I received an email from Charlie Knowles in 2002, asking about our work to protect Ethiopian wolves and interested to learn how he could help. He pitched his ‘wildnet’ idea, and I bought into it straight away. Of course, had I been familiar with the entrepreneurial spirit infusing Silicon Valley at the time, it would have been obvious to me that the initial conversation or ‘pitch’ is essential for people to engage and bond. This ability to share our work and love for wildlife with other people, and particularly with philanthropists with an interest in nature, was just one of the many things we learnt with Charlie and his staff in subsequent meetings.
Charlie Knowles, with Isabella Rossellini, author Peter Mathiessen and co-Founder John Lukas at the first Expo in Los Altos Hills, October 2002.
The first two words in Wildlife Conservation Network have a clear meaning and encapsulate what all WCN partners do. I would suggest, however, that Network is the most important one. And through networking we have benefited from the blue-sky thinking of Charlie and his ever-growing community of generous and compassionate philanthropists. With a very simple premise, putting conservationists and philanthropists in the same room in a friendly environment conductive to good conversation and engagement, we were able to tell our story, and connect with the interests of other people. From these exchanges friendships grew and significant financial commitment to saving our wild species developed. Looking back to our first modest gathering in Los Altos Hills Foothill College in 2002 it is most remarkable what WCN has grown to achieve. And we are grateful and proud to have been there from its very beginning.
At Charlie’s garden in the an Expo in the early 2000s, with Onesmas Kahindi of Save the Elephants.
EWCP was one of the six founder organisations that established the WCN Network — together with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Okapi Conservation Project, Save the Elephants, Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation, and Snow Leopard Conservancy. Two decades on, WCN Network of Partners has grown into a formidable community of 22 organisations, benefitting from the financial resources, tools, and services we need to effectively protect wildlife.
As the network grew, every year we incorporated new ideas and initiatives. First it was the Sidney Byers Scholarships, then the Cross-Partner Internships, the Conservation Accelerator Fund, the Wildlife Funds, the Emergency Relief Fund. And with all the conservationists gathering at the annual Expos the opportunity to work together - before, during and after the events - to exchange our knowledge and share our challenges and frustrations. WCN is generous in that it allows two conservationists from each of the partner organisations to join the events every year and many of our EWCP colleagues have attended. Others have been invited to visit partner organisations in Bolivia, Chile, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, UK, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Scholarships have funded our colleagues through PhD, MSc and Diploma degress. And we have hosted several WCN staff in Ethiopia, that helped them to get a close perspective of our work.
It is hard to work out the counterfactuals of what would have happened with EWCP if Charlie had not written to me two decades ago. We have raised in excess of $3,000,000, but WCN’s impact goes beyond that financial support. I have no doubt whatsoever that we are much better off in commitment, intellectual property, ingenuity, and in our ability to resolve problems in a collaborative way. And equally important, we have been privileged to form a big, rowdy family, and make long lasting friendships.
Read more about WCN history here