Q&A – How can we innovate for conservation?

Do you have questions about how to innovate for conservation?

At this Q&A, we asked Gautam Shah – the founder of Internet of Elephants, whose colleague Raff Mares spoke about ‘Activating new wildlife enthusiasts via games’– and Mark Spalding who spoke about ‘Big data, big ideas and the big blue ocean’ your questions about how innovations in conservation can make a difference.

This Q&A session was chaired by Veronica Pickering.

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Veronica Pickering

Veronica Moraa Pickering was born in Kenya and moved to England with her parents in the late 60’s. She is married to Nottinghamshire-born artist Roy Pickering. In May 2013 Veronica was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for Nottinghamshire. For more than 25 years, Veronica worked with families from multicultural communities in London’s east end, and also internationally as a child protection consultant with the UN and other NGOs across Africa. She is now an Executive Coach and consultant championing the needs of diverse communities, advising organisations on diversity and inclusion strategies and on developing partnership. In September 2018 Veronica was appointed and approved by Her Majesty the Queen as an HAC (Honorary Air Commodore) for 504 (Nottingham Squadron).

Veronica is an RSPB Council Member and RSPB England Committee Member, she is also a National Ambassador for the Woodland Trust.

Her reason for optimism in engaging communities in the environmental movement: “For a new, sustainable future we need new ideas. We’ve got to keep talking to everyone and be ready to hear their contributions including those we may not normally engage with.”

Gautam Shah

Gautam Shah, a National Geographic Fellow, is the founder of Internet of Elephants, a social enterprise that develops groundbreaking digital tools to engage people with wildlife. Through unique mobile games, augmented reality and data visualizations that use GPS and other data gathered about animals, Internet of Elephants tells the stories of individual animals studied by conversation organizations and researchers all over the world. In doing so, Internet of Elephants hopes to catalyze whole new approaches to engaging the public with wildlife.

Mark Spalding

Mark fell in love with the sea on the rocky shores of Cornwall, but was also privileged to dive in the Red Sea aged 11, when his parents moved to work in the region. After studying in Cambridge, Mark joined the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in the early 1990s, where he compiled the first ever detailed maps of coral reefs and mangrove forests. Building on these maps he worked with partners around the world to track both threats and conservation efforts. The Reefs at Risk publications, dating back to 1998, were among the first to raise global attention to the plight of these critical ecosystems. Mark is cautiously optimistic that we can overcome the slew of problems facing the ocean, and he believes that better information, and the smart utilization innovation and of new technology may be critical adjuncts to “old-school” conservation approaches. He believes that saving our planet cannot be a slow, drawn-out campaign of persuasion to save this species or that habitat: “we’re slower than the competition, and that means we’re constantly losing ground”. What we need, he believes, is to convert the competition – have them work with us, not against us. And to do that we need to use their same tools and approaches. His ongoing work with The Nature Conservancy involves high resolution global mapping of the value of nature to people, and is helping to engage new audiences to strengthen the demand for action: “once a hotel realizes that its beach is built by the coral reef offshore, or the fisher understands the critical role of mangrove forests as a nursery habitat then they are with us. We’re on the same side!”. And in rubbing shoulders with industry and economists he has realized that these same sectors present other opportunities. If search engines and retailers are using artificial intelligence to read our minds and to predict our predilections then we should learn from them, if hedge-fund managers are growing wealthy on “smart” deals surely there are places in the market for us to act to. Not nefarious double-dealings, but straight, honest, fact-led and transformative approaches. We have a huge challenge ahead, but there are growing glimpses that many in the conservation community are growing wise to these opportunities, and this could be transformative.