Panda Labs: "Moon Shot" Solutions to Empower and Value Communities as Global Environmental Stewards

Posted on July, 15 2019

Panda Labs; redesigning our ways of working to create impact at scale.
Global Challenge Statement: How might we enable verifiable impact at the local community level (ecosystem services) to be valued, validated and verified, and value (i.e. funds / payment / resources) to be transferred safely and securely with minimal intermediaries, shortening the connection between buyer /donor and producer / service provider to the benefit of nature and people on the frontline of nature conservation?
Although global megatrends continue to create opportunities for new, scalable solutions, the scale of global environmental and social challenges continues to increase. WWF has responded to these challenges and trends by launching the experimental Panda Labs Project; redesigning our ways of working to create impact at scale. WWF-Romania is the regional Panda Labs hub for Central and Eastern Europe.
Developments in emerging technologies have helped pave the way for new solutions and business models that create socio-economic development and conservation impact. During the last year, WWF has been experimenting with developing some of these solutions like OpenSC, Wildlife Credits and WildEye; many of which are complementary. WWF-Romania’s pilot 7-day expedition among bison and old-growth forests in August aims to create socio-economic value without disrupting the wilderness. They key is finding ways to simultaneously improve the local economy while reducing environmental threats. The resulting citizen scientists can help support WWF’s conservation efforts to protect The Green Heart of Europe.
If we are to secure a New Deal for Nature and People, we will need to mobilise decisive action from everyone; including individuals, governments and businesses. We must experiment with new human-centred solutions that are designed using a rights-based approach and in partnership with communities, the gatekeepers of global priority landscapes, in order to ensure the security of vital ecosystem services. 
This global “moon shot” will leverage the WWF global network through the Panda Labs framework to identify and connect existing prototypes and solutions, develop new solutions with partners where needed, and to empower and value local and indigenous communities in developing countries and emerging economies as environmental stewards.
Challenge Summary: People as nature protectors
Around the world, local and indigenous communities in developing and emerging economies are on the front line of natural resource conservation. With customary rights to the territories and natural resources, these communities are the gatekeepers of our most precious landscapes and seascapes. Many directly derive their livelihoods from their natural environment and have been protecting the natural resources they depend on for centuries. This ranges from hunting and gathering to farming, forestry, ecotourism, artisanal mining, fishing, and recycling plastics to protecting wildlife corridors. Due to economic scarcity and social disparity, local and indigenous people living in biodiversity hotspots are also vulnerable to overconsumption of natural resources. Therefore, they are critical allies as environmental stewards. However, they are also in danger of being left behind if conservation efforts fail to involve them directly and trigger solutions with verifiable benefits for at-risk communities.
At the same time, there are people and markets that are prepared to pay for the important environmental services those communities can provide. Potentially, trillions of dollars are available to enable development at scale for the poorest, most vulnerable people. Currently, credible value transfer for communities for conservation impact is difficult, and faces numerous barriers, including:
  1. Verification of Impact (environmental and social) and verification of social safeguards;
    1. How do those paying for a sustainable service or product that supports nature conservation know they are getting a return/impact? How do we measure, link and verify social and environmental impact in a transparent, trustworthy and accessible way?
  2. Value transfer / ease of payments / incentives / funding for conservation;
    1. Complex, dispersed, long-distant supply chains mean transferring value from one party to the other can be extremely difficult. Often the incremental dollars gained from selling a sustainable product or service in markets that value sustainability do not make it back to the producers to create a sufficient incentive.
  3. Access to responsible markets for small scale producers; and
  4. Lack of participation in solution design by communities and land rights holders, particularly with technology-based solutions.
If we can solve these problems, we could unlock rights-based benefits for hundreds of millions of people worldwide along with the ecosystems that they protect and conserve. We will do this by testing innovative ideas (new and existing) in 4-5 pilot biodiversity hotspots (Latin America, East Africa, South-East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe) and 1-10 communities, with a clear pipeline for scaling across an entire region (10-100 communities) within a one year Panda Labs cycle.
There are many approaches to empower local people as nature protectors, including capacity- building, new product or service design for competitive community enterprises, community participation in conservation, access to markets, traceability of goods, certification, etc. Yet, there are also shortcomings in truly transforming communities and linking and proving the impact of these approaches to the most pressing environmental threats in a biodiversity hotspot. The Panda Labs moon shot approach will not try to address all the barriers to the problem. Instead, it will address one very specific challenge that is most relevant to environmental threats in a biodiversity hotspot which calls for innovative solutions.
The Panda Labs moon shot approach is a global design challenge to identify these innovative, human-centred solutions that can help solve this problem, connect them up, share best practice through our global knowledge sharing framework, engage influential partners to scale and commercialise, and help to develop new solutions for identified gaps.
For more information:
Oana Mondoc
Communities Development + Innovation Lead,
WWF-Romania, +40721819595
Reece Proudfoot
Innovation Strategist,
Panda Labs Regional Hubs
© WWF-Australia
Pilot Expedition to Train Citizen Scientists and Enhance Local Economies
© WWF-Romania
Panda Labs in the great outdoors
© Bogdan Comanescu
Bear or bison?
© Bogdan Comanescu
Developing Local Economies Together with Nature
© Catalin Georgescu
Panda Labs: Innovation at Scale