Enabling diverse collaborations in conservation
As conservationists we strive to protect the diversity of life on this amazing planet, yet we don’t always consider the ways in which we as conservationists may or may not be diverse.
I believe that conservation needs to be diverse for two important reasons.
Diversity and inclusivity are moral imperatives
Firstly, there is a moral imperative to ensure that conservation is inclusive and that the diversity of conservation professionals reflects that of the general population. Unfortunately conservation still isn’t equally accessible to all. Studies have shown that workforce diversity is low is fisheries, forestry, climate sciences, conservation, and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects generally. Luckily, acknowledgement of these issues seems to be on the rise, and we can all contribute towards improving the situation.
For example, this article describes practical actions that can be taken to improve the inclusivity of scientific conferences; and this paper identifies barriers to inclusion in marine conservation and calls for the formation of collaborative online communities – just like the WildHub – as these can help to: connect people and organisations, exchange knowledge, experiences and ideas, and provide mentorship.
Conservation requires diversity to protect biodiversity
The second reason I believe conservation needs to be diverse is so that it can be effective. I have come to understand diversity in its broadest sense as a concept that encompasses any form of difference between people or organisations. The complexity and global scale of the challenges we are addressing in conservation demand a diverse combination of skills, experience, knowledge and perspectives. It is simply not possible for a single person or organisation to tackle these big challenges alone. We’ll need to work together across organisations, disciplines, approaches, sectors and jurisdictions.
There are countless examples of diverse collaborations in conservation already, including many that span multiple forms of difference. Conservation scientists in academia are working with politicians, educators and conservation practitioners on the ground. Biological scientists are working with psychologists, economists, artists and systems experts to drive research into exciting new directions and to find practical solutions. Seasoned experts are recruiting people in the earlier stages of their career so they can innovate together. And conservationists are working with activists, corporations, governments and the media to push decisions in sustainable directions.
There are less tangible forms of diversity which also impact how we work together. Things like values, personality, philosophical perspectives and national or organisational culture. Being attuned to the ways in which we are already diverse and finding ways to manage these differences can help us to work more effectively together.
Over the past few years I have been conducting action research to find practical ways to enable collaboration in conservation, and diversity has become a key focus. As part of my research I decided to set up a Fika Group within my collaborative research setting at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative to help people make new connections, particularly across organisations. It was an idea that I expanded from one of the organisations that had successfully started a Fika group of their own, and something that I hope to help set up within the WildHub if there is interest from the community.
The idea is really quite simple. It is loosely based on ‘Fika’, the Swedish culture of regularly making the time to have a quality conversation over coffee and cake. On the last Friday of each month I randomly pair members of the group and introduce them via email. It is then up to them to arrange to meet, either in person or virtually, before the next pairing. Members are paired with someone new each month from a different organisation within the collaboration.
It has proved to be a fun and easy way for people to make new connections. The group has been running for a year now and we are up to 95 members from over 10 organisations. It includes people with a wide range of roles, backgrounds and career stages. Simple ideas are sometimes the most powerful. The CCI Fika Group has helped to enable many people to meet for the first time. Despite their differences they have made connections and some have led to further meetings or introductions. It has led to positivity.
But above all else, I’m hopeful that these conversations have helped people to appreciate that we conservationists are a diverse bunch. I am also hopeful that these new connections can help us to work together to improve the diversity and inclusivity of conservation over all. There are many different ways of doing conservation and together we can achieve great things.