Readers of my blog will know that I can be critical of awards and ‘gongs’ of various sorts.
However, believing to a large extent that my views are rare and a bit unusual, when World Land Trust (WLT) receives information about the Whitley Awards, I pass on to our partners the request for entries, and encourage them to apply.
This year I received an interesting comment from the director of one of WLT’s partner NGOs who was put forward for the award:
"A word of warning, folks, about this prize. It is an excellent prize and one that we all think we deserve, but perhaps I speak for myself when I say that these awards really kindle feelings of expectation and grandeur and, after a lot of work, to receive a curt answer [saying] that we didn’t make the grade is like a happy child seeing his / her balloon exploded by an irate adult with a lit cigarette.
We are all champions because we believe in the future and are passionate about what we do, but it’s not easy working in conservation in the real world and all too easy to give a prize to one distinguished career, ignoring the rest who give blood, sweat and tears to the world’s future."
I can fully appreciate this disappointment, and looking at the winners in the past I can see that some were worthy, but that there were dozens of other candidates who were certainly as worthy, if not more so, but who didn’t put themselves forward, or if they did so didn’t get the award.
It is difficult for me to be too critical of the awards, because some very good friends of mine are, or have been, closely involved and they are a valuable contribution to conservation. But a close reading of the Whitley Awards accounts raises as many questions as it answers.
Could the money spent on the awards ceremony itself (£85,000) be spent on conservation, for instance? Did it absolutely have to be spent on the award ceremony? This is a complex question. (WLT had a sponsor that spent a lot of money on a big charity event, and although the event cost more than the money it raised, we would not have received the money without it.)
My particular concern is that giving the award to individuals does not help create sustainable conservation. To make conservation sustainable, we need to strengthen institutions.
I replied as follows to our partner:
"In my view these awards cultivate individualism at the expense of team working. I believe the award should go to the institution, and it should be for core funding. That would truly help make conservation sustainable."