Monday, March 02, 2015

Creating Your Conservation Dream Team

Last week my employer hosted a workshop dubbed "Shark School" in our Washington, DC offices.  We invited about a dozen of our partners to participate, along with all of our shark team staff.  Over the course of two days we had many discussions and three break out sessions.  The first session was a chance to discuss lessons learned over five years of shark conservation.  One of the conservation professionals in my group described a model of conservation leadership that I had never thought of or heard of before.  I found it compelling and useful.  I'm going to attempt to explain it here for my readers (both of you).

I'm in the business of creating agreements to protect sharks.  My focus is on protecting all sharks in a particular jurisdiction.  In 5 years we've passed 23 policies in 3 oceans to ban finning, restrict the shark fin trade, or close down commercial shark fisheries.  Each of these policies was enacted through either an executive decree, regulation amendment or the legislative process.

In each of these cases passing the new policy required a Champion.  The Champion is someone who has the power the enact a policy change, supports a policy change, and works to change the policy.  In the legislature this is usually a lawmaker who has to convince all of his or her colleagues to vote for a shark conservation law.  It can be a minister who has to convince a president.  It can even be a president who doesn't have to convince anyone.

The Champion introduces the policy change in the relevant forum and guides it through the proper mechanisms to ensure passage.  This is the person who gets much of the glory when it is all over.  They are the ones who give the media interviews.  In the Marshall Islands this was Tony deBrum.  Diego Benavente was the Champion on Saipan.  BJ Cruz and Rory Respicio were the Guam Champions.

I tend to think only in terms of needing a Champion, but during my breakout session someone suggested that there are two other important roles on a conservation team.  The Champion is only one player.  You also need an Ambassador and a Patron.

The Ambassador is an influential person who serves as the public face for the public support of your policy change initiative.  There are famous Ambassadors like Sylvia Earle and Leonardo Dicaprio, but the Ambassador can also be someone with local influence.

When I managed the campaign to create the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in 2008, I relied on several Ambassadors like Ike Cabrera, Chailang Palacios, and Dave Sablan.  I was a greasy haired 29-year old punk who talked too much.  They provided the gravitas I lacked to bring skeptical community members on board.  Ike in particular helped build an overwhelming amount of grassroots support to overcome the objections of the handful of citizens with links to the Hawaiian longline industry.

The Patron plays a role similar to the Ambassador, but rather than be out in front, stays in the background using their influence to build support with key stakeholders.  In 2008, I asked my father's godfather, Manny Villagomez, to help me.  His support brought on board many others.

Previously I would have described the Ambassador and the Patron as a Champion, but I see now that there are subtle differences.  So it's not groundbreaking stuff, but when I build new conservation teams I'm going to keep these distinctions in mind.

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