Making the business case for biodiversity — in an instant

Life's too short for long, dull text – and when life itself is the topic, it is critical to get the message across in a quick, clear way.

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10 March 2014

A traditional farmer selects seeds in the Eastern Himalayas, India. (Photo: Ruchi Pant/Ecoserve)

Who complains when a topic is presented in a way that is easy to grasp? Short, in simple language, signposting further resources, but basically clear and understandable. Do you sigh because you'd prefer something longer? I doubt it.

A document need not lack authority because it is short; it won't automatically be dismissed as trivial because the language is plain; in fact, by being accessible, it invites people to read and engage.

This approach is central to a project I'm working on with environment ministries in Namibia, Seychelles, Uganda and Botswana. The project, managed by IIED and UNEP-WCMC, aims to make sure that biodiversity concerns are at the heart of development policy, legislation, plans and projects in each country.

It is timely as the project members are all involved in revising their national biodiversity strategy and action plans (NBSAPs), as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity obliges all its member states to do by 2015.

High stakes

The stakes are high – biodiversity is an irreplaceable asset for any nation – but through the project, we’re pushing aside the temptation to be verbose.

We wrote last year about project members who ventured into the Dragons' Den: they had three minutes to pitch the business case for investment in biodiversity to other government ministries and private sector 'dragons'.

Since then, we've built on that, placing ourselves in the shoes of potential funders and working out the response to questions such as "Why should I invest?", "Why is biodiversity important to my sector?" and "Will this investment generate benefits?". In other words, will it create jobs, contribute to water and food security and strengthen communities' ability to adapt to climate change?

Members of the project say this approach has helped them to concentrate on what matters, work out where they are prepared to compromise in order to achieve their goal of biodiversity integration, but also clarify the 'red lines' beyond which they will not negotiate.

In fact, they've become so much more experienced at putting together and presenting the 'business' case for biodiversity that we've put together a booklet that lists the tips and tasks they recommend others follow. We published it this week, and guess what? It's short (12 pages) and easy to read.

Short is beautiful

We know this 'short is beautiful' approach works because this booklet isn't the first.

Two more from the project – a rapid diagnostic tool for biodiversity mainstreaming and Ten steps to mainstreaming biodiversity – went in a flash when we distributed them at a workshop in Nairobi last November.

Participants were delighted to see the materials: the publications provide a checklist and ideas for where to start revising NBSAPs in ways that benefit not only biodiversity but also development. In fact, we were asked to translate as much as we could into French, Spanish and Arabic, something we're hoping to do in the next few months.

The bottom line

We've got plans for a guide on how to review NBSAPs to check they cover the right issues and are likely to appeal to development-focused decision makers. We also hope to compile some short case studies highlighting the difference that integrating biodiversity into national development plans has made to communities and countries.

As Dineo Gaborekwe from Botswana said when she presented the business case to the dragons in 2013, no country or community can afford to lose their biodiversity. Livelihoods depend on it so governments must find ways to incorporate conservation into policies across sectors — from agriculture, tourism and mining policies to financial strategies and budgeting.

With one more year of this project to go, that remains a key message, and if we can express it simply and clearly, so much the better.

Watch Dineo Gaborekwe's pitch to the dragons, then visit this page to see their reactions.

Download Developing a business case for biodiversity

Rosalind Goodrich is a staff writer at IIED (rosalind.goodrich@iied.org)

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