The strength of a dedicated few

Ecosystem managers strong on networking skills can make a difference.

- With an increasing number of people on the planet follows an equally increasing pressure on the natural resources we rely on. Sound ecosystem management therefore becomes increasingly important for societal development. Dedicated managers of ecosystems offer ground for optimism because of their capacity to make much out of little and mobilize key stakeholders in their work, says centre researcher Lisen Schultz.

On 4 June she defended her thesis at Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University. Based on interviews with dedicated practitioners behind successful conservation projects, she presents new management practices that live up to the demands of today and that curbs the unsustainable tapping into the world´s natural resources.

Making much out of little
One example is the Swedish biosphere reserve Kristianstads Vattenrike — a former "water logged swamp" that has now been designated by UNESCO as a model for sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.

Schultz´s thesis analyzes how the dedicated work of a few individuals has mobilized local farmers, bird watchers, entrepreneurs and politicians to join forces in rendering the wetland an asset for the district of Kristianstad.

This case study has then been compared to similar UNESCO-designated experiences elsewhere in the world. Unlike the more well-known World Heritage, the Biosphere Reserves are meant to protect biodiversity and encourage local development at the same time, by sustaining ecosystem services for human well-being.

- Those who run these projects are often forced to work with limited resources and weak authority, despite the fact that they are managing areas of international recognition. Yet, many people succeed in making a difference. I have tried to understand how, says Lisen Schultz.

A trained eye in seizing golden opportunities
The results of her research show that those who succeed are as good at reading people as they are at reading nature itself: By first listening to the needs of potential partners, and then communicating an attractive vision for their project (which goes beyond the mere interest of nature conservation) these dedicated individuals are able to build trust and involve key stakeholders such as politicians, local associations, landowners and financiers.

In many cases, they form so called bridging organizations that connect actors across scales and sectors.

Furthermore, they are recognized by their flexibility and drive for continuous learning. By synthesizing information from a multitude of sources and finding synergies between different interests, they have developed a trained eye in seizing golden opportunities be it chances of new funding, prospective new projects or similar.

They also seem to be experts in detecting and preventing impending crises, such as negative environmental changes, conflicts, or changes in policy priorities.

- Somehow they manage to combine a firm vision with a flexible and learning-oriented approach when realizing it, says Lisen Schultz.

Not super humans
Schultz can understand the argument that these individuals come across as super humans of another planet, but her impression is rather that of passionate, humble and low-key individuals who simply have a strong drive to improve conditions for both people and nature.

- Combined with an impressive ability to read ecological and social dynamics on various levels. It has been very inspiring to see that projects such as the one in Kristianstad are actually possible all over the world, be it Sweden or Venezuela, says Lisen Schultz.

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Lisen Schultz works with the role of managers and 'bridging organizations' in adaptive governance. She also developed a method to identify local stewards in the landscape and  participated in the The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Read more about Lisen Schultz here

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Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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