Since September 2013, the Stimson Center has participated in a wildlife security project researching, evaluating, and deploying technology and innovation in response to the current poaching and wildlife crime crisis. This spotlight reflects lessons learned and is based on remarks made by Johan Bergenas, Deputy Director of Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries initiative, during a luncheon at the Clinton Global Initiative Winter Meeting attended by former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Over the last few years, technology has surged in popularity as a tool to address the most challenging environmental issues. Why? Part of the answer is that technology and innovation have been critical tools to achieving objectives in other fields. For example, mobile technology, technology for improved healthcare systems, technology for education has helped lift almost a billion people out of extreme poverty in the last decades.
Saving the world’s oceans, protecting forests and safeguarding endangered wildlife is also critically important because they are connected to human, national and international development and security.
So, what are the do’s and don’ts in tapping into the power of technology? We at Stimson do not have all the answers, but through field work and partnerships we have discerned four lessons thus far.
Lesson 1: Technology Projects Require Hybrid Teams
As we built our program and team, we consulted with biologists and environmental policy experts. We engaged with the defense industry and university technology researchers. We came to realize that a biologist probably shouldn’t be in charge of integrating a complex technological system. We also realized that we shouldn’t ask a professor in sensor fusion about rhino and elephant reproduction behavior.
So we partnered with a professor of sensor fusion and a team of technology researchers and worked closely together with park rangers and commanders to develop a technological platform for wildlife security. This decision gave us many advantages. We are not beholden to a particular technological solution or tech manufacturer. Our focus is on the end-user.
Lesson 2: The Most Advanced Technology Is Not Necessarily the Best to Start With.
Unmanned aerial vehicles can be part of the solution, but so-called ‘drones’ are rarely a first step, or a second, or maybe not even a third. Most park rangers today use flip phones, electrical fences, and manually checking for footprints and the like to fend of intruders. The next step in their technological evolution is not a drone system — that comes later. The point here is that we need to build bottom-up solutions fully focused on the current capabilities of the end-user.
Lesson 3: When Partnering with the Private Technology Sector, Don’t Pay Them for Goods and Services, Partner with Them.
Think for a second about what we are trying to safeguard: oceans, forests and wildlife. These are economic engines for countries in the same way as ports, energy infrastructure, and borders are.
And all of these critical infrastructures need protection and the market for protection of critical infrastructure globally is vast, as vast as $70 trillion over the next 30 years.
So, instead of engaging with industry in a transactional relationship, engage with them in a partnership that offers them an unprecedented opportunity to identify new markets, reach new costumers, and find new value for their products and service.
With this approach, we have established corporate partnerships with over a dozen companies — from Airtel in Kenya to Saab technologies in Sweden.
Lesson 4: Don’t Duplicate Efforts and Don’t Interfere.
When General Petraeus took over responsibility for the war in Afghanistan in 2010, one of his first tasks was to understand what was already being done on the ground by U.S. agencies, governments, and NGOs. When he found a project he offered assistance and if none was needed he went to work on something else.
The conservation community can learn a lot from the general in terms of working better together and working together with others, like the defense and security communities. More resources will not become available through more intense internal competition. Only through inclusive collaboration with stakeholders outside the traditional environmental arena will we have more to work with.
This notion of integrating defense, security, and development has been dubbed by former Secretary Hillary Clinton and others as “smart -power.” It is smart indeed and the model goes hand-in-hand with an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”