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Conservation isn’t a luxury endeavour, but an art of living

From growing up surrounded by the biodiversity of Borneo, to conservation work from Honduras to Northern Pakistan, Richard Friedberger's rich and varied experiences have shaped his approach to leadership and how he tackles the challenge of being a Communities for Nature trustee.
July 17, 2023

My career has ranged from conservation projects for a British NGO in the Fiji Islands, Honduras and the Philippines, to community tourism initiatives in Northern Pakistan with the Aga Khan Foundation in my early twenties. I lived there for 20 months in 1991, after making my first overland journey across Asia as a hungry 18-year-old seeking adventure and truth.

I have also held many diverse roles as a project manager, such as working in fashion for a merchandising consultancy in Paris and as a Look and Feel manager for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I have also led special interest tours through India and France, and diving expeditions around the World, including seaplane diving tours in the Maldives.

Since the pandemic and living in London, I have been lucky enough to work in the NHS. The people I work with are committed and have service at the very heart of their careers. I leave at the end of the day knowing only kindness is given, very much like a trustee gets to put the benefits of others’ wellbeing at the heart of every story.

The call of conservation – and community

I grew up in Borneo, surrounded by the beauty of biodiversity and adventures in nature. This privileged upbringing allowed me to witness first-hand the importance of conserving nature above one’s own immediate gratifications. Conservation work is all about good decision making.

My first conservation work was in Northern Pakistan with the Aga Khan Foundation. The project took me to communities living in balance and reciprocity with the natural world, even in some of the harshest and most hostile environments. One of the best experiences I witnessed there was after the valley opened with new built roads – many communities prioritised educating women now they could get access to school, resulting in a rapid improvement in general health and welfare, and uptake in education.

During my time with Coral Cay Conservation, I had my first experience of citizen science, which taught me the key lesson that good leaders learn most from hands on experience and being able to see issues from multiple perspectives. You can gain essential life experience from diverse interactions with the natural world and participating in scientific research, and it’s clear to me that nature’s classroom nurtures leadership qualities and improves decision making.

For example, in the Philippines, I witnessed the families of Bulata restarting their livelihoods again after a typhoon. Community leaders purposefully chose to preserve the Marine Sanctuary, despite the urgent need to feed themselves, because the importance of long-term preservation is widely understood as essential to the future of the island. Many of these community leaders then encouraged their own children to become the next generation of trustees for the sanctuary.

The power of these types of decisions for the betterment of many truly inspires me. Change may often take time and energy, but the benefits are clear. Conservation isn’t a luxury endeavor, but an art of living to be shared.

Becoming a Communities for Nature trustee

I met Rhoda on Danjugan island, when I was an expedition leader and project manager for another site. This project site had to close overnight for security reasons, and we approached our country partners, the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI) for help. Rhoda was the new island manager, so we had to rely on each other’s support and humor as we reallocated resources over to Danjugan Island.

Since then, Rhoda and I have stayed close friends, and when she approached me to be a Communities for Nature trustee, I knew both of our skillsets and instinctive ability to embrace change would lead us to make a successful team.

Being a trustee is a chance to nurture the values I believe in. I am happy to be involved in protecting biodiversity, promoting local community livelihoods, good governance and decision making. I am also aligned with Community for Nature’s transparency at every stage of our work. From where our funding comes from, to the communities and projects initiated, and the impact of our work.

Every day I am learning through our work how interconnected we are and discovering new ways to share skills, insights and resources, for the benefit of many. Drawing upon my own career as a project manager and leading expeditions, the key to building strong relationships is mutual respect and compassion.

I am also continually inspired by the trustees in the Philippines. They give Communities for Nature a sound foundation and selfless guidance to grow and build, especially in our first partnership with LMAX Group. There are so many projects and communities working to keep nature at the heart of life. These are the people we want to partner with.

The mutual model

As a trustee, it’s fantastic to see corporations wanting to make good decisions for the future, and our direct partnership model offers them a chance to really be hands on.

There is no blind donation. Each partnership is a co-designed, mutually respectful and beneficial relationship. Both groups, community and company, have different goals and objectives for the continuation of their work and lives and Communities for Nature can unite the two groups to find a common ground in which all can thrive.

Corporate sponsors benefit from the outlet for positive financial donations, meeting their ESG targets and having the chance to witness direct change because of their actions by interacting with communities directly and visiting their partnership in action, at the source.

Communities benefit from this as it provides an opportunity to grow and protect their people, culture, and resources by educating others, on a global platform, the struggles, and successes of their way of life.

To the horizon

Looking ahead, in the short term, our goal is to secure more partnerships in the Philippines, but the long-term future of Communities for Nature is bringing people together and facilitating more immersive experiences between the communities and corporate benefactors. Currently, this is assisted through technology, which is great for reaching out to a wider audience, but it doesn’t compare to the fulfillment and joy of direct hands-on experience.

I believe we are nature, and we are all constantly changing. This value enhances my sense of wonder and curiosity, growing my understanding and helping me to make trustee decisions with ease.

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