Cornering the Market on Conservation

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By Sarah Erdreich
December 22, 2006

By approaching each problem as a new challenge, and involving the local community in the problem-solving process, Rare Conservation -- one of the five charities honored in this year's 10th annual Foolanthropy drive -- has had incredible success in protecting the world's most threatened natural areas. Equipping local communities with the tools and motivations they need to care for their natural resources has proved extremely successful, as Rare's campaign to protect Komodo National Park shows.

The Komodo National Park (KNP) in Indonesia is home to thousands of marine and animal species spread out over 1,800 square kilometers of land and water. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, this gorgeous park is also home to 4,000 people, with another 40,000 people living in nearby villages. Since nearly all of the residents depended on farming and fishing for their livelihoods, however, overharvesting and destructive fishing practices risked destroying the park's marine resources.

Through one of its unique Pride Campaigns (PC), an Indonesian conservationist affiliated with Rare began working with the local community to devise a focused campaign aimed at educating the population about the environmental importance of using KNP in a sustainable manner. The campaign's precise goal was to "protect the marine biodiversity of the park in order to benefit both the park's plant and animal life, as well as the local communities and for future generations."

To achieve this goal, local conservation leaders were trained in the use of marketing tactics to build grassroots support for environmental protection. These tactics included creating a campaign mascot and song, using a poster designed by a local artist, and talking directly with the fishermen and fish traders about using more sustainable fishing practices.

The mascot, a giant manta ray, was particularly popular with children, who were visited by the manta ray at their schools. Both the mascot and the song encouraged the children to take pride in the KNP; puppet shows were used to educate about the need to protect the marine reserve. A campaign-created magazine used comics, puzzles, and activity pictures to help children understand environmental problems. Teachers also played a key role in the campaign, helping to develop environmental curriculum games.

Different techniques convinced the adults. A sermon sheet, which religious leaders passed out to women and fishermen, focused on the spiritual reasons to practice conservation. Campaign bumper stickers were affixed to fishing boats, and community members received a campaign calendar that included pictures and key conservation messages. There was also a quiz and singing competition, where fishermen were judged on their rendition of the campaign song and knowledge of KNP's marine habits.

By the end of the campaign, almost half of the community was ecologically literate and understood how they could continue to improve themselves without losing their natural treasures. Three separate clubs � one for fishermen, one for women, and one for youth � were formed to help spread the conservation messages.

One of the reasons that Rare's Pride Campaigns are so effective is because they're located in places with relatively little media. The song used in the KNP campaign was played on the radio three to five times a day, and virtually everyone in the area listened to the radio. So while the tactics used in the KNP campaign might not work in the U.S. -- where children see so many ads for toys and cartoons that one more mascot wouldn't have much of an impact, and there are hundreds of radio stations to listen to -- they're incredibly effective in environments where there's little competing media.

Through their integrative and sustainable educational practices, this U.S.-based nonprofit understands that involving the people who have constant contact with their local ecosystem are the ones best-equipped to act as its guardians. It's small wonder that Rare has been recognized by Fast Company as one of the "Top 25 Social Capitalists" for 2005, 2006, and 2007.

To donate to Rare Conservation and support Foolanthropy, click here. To read more about Rare, click here. To discover all five of this year's Foolish charity picks, click here.

Sarah Erdreich thinks the manta ray should be the mascot for the Fool's bowling club.