In response to my last post, a good friend brought up the issue of diversity training in the non profit sector, particularly in conservation.
If you have spoken to me about diversity, justice, equality, prejudice, etc. you know I split things into three areas: Social, Economic and Environmental. These are the areas in which I feel conservation leaders should consider and educate themselves on diversity. Feel free to comment after reading below.
Social diversity includes all the learned and inherited cultural norms and practices and how they differ from place to place. This includes those that believe all of nature is given us by God to use in the way we see fit, those that believe in the golden rule and seek to be kind to others including wildlife to make the world a better place and those that have learned that they should get what they can to make their life better at every step, regardless of the impacts on others. Simplification, yes I know. If you want to lead a community comprising all of these groups however, you need to understand that they have these different social constructs that guide the way they see the world. You also need to realize that your social heritage is not the only one and not the only right one.
Economic diversity is usually the more heavily hinted at. Go behind the scenes of your local, regional and global conservation organizations and you can learn of small grants. Some countries are eligible (or ineligible) for certain funds because of their GDP or some economic classification. NGO’s may target “major donors” above a certain net worth or giving potential. Often, without proper study or objective evaluation, they may deem $1, $2, or $5 as being more than the local communities will pay for environmental activities. People are classified as low income etc. and their respect for or desire to protect the environment is assumed. Yes, this is a factor, but a core element of advocacy is education at all levels.
Environment can be seen in many ways. Of course social and economic environments are important, but the actual physical, built and natural environments are what I want to discuss. In the past year, I have met a girl who had never touched a furry animal. She had only seen pigeons, rats and cockroaches. Sometimes, we assume that local people know the names of their native fruit. We assume that islanders can swim. Not every Bahamian has seen the pine forests, few have seen the Cay Sal Bank. Fewer still have SCUBA dived or snorkeled in these areas. How many Jamaicans live in the city and have never seen cockpit country? I will admit, environmentally, I have been privileged to experience more environments than most, but I am atypical.
I feel conservation leadership needs to recognize that most of their constituents they serve are not part of the brotherhood of scientists, they do not have the financial capacity to travel to and save the natural world, abandoning their other responsibilities periodically, and perhaps most importantly, they have not experienced the wonders of the natural world as thoroughly and regularly as our leadership.
When we create social divides to make our ends and means holier than others’ we spend more time fighting than succeeding. When we put a dollar value on the environment and claim it is out of reach of a certain group we are cutting off their hands before they can help. If we aim to protect the environment, we perhaps need to understand that not everyone gets the opportunity to see and enjoy the environment in the same way we do. To travel without restriction, walk without assistance, enter the field without question of motives or ability is more difficult for some than most of us can imagine. We need diversity training in the non profit sector. We need it now.
Ancilleno Davis, M.Sc.