This year, my family and I have decided to dive in for a worthy cause and will be participating in the Swim for the Reef event, by swimming across Lake Eacham and back. Thanks to the generosity of many friends, family members and colleagues, we have helped to raise much needed funding for the Environmental Defenders’ Office (Qld) to keep up their important work to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Check out our fundraising page here.
This was my first experience with crowdfunding, and I was surprised at how easy it was – and how good it felt to connect and reconnect with people who wanted to support us to do something positive for the planet… even if that only involved swimming in my favourite lake with my family.
On a more serious note, it goes without saying that secure, sustainable and adequate resourcing is vital to support diverse on-ground conservation activities, research and advocacy aimed at protecting and managing species and habitats.
While the health of ecosystems continues to decline globally, in most regions, government funding falls far short of what is required to address the crises. In this context, crowdfunding can play a significant and growing role in our collective global biodiversity conservation efforts.
Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, an environmental scientist from the University of Queensland recently led a global analysis of how crowdfunding is contributing to conservation around the world. According to Eduardo, crowdfunding has harnessed the power of the internet to magnify the power of public appeals.
The research found that crowdfunding offers a powerful mechanism for mobilising resources for conservation across borders. The team recorded 577 conservation-oriented projects (from 72 crowdfunding platforms), which have raised around US$4.8 million since 2009. The people leading these projects were based in 38 countries, but projects took place across 80 countries.
These findings have important implications for conservation, because there is often poor alignment between high-priority areas for global conservation and countries with the greatest financial and technical capacity. Crowdfunding allows for projects to be delivered in different countries to where their proponents and supporters are based. The USA, UK and Australia were the countries with the highest outflow of projects (“project exporters”). Indonesia, South Africa, Costa Rica and Mexico had the highest inflow (“project importers”).
Crowdfunding is capable of supporting the conservation work of organisations that do not have as much capacity for raising funds. Crowdfunding can also support pioneering projects that traditional funding bodies regard as too risky or unconventional. For example, with the help of donations and partners Tenkile Conservation Alliance has secured over 185,000 hectares of rainforest and biodiversity in PNG including critically endangered tree kangaroo species, and delivered much needed services to remote rainforest communities.
In exploring novel solutions to planetary problems, crowdfunding can be considered as an incubator for innovative ideas before their widespread uptake.
While more than half of the projects (around 58%) recorded by Eduardo and his research team largely focused on prominent threatened species – such as the campaign to save orange-bellied parrots or PNG’s endangered tree kangaroos – crowdfunding is also supporting the survival of ecosystems – whether land-based (20%), marine (9%) or freshwater (4%).
The amount of money for conservation via crowdfunding has so far been relatively modest compared to more conventional conservation finance mechanisms. However, the benefits of crowdfunding extend well beyond the monetary value raised. As Eduardo points out, crowdfunding helps raise public awareness about environmental issues and empower researchers and communities.
Crowdfunding is a promising new tool in our conservation toolbox. But, ultimately, traditional funding sources, like government agencies, must still play an essential role and have a duty to invest adequate public resources in environmental protection and nature conservation. Simultaneously, transparency and oversight remain vital for ensuring the overall effectiveness of funding and management approaches. In spite of these challenges, crowdfunding gives us hope in the journey towards democratising investment in conservation, and shines a light on those out there trying to make a difference.