3 Major Takeaways from Conservation Optimism

Experimental Civics

I really feel there is nothing more delightful than a surprise.

There I was, strolling down the street, searching for optimism in all the corners of my mind especially after the Amazon Rainforest crisis and I looked up to see a hot air balloon.

I wanted to open with this true, short-and-sweet moment because we’re in challenging times across the world, including conservation, so it’s important to keep a light heart, brisk step, and to stay mindful of the magic still around us.

Panel Details

I was beyond excited to be invited by Megan Cromp, Director at Key Conservation, to speak on her panel at Conservation Optimism held at Oxford University. Shout-out to Julia Migne, Conservation Optimism Outreach Coordinator, and her excellent team pulling this event together.

How emerging conservation technology is providing optimism in conservation

Researchers from around the world are tapping into new technology to develop exciting and innovative tools to tackle small to large scale conservation problems. The panelists will share their experiences developing conservation technology, go into detail about the projects they are currently working on and the issues they are looking to solve.

Are you sitting on an idea that you’d like to develop or have skills you think could be valuable to conservation organizations? Learn how you can get involved in the conservation tech community and where you can find resources to develop your own ideas. Most importantly, learn why the utilization of new technology makes the panelists optimistic about the direction of conservation.

The panelists speaking in this session are:

Megan Cromp, Director and Co-Founder of Key Conservation

Alex Dehgan, CEO and co-founder of Conservation X Labs

Alasdair Davies, Director of Arribada Initiative

Sarah Sharif, Founder of Experimental Civics and Founder of Capsule

I was very happy to be approached after the event from several participants who were engaged in our conversation and I was thrilled to be useful! Kudos to those who raised questions and I applaud the work of the other panelists.


So let’s get right to it. There are several items which have not left my mind from conversations I entertained at the conference to panels I listened to. I don’t have all of the answers, but I want to share these thoughts in hope we can address them effectively in the coming years.

Takeaway #1 — Youth deserve more than a seat at the table.

I sat in on a panel with the following speakers:

Prof David Macdonald (Chair) — Founding Director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford

Lily Macfarlane — Action for Conservation Youth Alumnus, #applaude Ambassador

Will Ashley-Cantello — Chief Advisor on Forests, WWF-UK

Hana Salih — Action for Conservation Youth Ambassador, youth climate strike organiser

Zunaira Malik — Action for Conservation

I was inspired by the youth panelists and found myself really listening to their perspective and feeling their words deeply. Hana shared how she “loved learned about places she was connected too.” I think many of us who find ourselves working in conservation fell in love with the planet at a young age if not at a time surrounded by nature.

What caught my attention the most, was how they all shared how a seat at a table wasn’t enough…they were hungry for leadership, hungry to be heard, hungry to play a role, and to be taken seriously. I realized how important it was to rethink my leadership role in how I could help.

The one main reason why having a seat was proving to be ineffective was because youth weren’t being met where they were.

Burdening youth with 52-page policy documents isn’t going to be the best way to utilize their brilliant, young minds…but there are other leadership opportunities a seat could provide if given with more intention of inclusion and care of guests. We could have workshops and design sprints around the policy documents to break them down and to gamify the experience so it becomes less daunting.

We all know experience counts for something, but to be brutally honest, I’ve worked with senior leadership who had “experience” with no imagination, backbone or passion to do what was right. These young folks are passionate about making change happen and they are taking a stand. These are the future leaders of our planet and I started thinking of ways to encourage other forms of learning which could advance them further.

I was heavily impressed with Prof. David Macdonald and his facilitation of the panel. His seasoned perspective was the perfect contrast to the younger voices having been in conservation for nearly all of his career, but it was framed in stories of then and now.

Takeaway #2 — We need to tell ALL the stories, the bottlenecks and the breakthroughs.

The above takeaway was inspired by a workshop I went to hosted by Eric W. Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist, Wildlife Conservation Society and Joe Walston, Senior Vice President for Field Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society.

They not only talked about the issues at hand, but the breakthrough moments as well. The entire conference was focused on talking about the optimism around conservation and I found it extremely uplifting to be connected with like-minded people and to boost our morale through sharing stories and struggles around our work.

I wonder how we can tell more stories of those in the field, those tucked away in the research labs or those younger, newer members of the conservation community.

The more breakthrough stories we share, the more we can begin to invite everyone to become conservationists.

Welcome Address from Jane Goodall

Takeaway #3 — We all need to remind ourselves that we’re trying our best.

I know the times call for rising to the challenge, building up our stamina, and doing what we can through all of our means, but I couldn’t help but feel that we need to be more generous with our compassion and respect.

We’re all trying our best through all of our varied work. I was very proud of all the organizations represented and all of the stories I listened to from campaigns to helping coastal communities support the ocean ecosystem, to applying design thinking methodologies to community engagement to building historic, interactive maps so we could see the land before we existed.

All of this work is tremendous and meaningful.

I’m going to strive to be even more compassionate in the coming months to those organizers, researchers, students, storytellers who are working hard to make the world healthier for all flora and fauna.


Takeaway #1 — Youth deserve more than a seat at the table.

Takeaway #2 — We need to tell ALL the stories, the bottlenecks and the breakthroughs.

Takeaway #3 — We all need to remind ourselves that we’re trying our best.

Capsule Shout-out

For all those who might not know, I was also there to tell the story of Capsule and to invite people to get involved going into next year.

Capsule, is an Experimental Civics program, launching next year in June 2020. We’re hoping to stage the world’s largest civic hackathon focused on the climate crisis with over 4,000 minds coming together under one roof for a 2-day sprint to produce over 500 solutions. We had amazing partners come on board from Techtogether, The Earth Hacks Foundation, Zero Waste Strategies to Youth Climate Leaders.

Learn more at capsulehack.io, sign up via the “Attend” button to stay in the loop on our announcements.

Lastly, Food (Oxford Kitchen)

I just have to share the best dining experience I had at The Oxford Kitchen. The menu was enticing at every bite and so I highly recommend this treat if you’re in Oxford. I had found myself quite ill after the panel so it was a lovely pick-me-up.

Experimental Civics

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We design spaces for people to experiment with their ideas. experimentalcivics.io

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