Technology: a tool for conservation finance

Technology: a tool for conservation finance
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Banner photo: Lemu Team by Matias Riveros

This month, the Conservation Catalyst team embraced the sector of technology in nature with Karen Curiel Luna, the Key Partnerships Lead with Lemu, to discuss her work bringing international organizations’ conservation stories to light and building a network of local organizations seeking to expand their funding options while addressing their efforts towards evidence-based conservation.

One thing I have noticed in listening to stakeholders is that they have such powerful stories to share but they sometimes do not have the mechanisms and tools to share them.  We need to identify these stories and find the right places to communicate them.

With a passion for community and sustainability, Karen learned she wanted to focus on preserving nature after spending time on research in Columbia. Her experience has allowed her to meet over 150  Conservation Organizations all corners of the planet to help translate conservation and biodiversity initiatives to all.

Anne: Can you tell us about your background and how it has led you to your role of Key Partnerships Lead with Lemu? 

Karen: I have a social sciences background and was always interested in community and livelihoods. After my Bachelor in Sociology, I studied International Cooperation and Development with a focus in Europe and Latin America. I was interested in the relationship between Europe and South America and wanted to focus on gender and climate agenda. I went to Columbia for research, and this changed my life. I wanted to address my career focus to nature preservation. Once I finished my Master’s degree, I received an opportunity with Lemu a few months later as a Partner Developer. My job was to speak and listen to conservation NGO’s all around the world in order to identify their funding, data, and visibility challenges. That was the trigger for my career path.

Karen Curiel by Matias Riveros

Anne: Tell me about Lemu’s mission and how they are using technology to protect nature.

Karen: Lemu has two missions. We have two huge gaps in conservation; Data and finance. Lemu wants to help reduce those gaps. At Lemu we believe that if you have an evidence-based approach in your conservation work, it’s more likely you will get more funding. It is a virtuous circle and Lemu wants to be part of that. We want to reduce the funding gap by connecting organizations to companies and individuals that want to fund conservation initiatives and understand the impact that these actions have on the ground.

As an example of our work in data, we have an impact team that is developing different indicators. Part of their work is also developing an internal rank that helps to prioritize certain conservation efforts in the world. Lemu has a holistic approach and is not just looking at carbon, but also biodiversity, soil, and water, to measure the impact. We strongly believe that conservation requires a vision that includes nature, societies and livelihoods. It is not limited to carbon and we want this to be easy for everyone to understand since one of the main challenges is translating data into something useful and easy to understand so it is more accessible for everyone.

Anne: What is your favorite part about working with Lemu?

Karen: Meeting with such amazing organizations from all around the world and hearing their stories has changed my life. These conversations have helped me create a sense of agency that has greatly impacted my personal and professional life. Talking and listening to these organizations has allowed me to understand their challenges, which vary greatly depending on the context, but I have also identified those common struggles. One of my newest responsibilities is to strengthen the community of organizations that are part of Lemu and also to create engagement tools that can be helpful and impactful for their work. This is something that I am very excited about.

Anne: What do you wish you knew about working with conservation and financing that would help others in the field?

Karen: There are a couple of things that took me a while to understand. First, there are a vast number of stakeholders in nature tech and it is a huge world that is constantly changing and evolving. There are a lot of developments constantly and it was an extraordinary challenge to get familiar with the whole ecosystem of Nature- Finance and Nature-tech, but it has been extremely rewarding and it has allowed me to spot very interesting tools, initiatives and stakeholders that create an impact.

And second, sometimes it’s not enough to have clear communications as a conservation organization. You must also be compelling. One thing I have noticed in listening to stakeholders is that they have such powerful stories to share but they sometimes do not have the mechanisms and tools to share them. We need to identify these stories and find the right places to communicate them. We need to humanize the work that everyone does in conservation and find the core of their vision and activities. I wish I was more familiar with all the mechanisms to share stories and to resonate with certain audiences because great stories translate in finance as well. I recently had a course with WildHub on grant writing and that was also important for me because it is always relevant to share a story on conservation. Grant writing, donations, and all the mechanisms to gather funds involve storytelling and learning about this has been an extraordinary journey as well.

Anne: Lemu stands apart from other companies by using technology to interpret the impact of conservation efforts. Is there any piece of information you feel is missing from utilizing technology to make conservation accessible to all?

Karen: When you talk about technology, you assume everyone has access to everything, we take this for granted. But when I talk to organizations I realize they struggle with this. Sometimes they have the knowledge and openness but not the resources to implement new strategies that involve technology. We cannot brag about how impactful technology can be for conservation if we cannot bring technology to the hands of those doing the work. It is paradoxical but it is one of the biggest challenges for technology. It is essential to democratize these tools and mix it with preparation and capacity building to have an actual impact.

Anne: For those interested in working with technology to support conservation efforts globally, where do you suggest they start?

Karen: I would say that for me, the most enriching part of this has been mapping different stakeholders from the private sector to public, large NGOs and Big NGOs and understanding their impact and responsibilities. There is a huge landscape in nature technology because it is growing and constantly changing. I would invite everyone that wants to be involved in conservation and tech to do this; stakeholder mapping and try to follow up on technological trends for biodiversity observation and conservation. There are a lot of tools, technologies and mechanisms that are being developed, all of them inspiring. It is also important to understand that while technology can have a very positive impact on conservation, it will not save us on its own. Every solution comes with new challenges, and it is important to find the place you would like to have in this vast landscape in which we all have a role. 

Thank you, Karen, for sharing the importance of technology and storytelling in funding conservation initiatives with us. To learn more about Lemu’s mission, please visit them at: https://le.mu/

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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
9 days ago

Interesting contribution, thank you for sharing @Anne Mauro and @Karen Curiel ! Wonderful to see how Lemu has developed in recent years and your role with them Karen! 

@Karen Curiel : I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about how lemu helps organisations to demonstrate their social impact. We have quite a few community members who focus on this, looping in @Muthoni Njuguna and @Elizabeth Githendu at EcoHope Africa in Kenya, and @Aiita Joshua Apamaku at NatureWild in Uganda. 

In your conversation with Anne you also highlight that some organisations struggle to access certain technology, which is important to realise. Looping in our snake expert @Rezoana Arefine who runs the Kundali Foundation to conserve snakes and reduce human deaths from snakebites in Bangladesh, who may be interested in connecting with you as well. 

Thank you also Karen for your lovely feedback on WildTeam's Grant Writing course; which is a shout-out to our trainers @Zoe Melvin , @Liane Fulford , @Ali Skeats and Training Director @Lucy Boddam-Whetham who are doing a brilliant job! 

Go to the profile of Zoe Melvin
6 days ago

Super interesting post and great to hear about Lemu's work! I'm so glad you found the training valuable!

Go to the profile of Liane Fulford
6 days ago

Really great to see this article, I enjoyed working with you on the Grant Writing course recently, and very cool to see what you are working on with Lemu. Looks like some really crucial and impactful work you are doing. Wishing you all the best with this and please stay in touch with more developments!

Go to the profile of Christine Tansey
5 days ago

Thank you @Karen Curiel for sharing your experiences through your interview with @Anne Mauro, it was fascinating to read about the journey you have had.

@Karen Curiel - you highlight that access to technology is not consistent, and that the world of nature-tech is huge and expanding. Do you have any particularly good examples of tech or tools that you think do a great job of reaching the wider conservation community?