Communities for Conservation: Guiding Principles to Partner with Local Communities

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National: Conservation depends on strong, long-term collaborations between researchers and local communities. For these efforts to be successful and effective, the participation, knowledge and support of people who live in close proximity to wildlife is paramount. 

The Snow Leopard Trust, in collaboration with organisations like Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) from India, developed a training programme called ‘PARTNERS Principles’ to promote effective and respectful community engagement for conservation. 

The programme comprises 8 principles (Presence, Aptness, Respect, Transparency, Negotiation, Empathy, Responsiveness, and Strategic support) and provides a strategic toolkit for conservationists working anywhere in the world to engage with local communities in an ethical and inclusive way. 

The ‘PARTNERS Principles’ written by Charudutt Mishra (Founder Trustee at Nature Conservation Foundation and Science and Conservation Director of the Snow Leopard Trust) have been distilled from two decades of conservation experience, and from ideas in applied ecology, conservation and natural resource management, community health, social psychology, rural development, negotiation theory and ethics. Over 50 local communities, who are protecting c.150,000 sq. km of snow leopard habitat in Asia, have been a part of conservation initiatives that use this approach.

The ‘PARTNERS Principles’ have been recognised as an ‘Outstanding’ conservation practice at the NGO CoP15 Forum. The NGO CoP15 Forum was held as part of the buildup to the important 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity. CoP is ratified by 196 nations and is set to take place later this month in Kunming, China (October 11-15, 2021).

“This recognition reflects the importance of local communities as key actors in biodiversity conservation, and of the PARTNERS Principles training programme. So far, over 250 conservation practitioners from 18 countries have been trained as part of this ongoing effort, who are shifting the way conservation is being perceived and carried out, towards a more inclusive and respectful model of engaging communities,” says Dr Justine Shanti Alexander, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Snow Leopard Trust and Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Network. Dr Alexander has been an active member of the PARTNERS training team. 

The NGO CoP15 Forum gave explicit recognition to several conservation practices, including the ‘PARTNERS Principles’ as part of its ‘100+ Biodiversity Positive Practices and Actions Around the World’ campaign. This campaign sought to highlight effective biodiversity conservation practices and recognise the commitment of non-governmental organizations to conserve biodiversity. The campaign committee, comprising China’s Environmental Protection Foundation, Paradise International Foundation, Shanshui Conservation Centre, and the Global Environmental Institute, received 258 submissions from 196 organisations worldwide, of which 122 were selected as “Noteworthy Practices”, and 22 – including PARTNERS Principles – were noted as “Outstanding”. The practices were scrutinized by experts in various fields and evaluated based on ecological value, social impact and benefit, innovation, promotion and sustainability and presentation. 

Ajay Bijoor, a grassroots conservationist at Nature Conservation Foundation and Assistant Director of the India Program of Snow Leopard Trust, who started off as PARTNERS Principles trainee and now leads the training programme with Dr Alexander, says, “As one of the initial trainees, the PARTNERS principles provided me with a systematic approach to thinking about the practical challenges faced while working with communities the ways forward. Subsequently, as a trainer, I have had the opportunity to interact with several grassroots practitioners and I find that the principles resonate equally with most of them. The challenge always is in applying the principles effectively.”

Resources and toolkits created under the PARTNERS approach are freely available to interested conservationists around the world. To learn more about PARTNERS Principles or participate in the training programme, please visit the website here: https://snowleopard.org/partners-principles/