Last year our Director Matthew Owen spoke at the TEDx conference in Exeter. Twelve months on, he talks about the impact that day had.
“Cool Earth is a charity that protects rainforest by turning the conservation model on its head. We by-pass every layer of government and administration you can think of and focus instead on the individual families and villages who have most to lose from deforestation.
Because it is these people who have looked after the forest for generations and find that when a village is struck down with malaria, when floods wash out their food gardens, when four in five children suffer from malnutrition, those trees are the only thing they can sell to survive.
We help build livelihoods that depend on the forest being kept standing and put local people back in control of their forest.
We started with small ambitions but thanks to the power of keeping an eye on what your neighbours are up to, we are protecting more forest through communities than any other NGO or government in the world
Last year I was asked to give a talk about Cool Earth at TEDx in Exeter, as part of a day of talks on the theme ‘Taking the Long View’. This year I’ve been reflecting on the impact this talk had on Cool Earth.
Preparing a TEDx talk involves boiling your story down into a pithy 15 minutes. It’s a great way of highlighting the things that you end up doing because “that’s what charities do” or “it seemed a good idea at the time.”
If you are going to boast about it, you really need to be doing it, and doing it well.
So ahead of TEDx last year, we did a spring clean. We stopped suggesting to our community partners what to spend money on. We stopped employing more people in the UK than Peru, DR Congo and Papua New Guinea. And we made sure that for every partnership we started to think about planning our exit.
The first two probably make sense. After all, the Asháninka are a lot better at growing cacao than I ever will be. But the third one was the biggy because it’s the thing that development charities are worst at and so often destroys any chance of a positive long term impact.
Unless you say goodbye, you end up limping along until the funding runs out. Unless you have a date in the diary to leave, the tough decisions get delayed for another year and then another. And worst of all you create a dependency that means when you finally exhaust your funding and things fizzle out, you leave people in a worse position than when you arrived.
Thanks to our new-found clarity, we had more regular donations starting the day of the TEDx talk than ever before. With the TEDx video we also had a calling card for new funders that is far more succinct than me waffling over a PowerPoint presentation. And as a result we’ve seen new grants from foundations hitherto out of our reach. We’ve been able to gain charitable status in the US. We’ve had grants from the likes of the Disney Conservation Fund and the Michael Uren Foundation. An unbelievably generous grant has covered all our overheads in 2016, meaning 100% of donations can go direct to our partnerships. This year we’ll be able to invest more in our partner communities than ever before.
So whilst I know it’s the purpose of TEDx is to inspire change in the audience, it can inspire change in the presenters too.”