Where – the offices of Centre Zapovedniks in central Moscow, Russia (it took me about 30 mins metro from the Kremlin and then 15 min bus ride – many people commute 2 hours from home to work within Moscow according to Taya!).
When – we met on 15th September 2014. The organisation was set up in 1996, a spin out from WWF Russia, where it ran as an environmental programme gathering support for, increasing access to and educating the general public about protected areas in Russia.
Who – I met with Elena, the deputy director of Zapovedniks, who is in charge of environmental education programmes for the organisation, as well as two volunteers, Dasha, 22, who works with the environmental centre, and Taya, 17, who is a camp leader for one of the children’s camps. There are 10 paid staff, a few volunteers who work with the office and many more volunteers involved in the regions where the national parks are (though many park staff do not like taking on volunteers because of the time involved to provide support to them).
What – Eco-centre Zapovedniks supports the development of protected areas and their programmes/activities, working closely with the government ministry responsible for natural resources (though they do not receive funding from them; their money comes from grants, sponsors and some of their own education services):
– their core activity is providing training for staff of protected areas in Russia, and 3-4 surrounding countries – seminars vary from management planning to finances and fundraising
– they assist protected areas with the development of visitor centres and eco-trails to increase visitor access (which is line with the government’s aim to increase eco-tourism in national parks)
– they have a volunteer programme called Burunduk, which involves running multiple volunteer camps each year, some for international volunteers and others for Russian volunteers
– an environmental education programme supports environmental education specialists from protected areas across Russia to work with schools, groups and clubs (which has been running since 2000)
Why – the organisation exists to generate support for protected areas amongst the general poopulation, to promote volunteerism amongst young people, and to provide capacity building and infrastructure to support protected areas staff.
Ecocentre Zapovedniks has created a new specialty across the protected areas system in Russia, to include environmental education. It is THE specialist on environmental education within protected areas now, and since 2000 environmental education has become a part of every protected area in Russia. So now the centre has a huge family of environmental educators!
Because all areas of work focus around education, Elena said exactly what others working in this area find – it is so hard to measure! Numbers dont really characterise impacts. Her characterisation for measurement involves three stages:
1) learning information – test what people have learnt through quizzes to check they have taken the information on board
2) change of attitude – see if the information has impacted the individual; harder to measure and usually relies on surveys
3) behaviour change – the best but most difficult thing to create and to measure.
There are qualitative examples of the success of Zapovedniks’ work, such as the Friends of Protected Areas group (children involved in work with protected areas staff) but government and other organisations often want numbers for measuring impact.
Find out more – http://www.wildnet.ru/ (you can google translate it!)
Personal reflections –
– Elena distinguished between the two big environmental groups working in Russia – Greenpeace and WWF – in relation to the amount of opposition to the government that they take: Greenpeace take more direct action whereas WWF do more lobbying to change legislation. Zapovedniks on the other hand is working within legislative frameworks to provide supportive infrastructure for protected areas.
– Taya highlighted a general contradiction in perception of and action on environmental issues between city-dwellers and people living in the regions of Russia – those ‘closer to nature’ may not appreciate the natural world as much and yet their lifestyles often mean they do live in a more eco-friendly way than those who live in cities where it has become fashionable to be ‘eco’ but infrastructure prevents environmentally friendly living
– Elena talked about the strong trend of rural to urban migration – they are contemplating starting a new programme to help young people set up social/eco-businesses, which would also allow them to stay in their region rather than move to St Petersburg or Moscow – interesting to hear and sounds like a promising area coming from my own context where social enterprise has become such a big thing in the UK!
– money prevents Zapovedniks from expanding further – same issue as NGOs the world over!
– the enthusiasm and positivity and drive of Elena, Taya and Dasha was so inspiring to hear. It makes me feel so happy to keep having it reinforced to me how many people are working towards the same goals as me in so many different contexts and ways. Particularly with Zapovedniks they approach the issue from the perspective that ‘young people are the future’ so that is where they focus a lot of their efforts.