Peña of Nuestra Tierra agrees. And he points out that community-building is not simply an outgrowth of working together, but decidedly intentional. “Relationships are central, and a critical part of the strategy,” he says. “When we prioritize the cultivation of community, and bring people together, once those authentic relations are built, everything is workable. That’s when we are able to stay focused on the empowerment of the community and not lose sight of the true goal.”
One way philanthropies like the Hewlett Foundation can support this work is by recognizing the importance of relationship-driven, community-led conservation efforts, like the El Pasoans coming together to conserve the Castner Range. “I am excited that I see a future where new campaigns are developing from the grassroots up, which is different from the past, in many cases,” says Arce. “We want sustainable results and continuous community-led efforts. It can only happen when we provide appropriate resources.”
It will also be essential to support efforts to promote justice and equity within philanthropy, and across the environmental movement. That takes time and patience. “These inequities have been happening for centuries,” says Peña. “So it can’t be expected that these issues will be resolved in any one-off attempt. This work must be founded in a long-term strategy. It’s not just checking a box. We’ve got to be able to raise our gaze and reenvision and re-imagine the 21st century of conservation.”
In speaking with these leaders, I was again reminded that the challenges posed by climate change and the biodiversity crises require us to broaden our perspectives and support. And that our grantee partners — working in partnership with communities across the U.S. — must lead the way in helping to reshape how the conservation movement can go about preserving our lands, rivers, and wildlife.
“At the end of the day, we know that in order to address global society’s environmental challenges we’ll need all hands on deck,” says Villa, “bringing as many people, as diverse a number of communities as possible, so that we can come up with the different solutions to address these challenges. The urgency is becoming greater and greater by the moment. And we need to engage as many diverse communities as possible in this movement.”