Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Tuesday 24 September 2013

Changing habits

The Chunoti Co-Management Committee was a 2012 Equator Prize Winner from Bangladesh. The project is described in United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Chunoti Co-Management Committee, Bangladesh. EquatorInitiative Case Study Series. New York, NYHere we try to retell the story from the perspective of the Committee sharing their learning over the years with staffs and decision makers of the forest department.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: Forest department officials
Key point: Effective co-management means that communities should be in the lead
Conflict: Habits of forest department and habits of communities 
Hero: Anwar Kamal
Adversary: Forest department and villagers

I am Anwar Kamal. I feel proud to be the Vice President of the Chunoti Co-Management Committee from Bangladesh. I have loved the Chunoti forest all my life. This wonderful forest lies South of Chittagong city. It used to be green all year round with tropical trees and areas of sungrass, which were used for many purposes. The forest is the home of many animals, birds, and rare plants. Even elephants pass through the forest on their way to Myanmar and back. The small farming communities in the area used to slash and burn small parts of the forest for their livelihoods.

When my parents were young the Chunoti forest was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary. But they also witnessed the start of more and more logging to meet the demand form the brick and timber factories in Chittagong. Slowly the forest began to make place for waste land and plantations. To make the Wildlife Sanctuary work the forest department engaged in dialogues with the local communities to promote co-management of the area. The result was the Chunoti Co-Management Committee. I was part of the Committee right from the start. However we soon found out that for poor protected area-dependent communities to stop destroying natural resources for their livelihoods, they must have the chance to ensure basic alternative livelihoods.

Changing behaviour and challenging age-old livelihood practices is no easy task. Motivation and awareness can help enlighten communities but nothing should be imposed on them. Communities should lead the planning and work, with only facilitation from external groups. This was difficult from the perspective of the forest law and the way the forest department always had functioned. But co-management only started functioning when the communities could take the lead. When I finally reached that point with the forest department, women started to lead patrols trough the protected area to prevent illegal logging and poaching. We introduced bamboo craft making, fish farming, basket weaving and we in the Committee helped to ensure fair prices and market demand. 

Now the communities are working on eco-tourism. The Committee decided that part of the revenues is for the community, part is to be invested in reforestation. The Committee also influences legislation and governance practices. In my experience working in protected area co-management, three major threats are: a lack of any sense of ownership among communities in and around protected areas; the dependence of ultra-poor people on these areas for their basic livelihoods; and corruption in the authorities responsible for protected area management.

Monday 23 September 2013

Small steps towards the larger goal

Sisi Initiative was a 2012 Equator Prize winner. Facts and fgures are described in a UNDP case study. United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Sisi Initiative Site Support Group, Fiji. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY. Based on this information we retell here the story according to the principles of story telling. We choose to do so from the perspective of the treasurer of the Sisi Initiative, telling other indigenous land owners in the country how they generated positive change.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: indigenous landowners in other parts of the country
Key point: small steps towards new livelihoods can help you, your land and that of your children
Conflict: Community reluctance to egnage in conservation of their land without concrete benefits
Hero: Mr. Silio Lalaqila, Treasurer, Sisi Initiative Site Support Group, Fiji             
Adversary: Communities engaging in activities harming the forest and biodiversity

My name is Silio Lalaqila and I am the Treasurer of the Sisi Initiative. I am from the Island of Vanua Levu that is situated in the North of Fiji. The mountainous peninsula of Natewa Tunuloa on the island is rich of forests. At sunrise you can hear the songs of many birds. One of them is the Sisi, the rare Fijian silktail bird, that we are all proud of. In the days of my grandparents the people in our small indigenous communities were mostly farmers. They occasionally went into the forest for firewood, timber, hunting, some wild foods and medicinal plants.

As it seems that all good things come to an end, that lifestyle slowly disappeared. People started to cut forests for mahogany or coconut plantations. Sometimes people set the forest on fire for such purposes. Commercial logging brought in money but also caused erosion and floods. Lack of water and bad quality drinking water became part of our daily problems. The provincial government and international NGOs started to organize workshops to create awareness and build capacity for positive change. I went there and we discussed alternatives for income generated by logging. With the help of conservation NGOs we started our Sisi Initiative, a Community based group of volunteers.

When we work in the local communities we tell them “Protecting biodiversity is not just about protecting birds or plants, it’s about protecting what’s rightfully yours, your children’s and your children’s children’s. What type of planet will our future generations be living in by 2020? Patience is a virtue and together with hard work and commitment, you’re sure to succeed and be recognized for the little things you do.” So slowly we started over the years to engage clan land owners in agreeing not to log for at least ten years and make a joint management plan for the forest. In return they would benefit from alternative livelihood schemes. That was a first step. We developed the next steps one by one, as success make success follow.    

Today they engage in beekeeping, sandalwood farming, yam cultivation, poultry. For women we have handicrafts training, e.g. basket weaving, jewelery making, pastry baking etc. With the help of the Forest Department the communities help restore the forest to reduce soil erosion. These are all small contributions to the larger goal of conserving our land as we received it from our ancestors. 

Sunday 22 September 2013

Consumer model or investing in resilience?

Namdrik Atoll Local Resources Committee is a 2012 Equator Prize winner. The case is described in United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Namdrik Atoll Local Resources Committee, The Marshall Islands. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY. Here we try to retell the story from the perspective of the mayor, imagining how he would address is peers, p[olicy makers on other Micronesioan islands.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: Other policy makers of Micronesian Islands
Key point: Climate change asks for reconsidering the modern consumerism model
Conflict: Consumerism versus working on resilience
Hero: Clarence Luther, Mayor of Namdrik Atoll  
Adversary: Modern lifestyle and consumer habits of the inhabitants of the atol

“People in the West mostly have a picture of the idyllic life on our Micronesian Islands. They think of palm trees, white beaches, an abundance of fruits and happy people”. Clarence Luther, the impressive Mayor of Namdrik Atoll, Marshall Islands smiles and continues: “That may have been so for the faraway past. When I was a boy over 50 years ago, we indeed ate our own fish and grew our own food. We couldn’t rely on the supply ship which only came maybe twice year.”

“Today we are part of modern life with tinned food, bottled drinks, fridges. You name it. But now if the supply ship doesn’t come for three weeks we are worried – what will we do, what will we eat? This question was bothering me more and more. Especially when I learned about climate change and seal level rise. So I started helping my community to develop one by one initiatives with support from government and partners. We reintroduced traditional crops such as breadfruit, taro and native pandanus. It protects and restores the soil. We started value-added secondary food processing industries. A pearl farm to provide jobs and fund community development projects in education and health. We introduced rainwater harvesting and solar technology."

"In doing so I realised that if we don’t do what we are doing it takes your power away and you don’t know what to expect. We can do something to make our lives better for now and the future. If we don’t do something we are not going to survive for long. This way we have a lot of lessons to show other parts of Micronesia and Melanesia. For example, we demonstrate that you don’t have to follow the consumer model.  I know that we all do to some extent but just showing that you don’t have to follow it totally." 

"Now we are taking care of our natural resources and our mangroves. We do not have to be scared anymore if the ship does not arrive in time, we can stand on our own feet: this is what they call resilience."

Respect as a basis for help

The Indian Sashwat NGO received in 2012 the Equator Prize. Based on the UNDP case study (United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Shashwat, India. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY), we retell the story from the perspective of one of the founders sharing with other NGOs how Sashwat could add value to the official resettlement arrangements of the Indian government. 

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other NGOs
Key point: respect as a basis for helping communities to help themselves improve their life
Conflict: displacement of villages after construction of a dam
Hero: Ms Kusum Karnik
 desparation, illiteracy and apathy of displaced tribal communities  

"It is important to understand that those who have lived with the forest for centuries and preserved the forest for centuries are the best people to know how to conserve it, how to use it, and how to take care of it. Without them, who knows the forest?” In her colorful sari, Ms Kusum Karnik a strong local NGO leader with an academic background, tells about the ancient culture, the traditions and tribal life in rural Maharashtra, India.

She then tells with passion how the construction of a large dam disrupted the life of many villages in areas that would be flooded. She tells about the damage to nature. How helpless, desperate and hopeless the people felt when they had to move. She explains that she decided to take up the challenge of dealing with the apathy and engaging the affected illiterate tribal farmers in positive action. "Traditionally we believe that one must respect the people one works with. Vision and mission are not written on a board somewhere high above an office, they are discussed; and the values we believe in – fraternity, equality, freedom, justice, truth, love of fellow human beings, and valuing physical labour – are often brought up regarding day-to-day matters, thus keeping this spirit alive.”

Based on this philosophy of respect, equity and equality Ms Karnik continues, she founded with others the Sashwat organization to help the displaced communities with concrete actions that could improve their situation. Over the years - with the support of national and international donors - she helped to set up small-scale fishing activities in the dam reservoir, improve farming on the remaining cultivatable land. She supported farmers with the paperwork to secure their new land. She then extended the work to education and health care for women and children. Through all these efforts she mobilized a great number of men and women from the village to assist her in helping villagers to help themselves and improve the life of the resettled communities.

Today families have new livelihoods and better prospects through education. The remaining forests are being conserved and the ecosystems restored.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Health motivates positive action

The Environmental and Social Studies Group, a Mexican NGO is one of the 2012 Equator Prize winners. The case is described in: United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Environmental and Social Studies Group, Mexico. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY. Based on the information from this publication we hereby try to tell the story not from the perspective of the prize winning NGO, but from that of one of the project beneficiaries: a member of a women group.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: women from other communities that have water issues
Key point: Realizing that health of women and children is at stake motivates to take positive action
Conflict: access to clean water
Hero: Fernanda from Oxtoyahualco
Adversary: our own passive and fatalistic attitude and initial lack of interest in conservation 

My name is Fernanda. I am from a Nahua family in the village of Oxtoyahualco in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. I am a mother of four. I cannot read or write. I have been a farmer all my life. My main concern always has been the well being of my family. I love the land where we live. In my great grandmother’s time it used to be full of beautiful forested valleys. There were many streams and lakes full of clear water and fields for farming and grazing.

Over the years more and more families became dependant on the land. People started to farm where you actually could not farm. The forest disappeared. Land slides occured, floods as well. The main problem became water scarcity. There were many projects of city-based NGOs active in our region to help improve the situation. But for us simple villagers it was not easy to see the benefits. We were passive, thinking this is our fate. Then one day we realized that the health of our children and ourselves was at stake. Our drinking water was not clean, and we all believed we were losing our water because we were not taking proper care of our forest. That was the moment I became active.  

In Oxtoyahualco, the fields surrounding the water spring were all private property, but since it was the community that was really in charge of them, I called the owners and asked to turn the fields over. For collective benefit, it was decided to fence them and plant trees instead of corn. It was also decided to stop cutting trees. The decisions were made by the General Assembly in the common house, with the agrarian authorities. My next step was to connect with the NGOs who were helping communities to form self-organized user groups. We mapped our area and from what we knew from our elders and other communities we made work plans for our watershed. We organized workshops and trainings, we had technical support from the NGOs and could submit project proposals to them to fund technical improvements. 

Now we are improving the forest again, we engage in a series of alternative livelihoods and manage the water supply. The projects we have built have been decided within the Assembly, here in the community, that way we decide among all. The technicians from the NGOs do come, but they do not decide for us. They say “Where do you want to build?” and where we decide it gets done. We go to the very place where we think it should be built and we all look at it, if it is a good place or not. That way we all talk about it, and since we know where our water springs are, we can make those decisions among all in an assembly with a majority of ejidatarios. I do all the extra work because of my children. And by doing so I educate myself.  

To change others you have to change yourself

In 2002 The Suledo Forest Community won the Equator Prize. The project is described in the UNDP collection of casestudies (United Nations Development Programme. 2012. Suledo Forest Community, Tanzania. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY).  Here we tell the story based on the the case study and the accompanying video. We choose to tell it from the perspective of a forester who shares his experience with his peers.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other foresters
Key point: to allow for community forest management means that we ourselves have to change from policing to advising
Conflict: illegal logging and poaching
Hero: Shaban Luono
Adversary: local communities that need and want to use the forest 

My name is Shaban Luono, Government Forest District Officer in Miombo in the South West of Tanzania. 25 Years ago there were not many people here. This was an area of dry forest with many different species. Masai used to trek each year through the forest with their cattle, they used the fruits of the trees and took care of the forest as  unofficial custodians.

Because of all the political and economic changes in the country, new people arrived to look for farmland and settlements. They also roamed through the forest and logging and poaching started. Our government then reacted with legislation: the new forest law forbids all activities in the Miombo forest both by Masai and newcomers. We in the forest service were tasked with implementation and enforcement. I came from Arusha to Miombo and with my colleagues I had to patrol this huge area. Right from the start it put us in the position from us against the communities. We the protectors of the forest against them the enemies of the forest. In hindsight I cannot say we were very succesful: logging and poaching even increased.

The communities needed the forest. They formed Environmental Committees to prove the government they could manage the forest themselves. Each Committee laid out by laws for the sustainable use of the forest. They came to our office to have us approve these by laws according to the proper legal procedures. It took us many meetings in our office and in the villages to get over our suspicions and our prejudices that only we knew what was good for the forest. Slowly we started trusting them, because through our meetings in the villages we had seen some promising good practices. Finally we accepted the by laws. And we realized that in the process we ourselves also had changed: from policing, to advising. Once we left the policing role the villagers even took more responsibilities for sustainable forest management.

Today instead of harrassing people we are now friends with them, we come in our cars to check the state of the forest, have a quiet tea in the village, answer questions of the Environment Committee and advise on management issues. The enmity is gone. Our job became a lot more satisfactory. Illegal logging and poaching is under control.

Buddhist values as basis for change

In 2012 The Cambodian community forest project won the Equator Prize. In the UNDP publication (United Nations Development Programme. 2012. Monks Community Forest, Cambodia. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY). the case is documented. Based on this account and with quotes form their video, we retell it here as a real story. 

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other conservationists 
Key point: when you base your communication on religious values, you can motivate and engage communities in positive action to change their habits
Conflict: ignorance about illegal wildlife trade and logging being against Buddhist values
Hero: Venerable Bin Salut
Adversary: poor villagers that are not interested in nature conservation 

The deep and wild jungles of North West Cambodia used to be full of many different wild animals, huge trees and wonderful plants. The few small villages close to the forest were engaged in rice farming and collected from the forest what they needed. 

Civil war, population growth, refugees and poverty changed village life and caused more and more pressure on the forest and its wildlife. When Bin Salut, a simple monk in orange cloths, arrived in the area to take care of the small temple, he made it also his mission to rescue wild animals and protect the forest. He started for example to buy snakes from farmers who wanted to sell them as food on the market. He then released them back into the wild. He tried to raise awareness about nature in his preachings: “Our forest will continue to be lost if we monks don’t try to preserve it or try to help spread Buddha’s teaching among our prople to appreciate the forest value. Preserving the forest is very important as it absorbs toxics like carbon and produces clean air that we breath to live healthy lives.”

Villagers were sceptical in the beginning. They did not care about nature. They even thought the new monk was going to set up his own business and wanted to become the owner of the forest. But the humble monk kept preaching and practiced what he preached: “Buddhism plays a very important role in preserving the nature. When Lord Buddha was still alive, he used trees and caves as his lodging to obtain enlightenment. In this way he taught us to love nature and animals.” Then one by one his messages hit home and he won the trust of the people. Under his leadership villagers started to patrol the forest against loggers and to protect the forest products, such as mushrooms, nuts, etc.

Now six villages help to conserve the forests and its wildlife, they realize they rely on forest products to support their families. Harvesting mushrooms adds income to their rice production. And they now earn more in a year than the average Cambodian. At the same time they take care of the source of their income.

Friday 20 September 2013

Patience as a sustainability value

Patience is a sustainability value that honours the carrying capacity and resilience of the natural systems of the earth. Often we use abstract concepts of short term and long term. But this video shows that in our own human lives it might be better to talk about impatience or patience. Fast results of good results. Especially when it comes to something basic as food. A nice initiative from the Iberian Peninsula towards a new platform the True Food Alliance.  

Listening leads to the right intervention

COMACO is a recipient of the Equator Prize. The award has a database with case studies of all its winning projects. Even when a few are accompanied by a video, they are not easy to read. Telling their success story could help. In four parts (beginning, middle, climax, end) the story of COMACO could be as follows:

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other conservationists 
Key point: when you listen to poachers you find out the motives for current and desired behaviour, you then can help the people and by helping them, you help wildlife.
Conflict: poachers 
Hero: conservationist Dale Louis 
Adversary: poachers and our own ignorance about the reasons for poaching. 

The hot beautiful Zambia Luanga River Valley houses an amazing diversity of wildlife, especially elephants, hippos, crocodiles, zebras, wildebeest and other large animals. It has been so for ages. 

But as time goes by and with a growing population the pressures on nature and wildlife increased. The areas became rife with poachers that threatened the natural world more and more. Dale Louis of Wildlife Conservation Society, a passionate blond conservation biologist tried everything in his power to stop these negative trends of illegal hunting. For many years he and his devoted team of rangers tried to enforce the law by patroling the enormous area and trying to catch the wicked poachers. But somehow - as if the devil played with it - they alsmost always came too late. 

One day far out in the field, waiting in an ambush, he suddenly realized that so far they had been trying to outsmart the poacher, without any success: “We never got out of our cars to talk to them, question them, who they were and why they poached.” He and his colleagues decided to do just that and entered villages and the small and simple homes of the people. What they found out was that the men were poaching because they and their families were starving. So Dale and his colleagues decided that to help the animals they had to help the people. They started Community Marketing for Conservation to transform poachers into farmers. 

Poachers trade guns for new skills, seeds and a guaranteed income from their farming. Now after a few years the elephants, wildebeest, crocodiles and other species are recovering. Communities are not anymore starving but living from farming with the help of the cooperative. 

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Visiting Boč ten years later!

In 2002 – 2003 I was involved in assisting Slovenian protected area managers in dealing with the issue of threats by visitors to biodiversity in the mountain landscape park of Boč. After long discussions they decided on a strategic focus to deal with only one threat (trampling of the Pulsatilla Grandis) during one specific event (1st of May celebrations). See story board for the change that took place and the role of communication. 

Five years ago I went back. Simona Kaligaric showed me around and explained that since 2002 the 1st May event is every year managed more effeciciently by the municipality. The community now really takes care of the site. E.g. the hunters association decided to turn the adjacent corn field they owned into grassland. They were afraid that the fertilizer they use for the corn, may harm the soil of the Pulsatilla.. "It changed my professional life", Simona said then. "Leaving my desk and interacting with the people in the field, makes my life definitely more complicated, but also much more succesful."
Last week on a sunny saturday – it is now ten years after the project - I was again in Boč. And again Simona showed me around. When we came to the foot of the mountain at the end of the village we saw many cars nicely parked at a parking. “Yes” Simona said, “these days many people use the trails to walk up the mountain through the dense forest. These challenging nature trails are an initiative of the mountaineering society; they look after the paths here”. 

When we came to the mountain inn, we saw more cars parked on a small parking and not a single one parked ‘in the wild’ as was the case ten years ago. A group of people from a nearby town were practicing karate on a field. “Look behind them”, Simona pointed out, “there is the basketball court that we made ten years ago – it is still maintained by the inn and used by groups of young people who come here during the year. Actually all facilities, e.g. campfire and camping places we made for the event management of the 1st of May are now used during the whole year. And people take responsibility: the hunters associations mow the pulsatilla field every year to make sure there is no overgrowth. The municipalities take positive interest. I myself have not been here for quite some time, as I am now promoted to head our office in Maribor. But I am always surprised how well it works when you define the communication objectives properly. We used to think in terms of agriculture or biodiversity. We now know we have to be much more concrete and start small. Define stakeholders, find opinion leaders and listen to explore how they can be part of the solution.” Then we went to the two sites of the Eastern Flower: they are doing well, much better than ten years ago and Simona and her colleagues hope that the habitats will slowly grow bigger.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Tiger Team Story

Stories stick better than reports or factsheets. Linda Kartika (from the Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia) was for three months an intern at WildTeam in Bangladesh as part of her Wageningen University training. From the footage she shot in Bangladesh she made this video in which she tells the story of what she has learned about tiger conservation and strategic communication.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

A story sticks better than a case study

Taste the power of storytelling on the Media Impact site to brand their work. Soon a CEC e-learning course on story telling to trigger action for biodiversity will be on line on: www.frogleaps.orgNow compare this story with the same content now packaged as an case study or informative brochure:

PCI Media Impact is a pioneer and world leader in Entertainment-Education and communications for social change. For more than 25 years, we have advanced the well-being of vulnerable populations by improving knowledge, shifting locally-determined attitudes and changing behaviors toward critical social issues. Working in a capacity- building model, through our My Community approach, our unique strategy of storytelling allows millions to live healthier lives, sustainably, and in harmony with their natural world.
Together with our partners around the world, PCI Media Impact has produced more than 5,000 episodes of 100 serial television and radio productions reaching more than one billion people in over 45 countries.
Our programs have increased knowledge, changed attitudes and facilitated behavior change on some of the most pressing issues of our time, including violence against women, HIV/AIDS prevention, sustainable development, reproductive health, human rights and democracy. Currently, Media Impact is working in more than 30 countries throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, Africa, Asia and the United States.
We work using Entertainment-Education (E-E). E-E, sometimes called Edutainment, is the process of purposely designing and implementing a media message both to entertain and educate, in order to increase audience members’ knowledge about an educational issue, create favorable attitudes and change overt behavior.

Even in written form a story is more sticky:
In 1984 the Father of Entertainment-Education Miguel Sabido, met with our founder and Indira Ghandi to launch a program in India. The program, Hum Log, was a success: it soared to the top of entertainment charts and drew a regular viewing audience of more than 50 million people. It also began to shift family planning practices. We knew we were on to something, and so continued producing radio and television programs to promote family planning throughout Asia and Africa.
During one of these programs a young character, Shandi, asked a question on the radio drama Taru that echoed throughout Bihar, India: “Why don’t I have a birthday?” Little girls in Bihar didn’t celebrate their birthdays. Only boys did. Over the course of a few weeks, Shandi, aided by a social worker, Taru, planned and hosted her birthday party. Soon after the broadcasts, girls throughout Bihar began to celebrate their birthdays.
But the change didn’t stop there. Birthdays were symbolic of other inequalities – who went to school, who ate first, who received the best medical care. These things started changing too. An entire village decided it was
time for all little girls to receive an education, so that year little girls got to go with their brothers to school. Each of our 100 programs has a Shandi, someone who asks the seemingly simple question that transforms a society.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Story telling demand survey

Listening to users is a first step when developing a new e-course. 
To develop the new frogleaps course on storytelling to trigger action for conservation, we did not only research the literature, but also did a few surveys on line and through skype and telephone. To articulate the demand, to map existing experiences with storytelling and to generate stories of successful campaigns. Through three mailings we reached about a hundred experts and received feedback from about forty respondents. In this blog article we present some highlights from our findings.

Stories to friends and colleagues about the business we are in
What stories do conservation communicators tell about their job during a birthday party? Most of them tell funny or unusual anecdotes. About the similarities between animals and human beings. About the amazing and successful reintroduction of a species that was thought be extinct. The indigenous knowledge that helped save a conservation issue. The awe and wonder we experience in a national park or when we see a bee pollinating an fruit tree. The links between nature and our health. The many things we can learn from nature. To fight the extinction of species living in our backyard, as every species is worthy of our effort, and each has a right to flourish. One respondent engaged in education answered:

My typical party’s story it is  that instead of answering the question about my job, I start talking about my ‘private’ forest. I am living in a place where the forest is “invading” my rooms through the open doors. I tell funny stories about different adventures with  biodiversity:  field mice cutting the wires of my computer, bats hanging in the corner of my wardrobe etc. Then after my  funny stories people usually start telling their own adventures with animals even in city flats.  After some of their stories I am able to the answer question – what is my job? My job is to provoke people into talking about their experience with nature very close to us.  I am doing it in my books and radio play. But everybody can do it: simply  chatting with friends or co-passengers in the train. Such conversations about one’s own experience with nature makes people think about nature as an important part of their life.    

Most respondents stressed the importance of telling something personal that touches the emotions and invites the audience to react. One spiritually oriented respondent said it in a very personal way:

I can tell it in the form of my private prayer to St Francis from  Assisi: “Holly St Francis, I am predicating your message by cultivating my private reserve area in my garden where I am protecting…weeds. Weeds may not be “nice”, but most of them are medicine plants. Our grandmothers cured our wounds when we were young using different weeds and leafs. Most weeds deserve protection not only because they are used in native medicine, they are also food for birds and butterflies. Most of all I am following  Your  instructions given to monastic brotherhood of Franciscans to keep some parts of the gardens of the monastery uncultivated as a place for wild creatures. Because  all God’s creation needs to be respected.” I hope that St Francis as holy patron of ecology will treat my conservation project in the same way as my prayer.  

Stories to local communities about conservation
What do you tell local communities about conservation? Respondents referred to our dependence on nature, the services it provides and how it enhances our lifestyle. One African respondent tells:

Our natural resources and farming harvests are also dependent on wildlife---birds, bees, butterflies, worms and wild animals. They all support nature by pollinating, spreading seeds, revitalizing the soil and creating a natural balance of predators and preys. Conservation is about supporting the nature of nature to benefit your own life, income, and security.

Respondents also tell about the need for local communities to manage their own environment, the opportunities for extra income and the enhancing of their security and resilience. The need to love their local nature: if we don’t who will? A respondent from Europe says:

I am asking people to try to imagine their  local  country as different species and habitats are disappearing one by one. How will the neighborhood  look like? How are we able  to manage our plantation without bees and birds?  How the landscape had changed since their childhood ? What changes are good and what bad for their heath and budget ? How it is possible to improve their life conditions. What a role nature can play in it.  Then I am telling story about “talking golden fish” and what had happened If somebody  wish to remove different elements of  nature and what if he wish to much  only nice elements of nature.  

One respondent mentioned that stories about what happened elsewhere can be a powerful to raise awareness. E.g. when Chinese farmers in South Sichuan Province, the largest producers of pears in that region of China, alerted their government to the absence of bees and that the year's crop was endangered, the government's unprecedented response was to insist on hand-pollination.  This story might be used to raise awareness that the use of pesticides for grain production in the US or elsewhere may cause other (fruit) farmers to face the same dilemma and may wonder if this method will someday, too, be their fate. 

Most effective stories
What stories about conservation have motivated people to take action? Some respondents said that experiencing nature is at the basis of a change in beliefs, attitudes and finally behaviour. Stories can help to evoke such experiences. Respondents were of the opinion that such stories either moved people emotionally or showed direct impact on their well-being. A good story also should be close to the experience and values of the audience. And nature should be presented with a human dimension. An example is the story about the reintroduction of Lynx to Masurian forest with the romantic title “born to be free”. One respondent wrote us:

The Jungle Book by Kipling inspired me as a child. It presents life of animals as adventures and makes them “human” in terms of feelings and characters.

A French respondent tells the story of the bat who returned by plane: A small bat that had departed from Germany fell down in a Spanish school yard exhausted from fatigue. It was rescued by the school children and sent by their teachers to a wildlife centre. It was fed and recuperated. The Minister of Environment of that time paid the air plane ticket for the bat back to Germany.  This positive and amusing story teaches important things:

About the migration of bats, their measurements and weights, their capacity to travel far despite the fact they are so small (children love to hear the heroic acts of small beings, as it is an example for them.
About the need for a habitat: trees in this case, more precisely dead trees in a forest used by bats
About the fact that children, adults and even a minister can help, each at his own level and that in reality they have succesfully done so.
It provides a personal satisfaction to know that somebody has helped another sentient being somewhere. That is reassuring and triggers your wish to help when it is your turn.

Respondents also pointed out that it makes a difference who the audience is and who the story tells, e.g. for local communities the person telling the story should preferably be another local. Quite often these stories are partly fiction, but with a message based on a true example. Many used comic books, radio or folk theatre to reach the local audiences.

For the general public it is important that campaign stories touch on emotions and humour.  Stories appealing to health and budget are also reported as motivating. Such stories can be connected to  food from ecological farms. Women magazines are a good channel for stories of young mothers about the relation between organic food and the health of their children. 

Most  respondents have little experience with techniques to make an effective story. Although they all stress the need for a positive approach and a happy ending, they often have no conflicts in their stories nor any heroes, villains or obstacles. Literature shows that a story with a conflict which is resolved by the hero, is most effective to engage the audience and communicate messages. One respondent from Meso America answered:

For me the heroes are the youth. The villains are the ignorant who only think short term. The obstacles are the lack of social capital and the happy ending is the fact that in this world there exist people just like us who have realized innovations in conservation and that you can do the same in the place where you live.

A French respondent answered:

In the positive stories that I tell, there are mainly heroes who act against the bad guys, but without elaborating on the negative impacts of their acts. I like to keep it positive. There is a villain, or a bad event, but the story is about the solution. The end is always happy or partly happy when there is still hope to do more. The story is focused on action. I give opportunities for action on different levels or difficulties depending on the action perspectives for smaller or bigger issues.

A third respondent referred to Chief Seattle’s 1851 response to the treaty to sell two million acres to the USA:

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the meaning and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory of the red man.”

Respondents also refer to the importance of the mythology of cultures living in great dependence from nature, as nature plays a predominant role in the stories of such cultures. And the importance to ask local communities about the traditional fold stories from their grandparents. One respondent from Africa says:

Stories are precious sources of experience and wisdom concealed in the actors, their movements and happenings and the symbols applied. Many symbols are universal, such as sun, moon, sea, water, tree, lion, eagle etc. African stories are very much different from European, Arabic, and Indian stories. As far as I have read them they are rougher and their symbols and meanings sometimes hard to crack.  I don’t know whether European stories, such as fairy tales like Cinderella, are suitable i.e., consciously and or unconsciously understandable and meaningful. Therefore, I ask local grandmothers to do the storytelling of their tribes to the children.

A French respondent answered that the best stories about doing the right thing come from the realm of animals themselves, e.g. a whale that takes charge of an orphan whale at the risk of her life as it is already difficult to feed and defend her own baby whale; or a lioness that protects a herbivore orphan against other lions until the time it is fully grown.

These examples from nature make a huge impression on me as no one has taught these females to protect other small beings, especially when they normally belong to their prey. It touches my maternal fibres. It tells me that protecting life is encrypted in our genes, or at least in female genes (even if men may feel the same inclination to such compassion of course). In any case I do so without thinking: I had found a baby titmouse that had fallen from its nest on the a Parisian sidewalk. I put the small bird in a bush as high as possible and then phoned the Animal Welfare Organization to know if I had done the right thing. They told me that actually you have to put the bird back as high as possible in a tree to protect them against cats. And they told me also that other passers-by could easily have trampled the bird. I had difficulty to believe that. So I thought that we should circulate each spring a brochure “how to protect a small bird fallen from its nest”, so people could get the reflex do the right thing without thinking.

An e-learning course on storytelling: success factors
What would make the course a success? Respondents stressed that the  course should be short, fun and inspiring. It should also demystify the CEC Love. Not Loss message. It should be based on real life examples. It should provide users opportunities to interact and send their stories in. It should provide tools that users can immediately apply.


There is a lot of experience in the CEC network. Members share the importance of storytelling as an instrument for conservation. They have some degree of knowledge of the main features of storytelling. There is a demand for a short course on the various aspects of storytelling connected with examples from real life. We thank all the respondents for their time and the sharing of their expertise and experience. They will be mentioned in the colophon of the course that is due to be on line end of September.