We believe that when people understand that their lives are dependent upon the health of their natural environment, and when they have the means to identify and create ways to protect and sustainably use their natural resources, they will do so and ecosystems and people will thrive. So how do we collaborate with local people to empower them to become active environmental stewards of their ecosystems?
First, we evaluate a proposed new project site using a variety of criteria:
- By assessing the natural environment and ecosystems, we determine if the proposed project site is adequate in size, has sufficient habitat diversity and biodiversity, and is a relatively high priority for conservation in the region.
- We identify a local partner for the proposed project or, if none exists, determine if there is sufficient desire and potential for the creation of a local partner organization.
- We confirm that the local population has significant interest and commitment to engage in the proposed project.
After we have determined there is adequate potential for a meaningful project, we initiate a series of community consultations. The purpose of the initial consultation is to understand and document the needs, priorities, and problems of the place according to the people who live there. It is meant to provide feedback from all segments of the population: men, women and children, old and young, landowners and field laborers. We work with local leaders to make sure community members attend the initial consultation, which might take place over the course of a day, although often we stagger such meetings over a few days to ensure adequate participation.
Often EcoLogic’s regional director, country officer, and at least one trained EcoLogic field technician collaborate with the local partner organization—if one exists—as well as with local leaders to guide the activities. We use many exercises and tools to determine and understand the natural resource, ecosystem, and sustainable development needs and how we might best help to address them. As one large group, or perhaps broken into smaller groups, participants write a history of the community or communities involved. A map or a set of maps is drawn that includes features such as schools, health posts, police stations, public telephones, forests, parks and water sources.
Many of the families prepare a matrix that represents 24 hours in the life of each family member. A collective matrix of local livelihoods is drawn up to reflect what families buy and sell, including quantities and prices, and also what they can grow or provide for themselves. Several transects of “typical” places—a forest, a farmer’s field, a freshwater source—are executed to provide observations and measurements about the specific attributes and species at the location. These and other activities provide EcoLogic and the community itself with a detailed sense of the scope of concerns and the possible ways to address them. Throughout the process, there is much discussion and exchange of ideas, with the disagreements and uncertainties as important as the details agreed upon.
Presuming everyone is in agreement that EcoLogic can help with the problems at hand, the first consultation informs a series of collaborative decisions that provide the blueprint for our work with the local partner and the community. If no local partner exists, then we usually provide technical assistance and support to help develop local capacity, know-how, and institutional resources to create one. This can take time, so in the meantime we will usually start other activities to address the problems at hand.
EcoLogic undertakes community consultations at various stages in the process of a project. We continue to gather together at town meetings, and EcoLogic staff, local partner representatives, community members, and/or outside experts will present information on different aspects of the project, its challenges, successes, and next steps. We know that communication is key to successful collaboration, and we take the time to do it right. It is an ongoing process that is integral to achieving success in empowering rural people to restore and protect tropical ecosystems and become leaders in environmental conservation and successful natural resource stewardship.