Monday, 15 December 2003

Why is the World Land Trust needed?

I recently gave a seminar at the University of East Anglia to a group of Master’s students drawn from all over the world, on the subject of international conservation organisations. One of the questions that came up in the wide ranging discussion (they were a very well-informed and stimulating bunch of students) was what makes the WLT different from other organisations? Although it was something we have often discussed within the WLT, suddenly I had to summarise in a few words.

I immediately recalled some of Jerry Bertrand’s (Hon. Chairman of the Trust) words when speaking recently at the Mall Gallery in London. He pointed out that the WLT has had an exceptionally high success rate with its projects. This was a result of very careful planning and implementation procedures. Between staff and Trustees we have, literally, decades of experience behind us. He also pointed out that the WLT was frequently innovative, leading the way where others followed.

Another feature which is probably unique, and was certainly innovative, is our relationship with our partners. All our projects are managed and led by local NGOs. Our role is to help provide funds for the purchase of land and for its management. Unlike many other international organisations, our overseas operations are not headed-up by ex-patriate management. We are fully committed to empowering the local NGOs, as it is our belief that this is the only sustainable long-term future for wildlife conservation. Only local managers can fully understand the political and economic parameters they have to work in, and we believe it is arrogant and has undertones of ‘green colonialism’ to assume that we know better and need to send in ‘experts’.

I have visited many parts of the world, and seen numerous projects first hand, and all too often they are led by ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ from the developed world, at salaries often an order of magnitude higher than the local equivalent.

Some international organisation run huge administrative staff to manage their overseas projects, and we pride ourselves on being small and lean. In fact we are smaller than several of our overseas partners.

This is not to say we do not provide technical expertise or other forms of support. We certainly do, but only when it is requested. And generally only if that expertise is simply not available locally.

In the 1990s, it became widely recognised that all too often foreign aid had been a form of imperialism, making the recipients dependent on the donors. At the WLT we are making every effort to avoid that approach. The disadvantage is that our profile is much lower than other international organisations, but we believe that is a price worth paying.

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