We are happy to share our most recent interview here with one of our partners, Conservation Optimism. Erin of Key Conservation and Julia of Conservation Optimism discuss the core alignment between our organizations: bringing awareness of conservation efforts to the public in a positive and constructive way and the direct actionable steps they can take now to help safeguard nature in real-time.
March 31, 2020:
Erin: Conservation Optimism is a global community dedicated to sharing stories and resources to empower people from all backgrounds to make a positive impact for wildlife and nature. Can you tell is a little about the story of how Conservation Optimism came into being?
Julia: It started with what was supposed to be a one-off conference called the Conservation Optimism Summit which was held during Earth Day of 2017 in London in conjunction with several other "optimism" summits around the world. Our Founding Director, Professor EJ Milner-Gulland, saw a need to provide people with the opportunity to come together from across the conservation sector, business, and the arts to share successes and discuss how to transform the dialogue around conservation from "doom and gloom" into hope and action.
What is now our online community was originally built as the conference site and social media, but within days after the original summit ended, people were asking us "what next?" and we knew we had tapped into something that was special as well as needed. We spent the next year actively fostering our community and the hashtag #conservationoptimism, transitioning into what is currently a global network focused on amplifying diverse voices and empowering people from every walk of life to make a positive impact for nature. The more people began to share their positive stories, the more the community grew and evolved. I came on board to work full-time for Conservation Optimism in 2019 to help advance the objectives of our organization, develop resources and expand our network, and to organize the second summit.
E: It can be very easy to fall into despair, but there is another story happening, one that is about people who really love and care about the planet, and want to take actions and be helpful. What is your hope that the general public will gain by connecting with Conservation Optimism, and how may they take actions in tandem with your mission?
J: We’ve really been diving into this the past couple of months, and have developed our theory of change (https://conservationoptimism.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Theory-of-Change.pdf) At the heart of it, we believe it is possible to have a world where wildlife and people may coexist.
Two important factors need to be in place for this to occur:
1) It’s important to share stories of success and failure, in order to learn from both. This provides the opportunity to replicate the successes and to learn from the failures.
2) We want to make sure everyone feels empowered to act for nature. The doom and gloom narrative surrounding conservation that sometimes emerges makes people feel powerless, and we want to change this. We want to frame stories in a solution-based way—to highlight the efforts being made so people have hope and feel inspired there are actions they make take as well.
E: How do you proactively engage in outreach efforts so people know Conservation Optimism exists and are there any available as a resource?
J: Our key outreach event was initially the Summit, and we added a film festival last year at the Oxford Natural History Museum. The free tickets went quickly to the public and there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm surrounding the festival (https://summit.conservationoptimism.org/virtual-film-festival) We are planning to do the Film Festival again this year the end of May, and will take it online for a virtual experience in light of the COVID crisis. (They haven’t made that official announcement yet but should be done by the end of the month)
We also attend conferences to share our message, and we are very interested in ongoing outreach with young people. Ahead of a school festival in Oxford, we recently created a series of posters tailored for kids. There are 10 species featured in the poster series, all stories of conservation optimism. The kids learn about these species that are in various stages of having a comeback from being threatened, and then they base their own art activities around the stories they’ve learned, ranging from making drawings to creating stop motion animation films. The festival has been postponed due to COVID, but we have taken the posters online (available online at Kids Corner https://conservationoptimism.org/kids-corner/) and translated them into several languages (including Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and French) to reach a wide audience of young people.
E: I’d like to discuss Conservation Optimism’s partnership with Key Conservation. Megan Cromp, the founder of Key, says: “The partnership is a collaboration to showcase the inspiring stories of the important work conservation organizations do and how we as individuals can support them with real actionable steps through the Key Conservation platform. Our role at Key is to provide those actionable steps for individuals on the Conservation Optimism platform to do more and to also provide the feedback on how their support made a difference.” How would you describe the partnership between Key and Conservation Optimism?
J: We love Key! We are excited to see the Key Mobile app launch this year, and it’s always about figuring out how people can find ways to help take action. We see our missions and goals very much intertwined with Key’s. People will be able to learn about and access Key Conservation from our new website, and also to find us through Key’s upcoming mobile app. Also, we love the potential for people to donate skills and volunteerism through the app, to go beyond donating money if they wish.
E: You are on the verge of launching a new website. How do you hope this relaunch will help to serve your audience?
J: It was time for a refresh, there are so many new capabilities now with our new website. It will be easier to navigate and find resources, and provide better access to our blog. The overall experience will be more satisfying for people searching for information, and we feel very good about that.
E: Touching on our current reality with Coronavirus, do you see a heightened relevance of Conservation Optimism’s mission and also its partnership with Key at this time?
J: There is a strong appetite for conservation optimism since it’s so heavy and stressful for people right now. People are looking to feel more uplifted and positive. People are keen on finding uplifted content, and we have recently had an uptick of followers on Twitter since the pandemic began.
We are trying to produce more resources for people, for example a toolkit for how to frame conservation messages in a more positive way that people can rely on as they talk to people in their lives.
We are also working to find ways to make our events happen slightly differently, or online, during this time of quarantine and social distancing. For example, we are working to make a virtual conservation optimism trail through the Museum of Natural History in Oxford. The museum has a 3D portal available, and from there an online version of this digital experience for adults and one for children will be available to access and enjoy.
E: Do you have a plan to address the wildlife trafficking cause of COVID?
J: Conservation Optimism is closely linked to the University of Oxford and the Interdisciplinary Center for Conservation Science. Many people from both the University and Center are researchers and specialists in wildlife trade issues, and we’re hoping to create content with them to explain these issues and educate the public, and to present it through a solution-based narrative.
We’re hoping to create content with these researchers that will educate people without discouraging them.
E: Have you considered doing online courses or webinars to further connect to your audience and build a sense of community?
J: We do have a project for an online course currently underway. It is about framing issues constructively, and how to use storytelling in a powerful way to drive impact. We’re at the preparatory stage of this so stay tuned for more to come!
We’d also like to have resources from other platforms featured on our new website, and are moving towards having a centralized database for people to more easily find stories about conservation optimism.
E: Thank you for your time, Julia!
Check out Conservation Optimism's new website here: https://conservationoptimism.org