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'I've never seen such an exciting time for faiths & conservation activists'

That was the verdict of Chantal Elkin, Head of the Beliefs & Values Programme at World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), who was speaking during our recent webinar on Partnerships, part of the series on developing Faith Long-Term Plans.

WWF's Beliefs and Values programme is one of the three partners in the Faith Long-term Plans Programme, alongside FaithInvest and INCR.

Moderator Lorna Gold, FaithInvest's Director of Movement Building, was moderating, and began by asking the following questions: ‘We want to think about different types of partners. Who do we want to work with? What is the value of different types of partnerships, from loose network to Eco-twinning?’

If you missed the webinar, you can watch it by clicking below.

‘Communication is key’ – Chantal Elkin

Chantal Elkin, Head of the Beliefs & Values Programme at World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), said: ‘I’ve never seen, in all my 10 plus years of working in the field, such an exciting time for faith groups and conservation activists. There’s a real spirit of openness and creativity. It’s refreshing and full of possibility.'

WWF is one of the longest running partners with faith groups in terms of conservation projects. Chantal said: ‘It’s only with millions more people becoming involved in the environmental movement that we can halt the destruction of the natural world. We must let faith groups take the lead on local action that they feel comfortable with in their communities, but there are many ways that environmental NGOs can help.’

Areas where NGOs can be helpful include: giving direction, advice and guidance, providing technical expertise on skills building and scientific methodologies, and providing educational materials, among others.

Chantal gave the example of how working with Indonesia’s most influential Muslim organisation resulted in them issuing two fatwas to halt the destruction of Indonesian tigers’ natural habitats and stop the illegal wildlife trade. This productive partnership also resulted in WWF providing educational materials to help raise awareness of the fatwas.

Chantal described this as a ‘successful’ campaign due to the harmonious partnership’. The conservation world and the Islamic world were brought together in a way that invited open dialogue to address the biodiversity crisis.

Chantal stressed that ‘communication skills are key’ when it comes to forming successful partnerships: It’s about choosing the right person to communicate with the group that your organisation is partnering with.

In Cambodia, WWF offered technical support and capacity building to Buddhist monks, formed a network of monks across the country leading environmental projects and developed a Buddhist conservation guide book. WWF was instrumental in helping the monks capture best practices and then share them more widely both inside and outside of Cambodia.

WWF is also now working with faith groups at the UN level, and WWF is part of a forum where faith-based approaches and concerns about biodiversity are discussed. According to Chantal, partnerships should start by reaching out to local environmental groups for initial discussions, joint projects and fundraising.

Chantal ended by stating that many, many conservationists want to work with religious groups. The opportunities are there, waiting.

‘The wildlife trade should be legal, sustainable and traceable’ – Sarah Ferguson

Sarah Ferguson, director of TRAFFIC Vietnam, an international network that monitors the wildlife trade, spoke about how TRAFFIC has been working with the Buddhist community in Vietnam. TRAFFIC works against wildlife trafficking and has a strategic partnership with WWF.

Sarah explained that the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational organised crime endeavour. Products like ivory and rhino horn drive international crime and terrorism, and some items are worth more than gold. Vietnam is one of the biggest source countries for the illegal wildlife trade and it’s also a transit and destination country.

Since 2012, TRAFFIC have been working on the Chi Initiative. Chi is the concept that strength and spirituality come from within, and that people got to where they are in life through personal hard work, not due to illegal wildlife products.

The businessman is the largest consumer of these products in Vietnam and the items are used to curry favour and show status and success. They also give people negotiating power in business dealings.

TRAFFIC works through people who are influential to the target group and partners with Buddhist organisations, as Buddhists are ‘natural allies’ in the fight against wildlife crime.

Sarah went on to outline Vietnam’s history and how in the 1950s, the country went through a communist revolution, leading to a break from religion where people were unable to practice Buddhism. By the 1980s, things were slowly opening up. Sarah said: ‘People are trying to find their place in the world, and their roots. They are turning to Buddhism and turning to the pagodas.’

In partnership with Buddhist groups, TRAFFIC have been creating wildlife protection clubs for people of all ages, conducting wildlife-driven coaching series and working on cascading behaviour change messaging to target audiences via Buddhist-driven messaging channels.

In Vietnam, songbirds are considered good luck and spiritual when trapped in cages, leading to ‘silent forest syndrome’. This is one of the areas where TRAFFIC is working to effect change, along with Buddhist abbots. Much of the messaging has been moved online due to Covid-19, meaning that TRAFFIC has been able to gather information more easily regarding what people think of the lectures, and gauge community sentiment.

Sarah left us with the final message that: ‘The wildlife trade should be legal, sustainable and traceable.’

‘Through partnerships we can overcome any challenge’ – Allen Ottaro

Allen Ottaro, Founder and Executive Director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA), runs a platform that brings together young Catholics across the continent. Allen explained that CYNESA helps young people collaborate, and brings together experience and knowledge to address environmental degradation.

According to a Kiswahili proverb: ‘Unity is strength, division is weakness’. Through partnerships, CYNESA has been able to foster intergenerational dialogue, despite the platform being youth-led and youth-driven.

They are building capacity on contemporary environmental issues by gathering young people to have conversations on climate change, for example, in Ghana with Arrupe Jesuit Institute.

CYNESA is using partnerships to develop advocacy skills and experience, and supporting young people to implement environmental projects. By getting young people involved in community work, CYNESA has been able to enhance the spirit of solidarity which has been threatened due to pandemic restrictions.

By working with the Catholic Climate Covenant, CYNESA has been provided with seed money for permaculture farming.

Allen said: ‘In 2019, Nairobi, we organised an international conference in partnership with the UN and WWF. There were more than 300 participants, many of them young people, and people from other denominations, faiths and religions, plus people from other environmental organisations. This is a good example of working in partnership.

‘Partnerships are about bringing people together and allowing your organisation to have a stronger voice. Through partnerships we can overcome any challenge!’


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