Celebrate What Works

Celebrate what works

Celebrate What Works

A shifting focus in conservation highlights solutions
J.M. McCordFebruary 10, 2015

Two of Rare’s core competencies — working with partners and focusing on solutions — have recently taken root in somewhat unexpected soil. Over the past few years, Rare has co-hosted and facilitated conversations around what works in conservation at various international gatherings. These conventions typically suffer from the reputation of being hopeless discussions of pending environmental catastrophe combined with a lack of governmental commitments to reverse trends. 

This barrage of negative messaging and insurmountable obstacles has led to emotional distress for conservationists. Environmental concerns often seem bigger than one person or even the collective efforts of governments. Humans have altered the atmosphere around our entire planet, the oceans are turning acidic, there are more people than ever to feed and the future does not provide any outlook of relief. “We don’t have the rituals and processes to reconcile with the Anthropocene,” says Dr. John Fraser, a conservation psychologist and head of Newknowledge.org, a think tank in New York. “We haven’t understood the full mental process that is being ignited by the scale of change we witness today.”

“Folks like the founders of Rare recognize the need for positive visioning around conservation,” says Fraser. He notes that although he sees more hopeful messages around conservation, it is not at the scale necessary. “I like how Rare creates community around the questions.” Rare has built on its experience integrating local communities into identifying problems and implementing a solution, and took this approach to the grand halls of policy meetings.

The Bright Spots Cafe approach broke the usual one-sided presentations at CBD events that hinder constructive exchanges.”
Oliver Hillel, program officer for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity

In preparation for the 2012 Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (CBD COP11) in Hyderabad, India, Rare talked to a range of partners who wanted to shift the dialogue to focus on solutions. One such partner was Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), a partnership of island leaders and their supporters that are committed to solutions that build a resilient future for island communities.

“For 10 plus years, the international community talked about problems and processes,” says Kate Brown, coordinator GLISPA. “GLISPA had the desire to shift this dialogue and Rare brought along the ability to think differently about how to actually do it.”

The status quo for many meetings is long presentations. Rather than talk at people, Rare and GLISPA decided to enable participation. (Rare’s training program in the field specializes in workshop facilitation, so this concept was easily adapted.)

The session revolved around participants sharing examples of what works in their communities — bright spots — followed by a facilitated discussion and concluding with pledges by meetings attendees. The focus in India was on how islands are leading the way to drive change rather than how islands need help. The bright spots exchange, or cafe, as they call it, went so well in Hyderabad that Rare and GLISPA have since helped run about a half-dozen Bright Spot Cafes, and other groups have adopted the concept.

“The Bright Spots Cafe approach broke the usual one-sided presentations at CBD events that hinder constructive exchanges,” says Oliver Hillel, program officer for the United Nations Secretariat of the CBD, who participated in a bright spots workshop at the CBD in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “Participants immediately focused on how to adapt tested solutions in different circumstances with help from a community of experts.”

Celebrate what works

Rare and GLISPA are not the only players promoting positive messages with associated actions for conservation. The recent World Parks Congress, in Australia, was titled, “Parks, People, Planet: Inspiring Solutions.” More people are talking about conservation as a participatory solution instead of something that just raises awareness. Rare didn’t invent the concepts, but it is helping to influence the conversation that gives people tangible next steps that lead to change.