Posted on 08 February 2013
Taking over the leadership of the Heart of Borneo for WWF is both a deeply daunting and incredibly exciting task.
Six months ago I was in a comfortable position at a good University in a peaceful British town with a contract for life. A chance email from a friend at WWF changed all that and I find myself beginning 2013 pulled in multiple directions by maelstrom of urgent issues amidst a city of angry traffic and sweaty heat. But it feels wonderful.
Taking over the leadership of the Heart of Borneo for WWF is both a deeply daunting and incredibly exciting task. When the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei signed the Heart of Borneo Declaration they gave birth to one of the most forward-thinking and exciting environmental initiatives in the world. WWF has played a key role in nurturing this vision. For years WWF staff have been on the front line of wildlife conservation and local community development in Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. But the establishment of the Global Initiative helped channel these efforts into something bigger than the sum of its parts. Governments and businesses are now working hand in hand with NGOs and civil society in an example of cutting edge conservation and what could well be the new standard for environmentally sustainable development.
Over the past five years, Adam Tomasek and his team have led WWF’s contribution to the Heart of Borneo and they leave a most impressive legacy. During this time they honed the direction of the initiative from something visionary but conceptual to something visionary and real. National and international support and leadership was cultivated, the private sector was brought into the discussion and the seminal ‘Investing in Nature’ report was launched. The report coalesced the essence of the Heart of Borneo into a simple economic choice. Development could continue on a ‘business as usual’ path for short term profit but little long term sustainability or equitability or it could take the ‘green economy’ path, integrating the value of natural resources into economic decision making and establishing long term sustainability and equitability. For the first time there was a clear, rational and economically grounded basis for conserving Borneo’s biodiversity.
But of course the work is not complete. The next challenge is to demonstrate a green economy can work in practice. The economic arguments for change are clear, but can they be translated into practical, feasible policies? Can these policies be implemented on the ground and generate clear, conservation outcomes? And can these outcomes be replicated at scale, bringing the transformational change that is required? Answering this challenge will rely heavily on those on the ground with the power to bring change – on the regional policy makers that govern the Heart of Borneo and on the people who vote them into power and face the consequences of their decisions. More than ever the Heart of Borneo therefore relies on the WWF national staff who have the experience, the information and the respect to drive such changes. The focus of the GI moving into the future must therefore focus on supporting the national offices. We must provide the regional vision into which national activities can feed, help harmonise existing activities across national borders and draw in the resources and support they need to succeed.
I feel honoured to be taking on this challenge. Nearly twenty years ago Borneo was where I took my first steps into conservation working with the orang utans in and around Tanjung Puting National Park. The intervening years have taken me to the work with meerkats in the Kalahari, cheetahs and Maasai in Tanzania, tigers and oil palm in Sumatra and renewable energy in the Himalayas. Most recently I have focussed specifically on the role of business on the environment, working with companies to account for their reliance and impacts on ‘natural capital’. I now return full circle to where I began, married, as it happens, to my beautiful Bornean wife. The site I started out on in Borneo has now disappeared, one of countless examples of the environment losing out to economic development. A sustainable future cannot be based on such a dichotomy. The Heart of Borneo offers a vision of an alternate world, one where the true values of nature are recognised and integrated into an equitable, sustainable and prosperous society. As leader I will be doing everything in my power to realise this vision.
- Tom Maddox