People | WWF

Ultimately, people depend on the natural world. Conserving species, protecting habitats and keeping our climate and environment healthy is good for all of us. And while it’s the pressure that human activities put on nature that is the biggest threat, it’s also people who hold the solutions.

We work with people all over the world, from a local to a global level, to take action for nature – because looking after our one and only planet is in everyone’s interests.

Conservation benefits when people benefit from conservation. Some of our most important successes have come from working with people including local and indigenous communities, finding practical ways for people and nature to thrive together. 

© WWF-US / Keith Arnold

© WWF Intl. / James Noah Sparkman

Why we’re working on it

WWF’s mission is to create a world where people live in harmony with nature. For many indigenous people and local communities around the world, that’s the way it’s always been. Land and sea, forest and river have provided for them for countless generations – and they’ve looked after these in return.

But with a global population consuming more resources than the planet can sustain, that equilibrium has been thrown out of balance. And it’s often the people who live closest to nature that suffer the impacts.

Growing pressures from mining, oil exploration, agroindustry and industrial logging threaten ecosystem health the world over, and often have grave impacts for indigenous peoples’ ancestral and sacred lands. Overfishing leaves coastal communities struggling to support their families. Climate change, water shortages and soil erosion mean smallholders’ crops fail.

We need stronger governance of our natural resources to ensure that we deliver healthy ecosystems into the hands of our children and generations beyond.  This means working at different levels: from global policy agreements, public and private financial investment and market standards to national and local level decision-making for sustainable development.
Communities closely reliant on the natural environment for their livelihoods and their well-being feel the brunt of environmental damage most directly.  And they are very often the best placed to steward their environment.

We work in many places directly with communities to support them to manage the natural resources they depend on and protect those resources against emerging threats, in a way that’s good for people and nature alike. Through our years of work, we know that conservation approaches designed with communities can help mitigate negative social impacts while providing lasting incentives – and benefits – for sustainable management of natural resources.

That might mean providing villages with access to clean energy, so they don’t need to cut down wildlife-rich forests for fuel. Or teaching smallholder farmers about sustainable farming practices that improve their yields while reducing impacts on vital rivers. Or ensuring communities benefit directly from tourists coming to see endangered wildlife.  

Read more here.

© Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Toward sustainable societies

Many of the most important places for biodiversity are also areas that suffer from high levels of poverty and conflict. Development is desperately needed – but must be sustainable, so that progress today does not undermine the ecosystems that today’s youth and future generations will depend on for decades ahead.  At the same time, we need to reduce the pressure high consuming societies currently put on the environment globally through footprint-heavy consumption and production choices and climate change. 

The Sustainable Development Goals say it all:  we all have progress to make to ensure we live in just and sustainable societies.

© Martin Harvey / WWF

What we're doing


Working with people is at the heart of everything we do.  This includes working with private corporations and governments who hold powerful levers of influence and can make significant change happen. But most importantly, it means working with those often closest to the resources vital to humanity and yet, often the most vulnerable to exclusion.

In 1996, WWF became the first international conservation organization to adopt a formal policy recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples. We’ve continued to evolve our social policies to cover issues such as human rights, poverty and gender equity, and complaints resolution mechanisms.

We continue to work to know the communities we work with to hear and understand their needs, their aspirations and the challenges they face. And we – and our staff - are committed to working together with local rights holders and stakeholders to identify ways that conservation can help improve and protect their lives, rights and livelihoods.

The impact

The impact can be seen day after day on the ground, where conservation is helping improve the well-being of women, men and children:

Community management

Community management schemes for forests, mangroves and marine areas are enabling communities to improve their livelihoods while looking after their resources. 

Supporting communities

Microloans and training are helping women develop new sustainable businesses. Partnerships with communities are improving access to education, healthcare and other vital services. 

All around the world, we’re seeing (and showing) that conservation and development needn’t be in opposition, but can go hand in hand.

Successes in Namibia

Pride of Namibia
© WWF / Steve Felton

Namibia is home to the greatest wildlife recovery story ever told. Following devastating poaching in the past, the numbers of elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions and many other species have risen dramatically.

Why? Because of national laws that enable local communities to manage their own land and natural resources, including wildlife – something we’ve been supporting them to do for many years.

Now tourism is booming – and communities and wildlife are thriving together.