Maasai men overlook the Kenyan landscape. (© Conservation International/photo by Will Turner)
Editor’s note: For nearly 30 years, Conservation International (CI) has sought to protect the natural ecosystems that make life possible for all people on Earth. In order to do this, one strategy the organization has returned to time and again is working with local indigenous populations — also an important approach for the Emerson Collective, a group dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity so people can live to their full potential. Emerson Collective President and Founder — and CI Board Member — Laurene Powell Jobs recently sat down with Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of CI, to discuss the enormous potential of indigenous peoples in the preservation of the natural world. This post was originally published on the Emerson Collective website.
Question: For decades, the work of protecting nature meant sequestering it from the impact of humans. CI, on the other hand, has a different approach, recognizing that conservation serves not just nature but also humanity. Can you walk us through your premise of connectedness and how that thinking has matured over time?
Answer: We’re all connected — all humans rely on nature. If nature doesn’t thrive, we don’t thrive: It generates crucial benefits in the form of fresh water, reliable food, a stable climate and protection from storms and floods, and so much more.
Earlier in our history at CI, we solely focused on protecting biodiversity hotspots — places where rare species are highly concentrated and endangered — and we had great success. But we saw that over time, the world was still losing forests, people were still overfishing, climate change was still getting worse, and so on. And at the same time, we began to look at our dependence on nature, not just as repositories of species but generators of these benefits services that we need to survive.
So, our approach has evolved. Today, everywhere we work we do so with local communities and indigenous peoples. They are the best and most long-standing stewards of nature. We work with businesses because businesses influence what we eat, buy, drink and wear and can scale ideas rapidly. And we work effectively with governments worldwide.