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The collective power of trust(s)

‘What a difference a day makes’ is an oft-quoted phrase. In the current global Covid reality this sentiment of how a day can change so much rings so true. Each day brings new cases diagnosed. Deaths recorded. And announcements of recoveries too.

Yet, the daily physical distancing and self-protection actions we each take now will only show their collective impact in the months, and years, to come.

It is similar with both conservation and financial investments: collective impact over time.

This is best understood in the much-loved proverb about the best time to plant a tree. The answer: 20 years ago. The second best time? Now!

© Green Renaissance/WWF-US
The positive actions we take today all add up, like an investment with compound interest, towards a better collective future.

What a difference a decade (or two) makes

If we count impact in decades, the concept of nature conservation is quite young in South Africa.

Small pockets of the now Kruger National Park were first protected over a century ago, but the concept of strategically securing pieces of land across key biomes is more recent. A decade ago, in 2008, the South African government created the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy to prioritise a network of critical areas for ecological sustainability and climate change adaptation.

And a bit more than three decades back, WWF South Africa – together with South African National Parks (SANParks) – formed a visionary partnership that has become the backbone of our country’s network of protected areas. These wild national parks are also the drawcard that attracts millions of tourists every year and they contribute heavily to our economy and the livelihoods of locals.

Using a trust as the legal vehicle, The National Parks Trust of South Africa was born in 1986.

From this forward-thinking investment we can enjoy South Africa’s best natural spaces today.

© Abhishek Madhavan / WWF
The National Parks Trust has contributed to 13 of South Africa’s 19 national parks, including the Namaqua, Kruger, Addo Elephant and Tankwa Karoo national parks.

From charismatic species to uniquely special plants

There are many abundantly diverse and beautiful – yet often overlooked – plant species that need our attention too. Such as the special plants in South Africa’s global biodiversity hotspots, of which we are blessed to have two: the Cape Floral Kingdom and the Succulent Karoo.

In 1995, a financial bequest was left to WWF by one man – Leslie Hill – who was a passionate plant collector and appreciator of the biodiverse Succulent Karoo biome. This legacy gift became a well-invested financial springboard for purchasing properties in the semi-arid biodiversity-abundant areas of the upper Western Cape and Northern Cape. Here, the small drought-adapted plant species are so diverse that many have not yet been discovered nor recorded.

The Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust has been the seed funding that has enabled conservation of this biome. In 2020 this trust is celebrating 25 years since its inception.

Investment in people-led fynbos initiatives

Another WWF-run fund that enables strategic protection of a globally-recognised biome is The Table Mountain Fund. While most people would know more about the biodiversity value of South America’s Amazon rainforest, the Cape Floral Kingdom – the world’s smallest plant kingdom, at the tip of Africa – has more variety of plant and animal species than the entire Amazon!

For over 21 years, The Table Mountain Fund has been enabling catalytic projects that protect Table Mountain, the Cape Peninsula and the entire Cape Floral Kingdom. By providing small grants this fund has supported the growth and development of new entrants into the conservation sector, focusing on community-level conservation.

With its focus on empowering local people as the custodians of the Cape, this trust has enabled continuance of salaries and capacity support to grantees during lockdown. This is to ensure that small organisations are able to continue working towards environmental goals post-lockdown.

© Flower Valley Trust
WWF believes in empowering people with skills that address both environmental and socio-economic challenges.

Trusts enable the future of species and people

Before democracy was enshrined in this country, WWF South Africa – in partnership with Nedbank – initiated the WWF Nedbank Green Trust in 1990. This innovative trust enables catalytic funding for many socio-environmental projects, many which have since become successful standalone initiatives.

The likes of WWF-SASSI (the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) and the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (now Conservation Champions) both started over 15 years ago. WESSA Eco Schools is another example of catalytic WWF Nedbank Green Trust seed funding.

From the most recent project applications, which closed on 30 April 2020, an additional filter will be considered for proposals which address Covid-19 challenges especially in the areas of food and water security, the wildlife economy, urban resilience and climate-related impacts.

Compound foresight for our shared future

The lesson of compound interest is one that every school teacher should prioritise for young minds. When we learn to save and invest – no matter how small an amount – we can prepare to rise above our daily circumstances.

The National Parks Trust is an example of this. Three decades ago, the trust started with a R4 million donation from two foreign donors. Since then it has disbursed over R170 million for securing conservation-worthy land as part of South Africa’s protected expansion strategy.

Similarly, two decades ago, The Table Mountain Fund started with funds raised of R7 million plus $5 million from a global fund – and it has since disbursed R76 million to relevant projects. Where an investment benefits both people and nature, this is a win-win.

With many challenges facing families in this time, we may in hindsight wish we had started saving earlier, prepared better. We wish for a compound interest cushion to keep us going in tough times.

It is the same for nature: start early to ensure enough healthy connected parts of our natural world for them to survive, adapt – and thrive – in times of drought and other tumultuous impacts.

© Nappy.co
We need to be the change: as a benefactor or a big decision maker, a wise administrator of a trust or a behind-the-scenes visionary for our shared future.

Collective impact over time

Collectively, over time – through wisely managing and administering various trusts – WWF has been able to continue to secure and support conservation-worthy biodiversity-rich stretches of land that are the very basis of ecosystems, and life, for species and citizens alike.

Using trusts is just one of the many ways that WWF enables impact at scale – making generous donations work hardest – to ensure a world, a South Africa, in which people and nature thrive.

Sue Northam-Ras Photo
Sue Northam-Ras, Communications Manager

Sue believes in making information valuable by writing and shaping content in a way that gives it meaning. She packages the environmental content for WWF South Africa.

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