2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), a fundraising and grant-giving charity supporting conservation leaders working in their home countries across the Global South. To celebrate this occasion, they hosted the ‘People for Planet Summit’ on 6th and 7th November at the Royal Institution in London, which I attended along with Sofia Castelló y Tickell, Interim Director of Conservation Optimism. Throughout the 2-day summit, we heard inspiring and uplifting conversations during interactive panel discussions and Q&As with expert peers, special guests, as well as Whitley Gold Award Winners. The speakers included this year’s WFN Gold Award winner Dr Shivani Bhalla – a Kenyan conservationist who has dedicated her life to promoting coexistence between people and wildlife in northern Kenya – who joins the rank of conservationists recognised by the WFN for their outstanding contribution to conservation.

By bringing together individuals from across different sectors, the summit opened up discussions on a range of topics, all looking at collaborative solutions to biodiversity loss and climate change. This included a talk focusing on community engagement and building an inclusive movement. WFN Gold Award winners Charu Mishra and Rodrigo Medellin, along with Hollie Booth from The University of Oxford, Youth climate activist Dominique Palmer and moderator Dan O’Neill (Wildlife filmmaker and presenter), explored the importance of building coalitions, intergovernmental alliances and empowering people to make positive change. I was particularly fascinated by the discussions around how open-mindedness is essential to creating welcoming and inclusive spaces within the conservation sector for everyone.

Hollie and Sofia at the WFN 30th Anniversary People for Planet Summit

Both days of the summit were rounded off by special evening headline events. The first evening featured a live storytelling session with WFN Gold Award winners, including 2018 winner, Pablo Borboroglu (Global Penguin Conservation) who explored ‘Connecting communities with penguins and nature’ and the importance of uplifting stories of conservation. Additionally, Rachel Graham (MarAlliance), the winner from 2011 explored how awe is a key emotion to help ‘further catalyse conservation and shark stewardship’ and the power of involving children in nature through her organisation’s ‘Kids meet sharks’ initiative. The second evening, on the other hand, focused on the making of the BBC’s natural history series, Wild Isles. The series’ producers, Alastair Fothergill and Nick Gates, shared behind-the-scenes stories from the series and then along with WFN Gold Award Winners Çağan Şekercioğlu and Paula Kahumbu discussed the importance of environmental storytelling to inform and engage local people and a global audience.

A highlight of the summit for me was the opportunity to meet people from across the conservation sector, and I was truly inspired to hear about many innovative and ground-breaking projects and organisations working around the world. Across the diverse array of projects and captivating conversations, one theme remained constant… optimism!

Want to find out more about the important work of WFN and the Whitley Award Winners? Visit their website: https://whitleyaward.org/.

I work as a Project Assistant for Conservation Optimism.