In these current times, many of us are turning even more attention and intentionality to work with our local communities. For those of us in the U.S., lack of opportunity at the Federal level has prompted us to look for opportunities at the local level. And, in Canada, conservation work is usually intimately tied to collaboration with local First Nation communities. When local communities drive the changes, and the decisions made there, then the outcomes tend to be long-lasting, which is good for conservation and good for the community.
Now more than ever, to make progress, we need strong relationships and partnerships with our diverse, local communities. Committing to build relationships locally means a commitment to build our skill and will to work across difference. More specifically, we need relationships that can leverage and sustain differences across race, gender, socioeconomic class, and worldview.
To build relationships in our communities, we need to be willing to expand our notion of what conservation means – to be more relevant to more people. We need to reach out, and we need to listen and learn. When we know the concerns of community members, we can show up for their causes in solidarity and in service. Through building a relationship, we can find common values of caring for special places and the sustainability of the communities in those places.
We have to be careful not to fall into historical patterns of “using the voices” of other communities. We can’t just devise a power map, target constituencies, produce a grassroots activity, and then move on. That type of transactional organizing is harmful to relationships. The transformation that we need requires sustained action and shared power, specifically from the voices most impacted. The forces against us are entrenched and well-funded, and they are in it for the long term. They win when we are not working together.
The work of building relationships takes time. It can be hard to give it the time it needs when the threats are imminent. While urgency is real, challenge yourself to step back and look at the bigger picture. Think about what is really critical, and then what might be possible if you invest time in building relationships in the community. And remember that increasingly, decisions made in a rush can just as quickly unravel. Decisions owned by a community are harder to undo.
Because relationship building takes time, it also takes funding. Develop clear, compelling stories and plans around the effectiveness of relationship building in your local communities, and use those to inform and inspire your funders.
Just devoting more time to relationship building doesn’t mean they will simply fall into place. As is the case in all relationships, there will be times when you disagree. First, listen to understand. Check your assumptions and check your privilege. Always show respect and search for common ground.
There are times when you may be building relationships with folks who don’t share all your values. That can be especially challenging if their values are contradictory to your diversity, equity, and inclusion values. We held a webinar on this topic: Staying True to Your Values While Reaching Across the Divide which talks about how to pursue relationships with people and individuals whose values don’t align with your own. Check out the recording of the session held by the Avarna Group, which lays out some guiding questions to help you move forward with these relationships without compromising diversity, equity, and inclusion values.
I have so much appreciation for all of you, and the work you do. I appreciate how you are deeply connected to the places you are working to protect. As we move forward, now is the time to put even more time and intention into building relationships which connect us to the communities in those special places.
TREC Executive Director