Here’s an all-too-frequent out-of-office autoreply from conservationists these days:
I am currently away from the office attending a UNDP meeting. Following this I am participating in a CBD working group, an IUCN advisory committee, an NGO roundtable, then presenting at a Millennium Declaration follow-up, and attending a regional conservation forum convened by aid agencies as part of a global initiative. I expect to be back in the office towards the middle of next year.
During this time I may be able to answer emails occasionally, but will definitely not be engaging in any local conservation action or helping implement recommendations arising from these meetings.
Apologies for the delay.
[Signed] Director of Conservation, Conservation Project Manager and Global Conservation Focal Point
Republic of Forty Thousand Feet
OK, so I’m being facetious, but it’s really not that far from the truth.
There are simply so many global conservation initiatives and associated meetings that, for small developing nations with only a handful of government conservation staff, you can expect to get “out of office” replies from those staff for a substantial part of each year – which is all time these people are not in their countries, getting conservation done.
So what does this “out of office” status mean for real, on-the-ground conservation?
The problem is, this condition is something of a blameless crime. Every group organizing these meetings has only the best intentions of advancing conservation and being as inclusive as possible.
We want to include representatives from small and developing nations in global conservation initiatives because we believe their voices and experiences should be heard, they are guardians of much of the world’s biodiversity, and we often perceive that they have more to gain from participation than people from large, developed countries.
The more enthusiastic and engaged in conservation someone becomes in their own country, the more we desire their participation on global agreements, initiatives, working groups and forums.
To add to the perversity of this situation, an enormous proportion of the global conservation budget is spent transporting these motivated people away from where they are working — in effect, stripping both capacity and funds from actual, on-the-ground conservation action.
The problem is also exacerbated by short funding deadlines that require holding meetings annually, if not more frequently, and by pressure within global initiatives for rapid and easily reported outcomes – workshops are a safe bet for both. Unfortunately, the reporting often stops with the meeting. Too infrequently do we try and document if and how these global meetings are an effective way of advancing on-the-ground conservation success.
Taken as a whole, the global conservation community might be doing itself a great disservice by pursuing international meetings as the modus operandi.
So what are the solutions?
Erh, perhaps we need a meeting to find out…
(Image: Qantas Airways A380 taking off from LAX. Credit: Joits/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)