Balancing the planet's resources

Oliver Tickell reports on WWF's history; WWF has 5 million members and an income of $270 million a year
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WWF, now a central part of the worldwide environmental movement,only came into being 35 years ago. Now it has active programmes in over 100 countries, five million members and a global income of $270 million a year.

In December 1960, zoologist Julian Huxley wrote a seminal series of articles for The Observer, warning of the rapidly deteriorating state of Africa's wild animals and habitats. These inspired others into action, notably Peter Scott, Max Nicholson and Guy Mountford. Nine months after Huxley's articles, on 11 September, the World Wildlife Fund was registered as a charity. Prince Philip became president of the WWF's first National Appeal - launched in a "shock issue" of the Daily Mirror on 9 October 1961.

Three days later 10 mailbags arrived at WWF's temporary office, then 12 bags the next day, then 20 and so on. Eventually the Daily Mirror raised pounds 50,000 and the new Ark was well and truly launched. National Appeals followed in other countries, raising $1.9 million in three years for WWF's international secretariat - now WWF International (WWF-I).

Over WWF's first two decades, says Charles de Haes, WWF-I's director- general for 16 years, it concentrated directly on saving endangered wildlife habitats and species. In 1980, WWF together IUCN (World Conservation Union) and UNEP argued conservation had to meet human needs, based on the then novel concept of sustainable development. Now WWF is attacking the root causes of environmental degradation.

The organisation too has evolved. Under its first director general, Fritz Vollmar, the WWF network grew enormously and raised many millions of pounds for conservation. But it itself remained chronically short of money and depended heavily on volunteers.

In 1970 Prince Bernhard, the first president, launched an appeal for a $10 million capital fund whose income would finance WWF-I's administration. This was as much money as had been raised in the preceding nine years. Within 1,000 days 1,001 people willing to contribute $10,000 to the Nature Trust had been signed up. De Haes, says: "Not only did we win financial security, but it gave us enormous influence as these people were leaders from all over the world."

Another kind of WWF body was also established - the Programme Office, intended to run WWF's conservation activities in a country or region. By 1995 there were 30 all around the world.

At the same time they made it clear that WWF-I had to become a leaner and meaner machine. In the spring of 1995 it laid off a fifth of its entire staff.

There are now 25 National Offices, of which five stand out in terms of wealth and influence. Holland (where one in 19 citizens is a member), the USA, the UK, Switzerland and Sweden collectively raise three quarters of WWF's global income which funds WWF's partners and projects in the developing world and the North.

For the future, WWF's leaders are busy mapping out the strategies that will make it a conservation leader of the 21st century, with a focus on forests, fisheries, climate, and fresh water. For five years WWF has been building equal partnerships with the indigenous peoples of the biodiverse tropics. If it can succeed in balancing such divided interests and in bridging such widely separated worlds then its core mission - to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature - will surely be well on the way to accomplishment.