Making waves across the pond
by Edward Cunningham (Synchronicity Earth USA)
On Thursday, September 6th 2018, a tasteful, brownstone home in New York City was the venue for a poignant and powerful event organised by the Synchronicity Earth (SE) USA board. The goal was to bring together a range of SE USA friends, new and old, to officially launch SE USA in its efforts to raise the profile of environmental conservation, and to increase funding for this important work by supporting the work of Synchronicity Earth.
The event was arranged to coincide with the meetings taking place in New York on the development of the UN High Seas Treaty. This gave the opportunity to profile Synchronicity Earth’s High and Deep Seas Programme, which has been a long-term funder of work to move this process forward with the international NGO community. Our event brought together representatives from parties directly involved in the negotiations, as well as lawyers, bankers, activists, scholars, and NGO leaders deeply interested in this area or eager to learn more about the work that Synchronicity Earth does each day.
SE USA founding board member Jessica Sweidan opened the event with a welcoming review of the programmatic work of Synchronicity Earth, on overlooked and underfunded conservation challenges, and why such work is so very important in today’s world. She then introduced the following speakers and the rhythm of the rest of the evening.
Mirella von Lindenfels of the High Seas Alliance shared her thoughts about the progress that has been made through the UN on marine protected areas, while reminding the group about the immensity of the task ahead putting political and legal measures in place to protect the high seas. The fact that such vast areas of the world’s public commons lie beyond sovereign law has made international coordination challenging.
Ian Urbina of the New York Times then shared why he has written so powerfully about the high seas from the perspective of the people – often slaves – who are transported, work, and sometimes die in these waters. He combined riveting stories of natural and human tragedy, as well as triumph, and highlighted the ways in which grabbing time and headline space for such stories is increasingly difficult in the ever more fragmented media world of today. Ian recently spent time aboard a Greenpeace ship that travelled to Antarctica to support the establishment of an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary. Anna Heath, Synchronicity Earth’s Research Analyst, then did a wonderful job explaining the ways in which Synchronicity Earth is engaging with the High Seas challenge through their High and Deep Seas Programme developed over the past few years.
A panel discussion followed, at which the evening’s speakers were joined by Synchronicity Earth ambassador, singer/songwriter and actress Alison Sudol. Alison shared her thoughts with the group, describing how her view of the natural world changed after her trip to Antarctica and giving a sense of the wonder but also the urgency the trip engendered. The event closed with Kennedy School professor and SE USA board member Edward Cunningham asking the panel about their own passion for the natural world, how they consider the challenges facing the high and deep seas, and what they are doing about such challenges. The floor was then opened to an engaged and informed audience, with a range of questions and answers covering the UN treaty process, points of hope and progress, areas of persistent challenge, and several calls to arms for people to get more involved.
Filling the gaps – the need for Synchronicity Earth USA
SE USA, working in close collaboration with Synchronicity Earth, fills a very particular gap in the ecosystem of charitable organisations focused on the natural world. Of the remarkably low 4 – 5 per cent of charitable giving that goes to conservation, the majority of support goes to a handful of animals, ecosystems, and causes. SE USA is designed to bolster Synchronicity Earth’s mission, to support action in critically biodiverse geographies, but for ecosystems and species that are overlooked by others. I have been most impressed by the ways in which Synchronicity Earth provides:
i) top-rate scientific and analytic mapping of the most biodiverse priority target areas;
ii) excellent and realistic analysis of the range of challenges such areas and species face;
iii) solutions to such challenges through financial means, partnering, or scientific inquiry; and
iv) ongoing linkages between donors and the best-in-class organisations doing the work.
However, Synchronicity Earth often goes a step further, as in the case of the incubation of Shoal, a new collaboration to fund freshwater fish conservation. Sometimes an issue is so overlooked there really are no organisations working in the area. When it comes to freshwater fish, this is often the case. Freshwater ecosystems often lack visible charismatic species, are severely undervalued and largely government owned. As a result, there are few effective non-profits in this area. Synchronicity Earth chose to pull together some of the top talent in the freshwater space and incubate Shoal. This new organisation would not have found the right combination of resources and direction, had SE not worked with the advocate of this new approach to incubate it within SE.
Working with SE USA
Like many labours of love, I first became involved with Synchronicity Earth through a series of fortuitous and highly enjoyable discussions with Adam and Jessica Sweidan. Their dedication, innovation in thinking, and generosity is infectious and mobilised my latent love of the natural world. Much of my formal training in the discipline of political economy, frequently focused on China’s energy systems and sustainable infrastructure, had pulled me away from my childhood fascination with nature. By working with Synchronicity Earth I have found a way to leverage my experience, contacts, and knowledge in a way that reinvigorates me every day and can lead to real action on the ground. It is a privilege to work with such a band of kindred spirits who are so capable, warm, knowledgeable, and most of all – persistent!