- Issue: Winter 2013
- Author: Carter Roberts
There are times when I show up in different parts of the world and people pull out maps with the southern continents at the top and the northern continents at the bottom, or when someone recommends holding a global meeting in the spring, only to be reminded that our spring is somebody else’s fall. The world looks very different depending on where you sit. It reinforces career advice I give young people, which is to take a risk early in their careers and go live somewhere entirely different—far away from their comfort zone—so they can see the world from a different point of view, and understand how their actions at home affect people in distant places.
Every global institution, including our own, sees clearly how the world is changing. Markets, expertise and leadership are shifting toward the south and east. Economies growing at faster than 5% a year tend to be clustered in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Markets representing incremental growth and new customers for multinational corporations follow the same geographic pattern. And new organizations designed to address the biggest social issues of the day are emerging in places like Brazil, Zambia, China and Vietnam.
While much of our work wrestles with global forces of environmental destruction, we always marry that reality with the steadying force of local leadership. There is simply no substitute for those unassailable voices that speak with authority for the places we are working to protect. The support of these leaders is also critically important to the success of the local community and government partnerships that are at the heart of successful conservation everywhere.
WWF’s South Africa program provides a stirring example of the power of local leadership. WWF-South Africa’s CEO, Morné du Plessis, is one of the country’s leading scientists. His team generates some of the greatest innovations in conservation. Their national watershed program plants trees and removes invasives, restoring watersheds that nourish crops and rivers upon which populations across this rich and diverse country depend. An innovative partnership saves land surrounding the legendary vineyards of Stellenbosch. They’ve created online partnerships to guide consumers to sustainable purchases. And just recently they helped the government establish Africa’s first offshore marine protected area, with the protection of the Prince Edward Islands—an extraordinary success almost seven years in the making.
Each one of these initiatives was created to solve a local challenge, developed with homegrown talent and nurtured by the right kind of relationships. WWF’s dream is to have powerful country programs like South Africa’s across the continent, and in Asia and Latin America, with local talent and partnerships that provide fertile ground for innovation and conservation at scale.
Our membership rightly holds us accountable for bending the trajectory of deforestation and fisheries loss, for slowing the pace of climate change and for preventing the extinction of species. And our success against these daunting obstacles rests ultimately on not only identifying the most consequential interventions here at home and abroad, but also on building the necessary capacity in places where local leaders know best how to make great things happen— places like South Africa, China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Mozambique.
After all, to local leaders and their communities, these extraordinary places we seek to save are more than just ecosystems or biological hotspots. These places are their homes, the center of their lives, their livelihoods and their legacies. No one is more invested in their long- term sustainability than the people who know these places best.
The world does indeed look very different depending on where you sit. From where I sit, investing in local leadership is one of the smartest ways to remain relevant in a changing world.
So take a seat, grab your tablet or go online. Explore the inaugural issue of World Wildlife magazine and see things in a whole new way, through the eyes of conservation leaders in some of the most important places in the world.
President and CEO