Discussion Sessions from the 1st Asian BirdLife Festival and Nature Expo in Thailand

By Scott Pursner  【中華飛羽297期】

During the first ABF+ held at the Rama 9 Museum in Pathumthani Province, Thailand from January 18-19, 2020, a number of Partner Dialogue Sessions were held to promote partner to partner engagement. The sessions were informal and were meant for partners and international guests to share experiences, ask questions, and learn from one another. Participants were encouraged to share their experiences, both positive and negative, in order to facilitate deeper conversations about issues related to work and efforts currently being undertaken at the local level.

Sessions were facilitated by Nancy Gibson (Bird Conservation Society of Thailand), Scott Pursner (Taiwan Wild Bird Federation) and Ding Li Yong (BirdLife Asia Singapore Office).

Below is a write-up of the various sessions:

January 18th: 
13:00 Membership (led by Malaysia Nature Society)

During this session, where Tan Choo Eng of the Malaysian Nature Society was the main speaker, participants discussed their current membership situations and looked at ways that membership numbers could be improved. In the case of MNS, in the past, their membership came as a result of offering special excursions and activities to members. Currently many of the group's members are older and it has been hard to get newer members. There was a broad discussion about what leads people to become members of groups. There was also a conversation about the use of technology for improving membership numbers. Representatives from the Raptorwatch Network Philippines mentioned how in the Philippines, their organization is not based on membership, but is in fact a collection of already existing local networks which coordinate together on issues of mutual interest. Representatives from Taiwan's TWBF also expressed interest in the fact that that all organizations share these same difficulties related to membership and that perhaps more guidance can be offered to partners from BirdLife on addressing the issue. The idea of an Asian model for group membership was also explored.

14:30 Corporate Social Responsibility (led by Ms. Keiko Suzue)

Led by Keiko Suzue of the BirdLife Asia Tokyo Office,  the discussion was robust and covered a number of areas. Participants first went around expressing their current situations in relation to working with corporations  or asking questions about collaborating with corporations.

Keiko explained that a lot of the conversation develops based off what NGOs are looking for when they approach companies and how to communicate that appropriately and effectively. There was a consensus over the fact that guidelines for CSR should be developed by BirdLife, and if they already exist, better promulgated. Meanwhile, it was also suggested that the BirdLife Secretariat, be it in Asia of Cambridge, could serve as a facilitator between NGOs and companies. On the issue of sustainability, as it was recognized that in many cases, CSR is completely funding-based. It was noted that NGOs are also corporations that have a responsibility to the community and whose goals require large amounts of time and energy.

BCST's Nancy Gibson discussed the importance of finding good corporate partners, using Toyota as an example, with its small grants fund financing a number of conservation initiatives in Thailand. This led to a conversation about the importance of meeting the correct partners for change which would lead to the change you want to see. Keiko reminded participants that NGOs were corporations, with a product, a message, and needing a sales strategy. Also, when an opportunity arises for a business and biodiversity partnership, planners must think quickly about what will achieve both donor and NGO objectives.

January 19th : 
10:00 Citizen Science (led by Mr. Rahul Mehrotra)

This session discussed the use of citizen science towards better understanding the situation regarding sea turtles in the Gulf of Thailand. Mr. Mehrotra, who works with the group Love Wildlife explained how the Koh Tao Sea Turtle Identification Initiative has led to a big improvement in the amount of information available able the turtle populations around Koh Tao Island. He explained that anyone could provide data and that in the 21st century, any scuba diver or snorkeler can be actively engaged in conservation efforts since they have access to a camera or phone. All one needed to do was take a photo or video of a sea turtle, preferably the side of the head/top of the head, though any photo would do, and send it to the group via email or Facebook. They photographer should also include whose photo/video it is, the location, and when it was taken.  This information about location is especially important as it can impact the conversations with government and industry about what locations may require more protections in the future. 

13:00 Environmental Education and Community Engagement (led by Raptorwatch Network Philippines)

This session was done in the form of storytelling. Alex Tiongco and Marts Cervero, the retired couple who founded Raptorwatch Network Philippines took participants on a trip through their experiences in conservation. They recounted the origins of their organization and how they worked with local communities towards the protection of grey-faced buzzard in the Philippines. They also explained their process for making the move from working locally to expanding their capacity and collaborating internationally.

14:30 Free Media and Communication (led by Mr. Scott Pursner)

During this session, Scott Pursner explained the social media strategy employed by the TWBF towards doing outreach internationally. He showed participants materials and social media tools which he had learned over the course of his time with the group and facilitated a discussion about practical matters such as when to post, how many hashtags, and content creation. After this BirdLife Asia's Ding Li Yong also shared the BirdLife Asia Singapore office's current social media strategy and explained what had been successful as well as how to create social media collaborations. After this a discussion was held to see what participants were involved in in terms of social media and how BirdLife could help partners to improve their social media skills. It was agreed that courses on ways to engage on social media and guidance on content could be welcome materials for partners.