- Date: March 04, 2020
A sociologist by training and WWF’s lead on socially inclusive conservation, Althea Skinner is one of WWF’s core experts on the intersection between conservation and human rights. Learn how she is helping us ensure that that people’s desires, needs, and rights are protected and incorporated into everything we do.
Q. How did you begin working at the intersection of gender, human rights, and conservation?
A. I’ve been active in advancing the rights of women and LGBTQ folks for a long time. In college, a focus of my sociology degree was the study of women and gender. Through my thesis, I landed in the home of an indigenous woman in northern Chile. Gladys had been forced to migrate from the high plains of the Andes to a small city, where she faced both poverty and discrimination. Glady’s ancestral community’s land rights were secure, but legal boundaries had been created without regard for the protection of wetlands on which her traditional herding livelihood depended—and she was forced to move. She taught me that human rights, especially for the most vulnerable women and groups, is inextricably linked to natural resource rights; and natural resource rights can only provide for people if the underlying ecosystems are well managed. Ever since, I’ve dedicated myself to advancing the linked goals of human rights and environmental sustainability.
Q. What are your key priorities here at WWF?
A. I have two main roles at WWF: Since 2011 I’ve been a part of the CARE-WWF Alliance, a global partnership dedicated to addressing the linked challenges of poverty, women’s marginalization, food insecurity, and environmental degradation. My primary role with the Alliance is to monitor and evaluate the social and ecological systems where we work—and to understand our impact in those places. I work closely with staff in Mozambique, Tanzania, and other countries to provide guidance and support as we design and learn from our linked social and environmental efforts.
Since 2019, I have also supported the rollout of WWF’s new Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework in the landscapes and seascapes where we work. In the past few months, I’ve helped WWF staff in the Arctic, the Northern Great Plains, and Latin America to analyze the nature and severity of the unintended risks—to people and the environment—that can arise through well-intentioned conservation work. Essentially, that means we examine our work with partners, including indigenous peoples and local communities, to ensure that our conservation approaches respect their rights and protect their traditional, often resource-dependent, livelihoods. Then we develop plans to mitigate whatever risks we’ve identified.
Q. As you’ve helped those teams roll out the safeguards framework, what has excited or impressed you most about the work there?
A. I have been struck by how deeply my colleagues around the world care about their work with communities. It’s clear that WWF staff possess a deep knowledge and have built meaningful relationships with diverse stakeholders in their landscapes. I’m impressed by the thoughtfulness of conservation program designs and the eagerness of teams to continuously improve through what has turned out to be a rich process of critical reflection. As we move from risk analysis to mitigation, I’m excited to help WWF teams create models, using the good practices already in place, to ensure that we’re always bringing our best to bear in how we protect nature – including putting the voices and priorities of our partners at the forefront of our plans.
Q. You’ve been with WWF since 2011. Over that time, how would you say WWF has created positive change for communities and species?
A. I think WWF’s biggest contributions to communities have been when we help them to: claim their land and natural resource rights; strengthen and improve community-based natural resource management programs; promote sustainable and climate resilient production practices in agricultural, fisheries and aquaculture systems; and implement community- and nature-based solutions to climate change. We’ve helped show how ecosystem services support local health, increase food security and income, and help people weather the impacts of climate change.
Q. There are so many challenging realities in the world today. What keeps you up at night? Given all those threats, what role must conservation play?
A. Climate change threatens the future of both nature and people. It is already affecting Indigenous peoples, local communities, and their territories in devastating ways. Current funding and strategies just aren’t enough to ensure that vulnerable people continue to thrive—and in some cases, simply survive.
The CARE-WWF Alliance has tested the kinds of integrated, climate-smart conservation and development solutions that we desperately need to address the most pressing challenges of our time. As a global community, we must push for accountability so that the biggest contributors to climate change invest in adaptation, including community-based adaptation, and mitigation, including nature-based solutions. WWF needs to be bolder in partnering with indigenous peoples’ and development organizations and influencing companies and governments to take urgent action on climate change.