CREE is an environmental leadership incubator whose mission is to create permanent community leadership for natural resource conservation. We accomplish this through mentoring and supporting talented scientists from the developing world to create local environmental institutions in often challenging, remote, and resource-constrained locations. We work to ensure that conservation and social justice are accomplished simultaneously.
CREE’s units of success are people and the long-term change they are able to elicit in their communities. We first identify a talented and promising scientist (be they a natural resource manager, economist or social scientist) and then see if he/she has a good vision to sustainably develop their community. We evaluate this idea based on ecological and economic/market principles: is the project environmentally sound? If there is natural resource extraction involved, is it sustainable? If there is income generation proposed, is the business model economically sustainable and practical?
From here we work with the scientist to determine if he/she has the skills to incorporate and scale the idea. Do they have the know-how to run a business or NGO? Can they can evaluate their work and undertake evidence-based decision-making? Can they connect with a donor or customer pool? Can they work ethically and responsibly? Can they manage other staff? Do they have a thorough understanding of the cultural context they are working in? Does the project have the added benefit of addressing injustice inherent in the system? (ie lack of economic opportunities for women, lack of educational opportunities for youth).
Of course the answer to all the above questions is never ‘yes’ across the board. That is where CREE comes in, to fill in holes and bring potential to reality, giving financial, operational and technical support. We mentor and connect the scientist to accomplish their dreams. In this sense we see CREE as a dream incubator, because we are helping support the ideas the leader sees as the most relevant to solving environmental problems in their community.
For CREE the benchmark of success is supporting a scientist so thoroughly through the years that they have decided to create their own non-profit or sustainable market-based solution out of their country of origin. Spurring homegrown sustainable enterprise and/or locally staffed non-profits, as opposed to country offices or branches of large US/European organizations, is seen by CREE as the reason we do our work. Of pivotal importance as well is placing local leadership at the top management position of that organization. To be clear, we don’t work with expats who currently live in the developing world, though we recognize much success in the realm. This is because those born and raised in the environments they work are the ones with the most interest in the success of their work. As such, they should be afforded every opportunity and resource possible in order to ensure that success.
To date CREE’s nucleus of 6 leaders have created 4 local non profits that are implementing market driven solutions with 107 new village-based environmental entrepreneurs inspired by these leaders. CREE has also instituted environmental trainings with more than 1,000 people across 6 countries. The leaders of these new institutions have transformed natural resource conflict through innovative sustainable development across diverse habitats ranging from rainforest, coral reefs, and wetlands. Some examples are listed below.
Bringing the benefits of science to the village
CREE’s leader network identified science as a precursor to community success. As such, in the Philippines they conducted ground breaking biological surveys of humpback whales, the only ongoing study of the cetaceans in this part of the world. CREE’s leader published internationally recognized guidelines on human-whale interactions and is now working with communities on developing a locally led model to bring the benefits of the right kind of tourism to the families themselves. In Cameroon, CREE supported its local partner to publish the first scientific guidelines on snail farming, informing families how to start an economically and ecologically viable microenterprise while educating local people near Mount Cameroon National Park on bush-meat prevention.
Fostering new community skill sets through technology
In Kenya, CREE’s local partner EcoFinder trained other scientists and villagers in the use of geo-spatial technology to map out cultural and biological resources near Lake Victoria, Kenya. This will structure sound harvesting of papyrus for eco-enterprise activities and related tourism of the wetlands near the lake. CREE also helped them scale up eco-san toilets, which utilize creative engineering based on locally available materials to efficiently channel human waste and utilize it as fertilizer for farming, negating the need for colonization of sensitive wetlands where wildlife are abundant. In Guyana, CREE has provided micro-enterprise training and materials to women engaged in sewing sea turtle arts and crafts, and helped encourage the growth of women’s cooperatives.
Placing women in a position of leadership
CREE seeks to develop women’s leadership capacity whenever possible, even and especially when cultural norms can by challenging. Women account for half our leadership and our work has the goal of fostering creative entrepreneurship and leadership from the village up. In Cameroon this meant empowering women as snail farmers, so they could avoid being forced into poaching in the National Park for their welfare. In Sri Lanka and Kenya this meant training women in organic vegetable farming utilizing diverse species such as aloe, kale, and tomatoes. In Guyana we supported women to create their own sewing businesses focused around sea turtle arts and crafts as an alternative to poaching.
Local Ambassadors for Conservation
CREE feels it matters who delivers the message of environmental protection and sustainable management. Is he/she from your same country or somewhere far away? Does he/she speak your language and understand your cultural complexities? Is he she from your home country, but a different area far away and not planning on staying and living where they are currently working? Answers to these questions make a difference, which is why CREE seeks to support leaders whenever possible who are not only in-country nationals, but community members themselves. Our units of measure therefore are not year or multi-year, but rather a lifetime and based on the capacity of the environmental leader.