President's Letter: Windows of their worlds

Carter Roberts headshot

Carter Roberts
President & CEO, WWF-US

Occasionally I receive invitations to speak at events outside WWF to contribute my perspectives and experiences related to conservation. I appreciate every invite, but I’m aware that my voice is often not the most important—or even the most relevant—one that needs to be heard.

For several years now, I’ve had a policy of avoiding “manels”—by which I mean panels consisting of only white men. I make it clear that if event organizers nonetheless end up with such a group, I’ll gladly cede my spot to someone who is better able to contribute to the breadth and depth of the conversation.

There was one such moment when I found myself backstage in a green room, waiting for my time on stage. Despite reassurances I’d received, every member of the panel looked like me. And it was too late to cancel.

So we took the stage, and the conversation moved to the important role of communities at the intersection of conservation and climate change. After a few minutes, a hand went up from the audience. A resonant voice introduced himself as a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and pointed out the irony that we were talking about conservation in communities—yet not a single community member was sitting on stage.

I offered to switch places with him. He declined. But I left that moment determined that we should always look for platforms for communities to speak for themselves—and for communities to lead in determining their futures and the future of their lands.

“I believe strongly that there is no substitute for hearing directly from those who live in the places that we are working hard to protect.”

Carter Roberts

We are in the midst of a long overdue movement in conservation that some term “localization”—shifting money, leadership, responsibility, and authority to local governments, NGOs, and communities, and ensuring that the work being done is relevant to, and offers positive benefits for, those who depend on the local landscapes and seascapes for their survival. WWF is working hard to play whatever role we can to support this vision of conservation. Some of WWF’s most successful work is based on this principle, such as the community conservancy movement in Namibia, the community integrated programs in the Terai Arc in Nepal, and our work with the Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance in the Northern Great Plains.

In this issue, you’ll read about another WWF effort to engage with and learn directly from the people living in places we are working to protect. Called collaborative storytelling or participatory photography, the approach provides cameras to community members in important conservation locales and invites them to capture images that represent their experiences and priorities. The collaborations, which we’ve done in the Northern Great Plains, Namibia, and now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, allow WWF to learn directly from our partners—through their eyes and in their own words.

I believe strongly that there is no substitute for hearing directly from those who live in the places that we are working hard to protect and that we cherish. I love this window into their world and this path that guarantees their voice will be heard and acted upon in the work that we do. I think you will, too.

Carter Roberts

President & CEO

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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