeking problem-solvers using innovative methodologies to address deep-rooted issues and bring together solutions for a just, inclusive and regenerative future.

Innovative and actionable ideas or prototypes: 

We are inviting submissions from anyone, from any sector, experience or background, with a vision for the future of conservation practices and an idea that can challenge the existing approaches, structures and narratives that are adversely impacting conservation effectiveness. These might include new business model innovations, partnerships, networks, structures and/or tools and tactics. 

Solutions-driven concepts:

The ideas must proactively address the deep-rooted issues, challenges and questions facing conservation NGOs and impacting conservation effectiveness.

From idea to scale-up:

We welcome concepts at all stages of development, from ideation through to prototyping or beginning to scale.

Guiding principles

Diversity, intersectionality and social equity should be guiding principles for all successful ideas.

Featured examples

The examples spotlighted below are innovatively addressing the challenges facing conservation NGOs. We hope they serve as inspiration for the type of solutions this challenge is seeking.

Text overlay from Ecoversities website
Image courtesy of

Ecoversities is reimagining higher education. It is challenging the status quo and seeking to transform the education system by decolonising pedagogies and embracing local knowledge systems and learning practices.

It aims to restore and re-envision learning processes that are meaningful and relevant to the call of our times.

Colectivo amasijo is a women-led collective that rises from the will to care, conserve, and celebrate. The collective listens to the narratives of women close to the land – non-dominant narratives – and enables ways to share, learn, and relate.

They are redesigning conservation work by creating conditions to actively reflect on the origin and diversity of food, de-hierarchizing knowledge and focusing on “doing” (haceres) as a way of learning.

Multi-coloured corn in a basket
Aaron Burden / Unsplash
Text overlay: save the Amazon rainforest while playing
Image courtesy of

Invert is a Web3 platform developing forest conservation solutions at scale via decentralized technologies, such as NFTs. It is reimagining philanthropy and fundraising models by gamifying nature conservation.

The idea allows anyone to participate in the ecosystem and join their conserve-to-earn model
Invert’s metaverse is a digital home for endangered forests where users can play, earn, create and explore while tackling deforestation and creating a better future.

Flock Together is a birdwatching collective for people of colour that enables them to reclaim the green spaces and rebuild their community’s relationship with nature.

These walks are a forum to share experiences, challenge perceptions, find and offer support, and develop a stronger connection to the natural world on their own terms. The walks take place in remote forests and local city parks. They started in London and chapters have opened in Toronto and New York.

Diverse group of people birdwatching
Image courtesy of

Application Details

Who: Any individual or team from around the world may apply. If applying as a team, we ask that you name three key team members in the application form and nominate a lead representative, who will be the first point of contact and the primary participant in the incubation programme for winning ideas. Participation by up to two other team members in incubation activities is also possible, but the team lead should be consistently present throughout. If your team is larger than three people we ask that you take responsibility for sharing learnings and ideas developed through the co-learning and incubation process back to the wider team.

Sector: We strongly encourage teams composed of people from different sectors. Applicants do not need a history of working on conservation-related projects or ideas or within NGOs.

Age: Individual entrants must be aged over 18 and teams must comprise at least one entrant who is aged over 18.

Language: We are currently accepting applications in English only, but we strongly encourage both native and non-native English speakers to apply. No judgements will be made on language proficiency. The incubation and co-learning programme offered to winners will be conducted in English. 

We acknowledge that there is a need to embrace linguistic diversity, however, at this stage of the initiative, we are unable to do so in a way that is truly inclusive. If you need support to complete the forms in English, please do reach out to us at and we’ll find a way to support you as best as we can.

We are calling for submissions from anyone from any sector or background with bold ideas for concepts, projects, businesses, products, models or structures. Ideas must meet the following criteria for consideration:

  1. Reimagines and redesigns

    Contributes to the development of a reimagined and redesigned conservation NGO sector that can better respond to the social and environmental challenges the world is facing.

  2. Challenges and transforms

    Challenges the status quo and aims to build a just, equitable, and sustainable future for people and the planet.

  3. Feasibility, fundability and relevance

    ​​Can be feasibly taken to the next level, is fundable and financially sustainable and can be considered relevant or replicable in a global context. Considers financial, technological, market or other dependencies or obstacles.

  4. Provides a good fit for collaboration and co-learning

    Brings richness and strength to the collaborative process of co-learning and incubation. Challenges and aspirations can be effectively addressed alongside the host institution.

€5,000 in prize money and a place in a tailored co-learning and incubation programme with either the Luc Hoffmann Institute, Impact Hub or IUCN CEESP.

The collaborative programmes of co-learning and incubation will start in the second half of 2022 and the length and duration will be agreed between the winner and the host institution. The programmes are expected to last at least 6 months.

The host institution will work alongside winners to take their ideas to the next level of implementation or testing. Winners and the host will collectively design the co-learning process, with elements that may include:

1. Coaching or Networking

●  1:1 conversations with fellow entrepreneurs and change-makers.

●  Curated introductions to potential partners, clients and/or funders.

●  Participation in a Community of Practice that enables peer to peer learning.

●  Monthly knowledge sharing conversations.

●  Access to the incubating organisation’s networks and contacts.

2. Financial & Funding Support

●  Potential access to funding and/or support to fundraise for the idea.

●  Opportunities to pitch to international investors.

●  Access to bootcamps and coaching to get investment-ready.

3. The opportunity to form a project team within the host institution and lead the project with sustained support throughout the different stages of the project development (for those ideas incubated through the Luc Hoffmann Institute only).

4. A six-month membership with Impact Hub (for those ideas incubated through Impact Hub only).

Why co-learning?

The host institutions seek to avoid a ‘top-down’ process of incubation that maintains the status quo. Instead the Luc Hoffmann Institute, IUCN CEESP and Impact Hub aim to learn from the winning ideas, collaborate together and, where relevant, challenge their own approaches and practices.

In this section you will find some examples of projects and ideas that have been innovatively addressing the challenges facing conservation NGOs. We will be continuously updating these, and we hope they serve as inspiration for the type of solutions this challenge is seeking.

1. Colectivo amasijo is a women-led collective that rises from the will to care, conserve, and celebrate.

They create the conditions to actively reflect on the origin and diversity of food, de-hierarchizing knowledge and focusing on the “doings” (haceres) as a way of learning.

They listen to the narratives of women close to the land—non-dominant narratives—and cook collectively as a way to share, learn, and relate. Through food, the interdependence of language, culture, and territory is understood as a network of interrelationships.

2. Flock together is a birdwatching monthly support club combatting the underrepresentation of black, brown & POC in nature.

The six pillars of Flock Together are: building community, challenging perceptions, showing the benefits of nature, championing ecological protection, offering mental health support, and providing creative mentorship for the next generation. Their mission is to “create a world where every person of colour has the freedom to explore and engage with the natural world, on their own terms."

3. Success Capital is an LGBTIQ+, youth-led, managed, & serving organisation linking grassroots experiences with global and regional mechanisms.

Their work is centred on three pillars: a) participatory decolonized knowledge production, b) peer to peer systemic knowledge sharing and c) supporting variant forms of civic action.

To help you prepare, below you'll find a preview of the questions contained on the application form.

1. Provide a clear description of the specific problem that your idea aims to solve, using non-expert language. Include evidence of the problem, ideally from your own experience as well as from secondary sources. Focus on setting the stage for your solution (rather than describing how you intend to solve it).  If your idea is specific to one region, please state in which geographic area (country, region, specific site) you are trying to solve the problem. (200 words or less)

2. Describe your idea, including how it will contribute to solving the problem identified and to reimagining and redesigning a conservation model that can better respond to the social and environmental challenges the world is facing. (250 words or less)

3. What makes your idea innovative? Describe how your idea challenges the status quo to create more equitable, inclusive and future-relevant pathways for conservation . Remember, not all ideas may be ‘new’ per se – some may have been implemented in communities and localities for decades – yet the innovation could lie in the process of mainstreaming them and changing the system.  (200 words or less)

4. Describe how your idea aims to build a just, equitable, and sustainable future for the planet. In answering this question, think about how your idea addresses existing inequalities in conservation work and seeks to improve life on Earth. (200 words or less)

5. Does your idea relate to one or more of the themes identified as areas where change is most needed in conservation NGOs? Describe how your idea contributes to change within this theme (or themes), thinking about which elements of the theme (or themes) it addresses. If it does not not relate directly to any of these themes, use this space to provide more detail on the change your idea seeks to create. (200 words or less)

-  Operational and funding models

-  Communication and narratives

-  Interdependency and inclusivity

-  Legacy, power and principles

-  Other

6. Describe who will benefit from your idea, both directly and indirectly. Where possible, include numbers of beneficiaries and when answering think about their characteristics and geographic locations. (150 words or less)

7. Have you begun to test your solution, put it into practice or develop a minimum viable product?

- If YES, describe any outcomes or data you have to demonstrate impact so far. Describe any problems you encountered and how you want to improve your solution. (200 words or less)

- If NO, describe the assumptions you are using to predict impact. What do you need to move from idea into practice or testing? (200 words or less)

When answering this question and thinking about impact, try to tell us what type of information you think is important to track. We encourage you to think outside the box and make suggestions that can steer away from traditional ways of measuring impact. Make sure that you tell us how they can be measured.

8. How would your idea be sustained financially over time? Describe the funding or revenue model and any specific financial milestones achieved to date or projected. (200 words or less)

9. Describe the potential of your idea to be replicated or deployed in a global context, or considered relevant in localities outside of your own. What are the potential obstacles that stand in the way? (200 words or less)

10. How does the idea benefit from the strengths, expertise, and assets of yourself and/or your team members? Describe individual or team links to the geographic, social or cultural context of your idea. (200 words or less)

11. What is the next major milestone for your idea and what is the biggest problem you face in achieving it? (150 words or less)

12. What is conservation to you? Describe how you feel about this term. (150 words or less)

Please see the challenge FAQ for more information.

Where are we coming from?

“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties.”

- Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene

At the Future of the NGO initiative, we acknowledge the importance of recognizing our positionality, including the way we understand the concepts and knowledge we are using and sharing. By reflecting on where we are coming from and how we interpret our key concepts, we aim to engage in the ongoing debates that we believe are central to the sector, and which have been a major motivation for this project in the first place.

Here we present our understanding of some key concepts. These are by no means exhaustive, static or definite; we are in an ongoing learning process and we hope that this starting point serves as an invitation for our readers to join us in the discussion!


The Future of Conservation NGOs project has been, above all, an effort to provide the conservation sector with a space to embrace uncertainty, uncomfortable discussions, and deconstruct itself. Central to this has been the recognition that the term conservation itself is fundamentally controversial, and comes with a legacy and a long history of unresolved issues.
One of our main learnings throughout this process is that conservation means very different things across people, race, class, gender, discipline, schools of thought, sectors and geographies, to name a few. There are diverse understandings upon why, who, how and what to conserve, and one of the main goals of this Innovation Challenge is to better understand our interlocutors’ view on this.
This said, we also acknowledge that there is no neutrality in these debates, and that stating that we don’t have our own opinion around what conservation is would not only be naive, but simply dishonest. Here, we want to share with you OUR understanding of conservation, hoping that this will create an open discussion.
For us, conservation refers to: ways of being and living that are intended to maintain, establish or improve thriving relationships among all life on Earth.

LHI’s understanding of what conservation means is mainly inspired by the thinking of:
Robin Wall Kimmerer – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Sandbrook, C. (2015) ‘What is conservation?’, Oryx, 49(4), pp. 565–566. doi: 10.1017/S0030605315000952.
Wyborn, C. et al. (2020) ‘Imagining transformative biodiversity futures’, Nature Sustainability, 3(9), pp. 670–672. doi: 10.1038/s41893-020-0587-5.


Throughout this initiative we talk about impact. For the Innovation Challenge, we are seeking for innovative and unconventional solutions that positively impact conservation outcomes. But, what do we mean with impact for conservation effectiveness?
As previously stated, conservation is normative and means different things for different people. In this sense, the way one understands positive impact for conservation directly reflects our own values and ideas of what is better for life on Earth. In the conservation sector, impact indicators have been traditionally shaped by the values and views of the donors, which often ends up in the imposition of Global North conservation priorities and styles in projects implemented in the Global South.
While using the word impact constantly, we want to acknowledge that we understand that this is a normative concept, that it is not subjective and that it must be constantly examined. We want this Innovation Challenge to provide a space for the ideation, mainstreaming and discussion of new ways of looking and measuring impact for conservation.

Minimum viable product:

“A minimum viable product (MVP) is a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product's initial users.”


What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? - Definition from Techopedia (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2022).


“Positionality is the notion that personal values, views, and location in time and space influence how one understands the world. In this context, gender, race, class, and other aspects of identities are indicators of social and spatial positions and are not fixed, given qualities. Positions act on the knowledge a person has about things, both material and abstract. Consequently, knowledge is the product of a specific position that reflects particular places and spaces.”


Warf, B. (2010) ‘Positionality’, in Encyclopedia of Geography. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc., pp. 2258–2258. doi:10.4135/9781412939591.



On Wednesday, 4 May 2022, we hosted a webinar: The future of conservation NGOs – Innovation Challenge – Seeking innovative ideas for transformative change.

The webinar featured an informational session about the innovation challenge and live Q&A, as well as short inspirational talks.

The speakers:

  • Anca Damerell, Head of Programme at the Luc Hoffmann Institute 
  • Ameyali Ramos, Deputy Chair for the IUCN Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy and the International Policy Coordinator for the ICCA Consortium 
  • Bruno Lacey, Global Associate at Impact Hub 
  • Martin Kalungu-Banda, consultant in organisation and leadership development, a facilitator of innovation and change; trainer, coach and author and a social-entrepreneur

If you were not able to attend, you can watch the full recording below.


Please see the challenge FAQ for more information.
For specific questions about the challenge or the incubation programmes, contact

Terms & Conditions

Read the full project Terms & Conditions.