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Rethink collaboration

Gill Perkins, CEO at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, writes about the Rethink Nature collaborative project.

Creative thinking often can start in a pub, at least my experience has led me to believe that. After a meeting in London, (an unmemorable one), seven CEOs trudged to a pub to discuss the outcomes from the meeting, or maybe just to revitalise their brains. The latter was the key to unlocking a collaboration between seven UK charities: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Since that day in 2013, we have shared a single cause – to save our species and improve nature. We all believed we could do more for nature and people by working collectively and collaboratively.

The partnership was informal and not a merger. We come together when necessary and still act independently where it makes sense.

Our strapline confirms our intention. ‘Species conservation for the common good’.

We realised that by using our collective strength, we could make a stronger case for the support for nature. We called our group RETHINK NATURE because ‘rethink’ is what we were doing, thinking differently about how we work and because we wanted to encourage others (public, funders, decision makers) to think differently to. It’s ‘Nature’ because that is easier to understand than species.

Our initial meeting set the parameters of how we would work together through a Terms of Reference, setting out the governance structure and identifying our partnership USPs. Over time, we created a strategy, but the principle underlying all our work was trust and transparency. Our partnership needed to provide a robust public profile that lifted and reinforced the brands of all partners. We all had considerable expertise to bring to the group. Some of us had less staff, smaller turnover and capacity. Others like RSPB were generous in sharing resources and expertise the smaller charities in the group initially benefitted from).

Our objectives and priority activities changed as we became more confident in what we could achieve.

Sharing skills and experience continued apace, with satellite groups developing that staff could join to share best practice. These include an EEDI, IT and Fundraising forums led by staff within our seven organisations.

Influencing nature conservation thinking through a Species Champions project. We had at one point 60 English MPs recruited as ‘Species champions’ to speak up for species at constituency and parliamentary level.

Three large £6 million species recovery projects proved we can work together effectively to deliver successful outcomes. Together we created Back from the Brink, (England), Nature am Byth (Wales) and Species on the Edge (Scotland). Each one has confirmed our collaboration as successful and impactful.

If you are thinking of forming a collaboration with other charities working in a similar area consider the advantages. There is a lot of ‘noise’ these days to cut through on all media platforms. Budgets are tightening, teams are shrinking, and crises are multiplying. There is a solid case to forming a coalition.

Our coalition has proven that you can accomplish greater objectives, share knowledge, allow for fresh perspectives and innovation, and garner more credibility and attention from media, government, stakeholders and civil society.

A few pointers if you want to start and have identified some friendly potential partners:

  • First meeting should be as informal as possible and face to face in a comfortable neutral place.
  • Transparency and openness about where you compete and where you can share expertise is critical.
  • Harnessing alignment and energy will be very important going forward.
  • Take time, nothing needs to be done in a hurry; it is better to get things right initially.

The future for Rethink Nature

Given the more challenging economic and political context and the parlous state of nature, we continue to be different and enhance our collaboration.

We want to be the catalyst for the action that species need. We come together, each with our unique expertise that provides the knowledge, skills and the physical resources needed to make a difference to species conservation. Our common vision of a healthy planet, rich in wildlife, where species thrive alongside people is as important today as it was in the beginning.

We are unique in sharing species evidence and science to measure success in nature conservation as part of corporate reporting. We maintain the data that tell us whether the UK is meeting global commitments for biodiversity. We share considerable overlap and our expertise and gravitas enabling us to champion species conservation with decision makers to be even more effective.

We will continue to be public-facing and action based and we have the collective strength that makes a stronger case for support and creates a more coherent message, representing thousands of species between us in a way that no one organisation can. We know what needs to be done.

We are Rethink Nature.

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